Exhibition Essays

2009 Reviews

June 2009

John Ward Knox, gains on losses

Thomasin Sleigh

I was A bit late for John Ward Knox's artist's talk which was programmed promptly for 5:15 to 6:00pm, followed by the opening celebrations proper. It turned out that this was okay, because Knox didn't speak linearly about the work in the show but tangentially and openly about thoughts and experiences which had occurred to him over the days leading up to the exhibition. The space of the artist's talk was democratic, in the sense that it was opened up intellectually to chance encounters, private musings and loosely connected happenings. These thoughts could be tied tentatively to the actual physical work of Knox's exhibition, or they could be left shifting between the physical and the philosophical - not quite catching fully on either.

One component of the exhibition was a semi-transparent piece of plastic/paper stretched over the large window on the right hand side of the gallery. It only lets through a very slight amount of light and dim shadows from the car park outside. As the evening progressed the artist and audience were incrementally enveloped by the gathering dark so that by the end of the talk we were all sitting in near darkness, the only light coming from the muted street lights outside. In the gloom, distinctions between the opening, the work, the artist and the audience were unclear.

The evening slipped seamlessly from the artist's talk into the opening without any of the lights being turned on. The silhouettes of other opening attendees were lit starkly from behind, framed by the paper stretched over the window; the audience was foregrounded against the work. In the murky darkness it was quite difficult make other people's faces and conversations had to make do without the assistance of facial expressions to determine reactions and recognition.

I guess all of this is pretty romantic stuff - chance but fortunate encounters, soft focus lighting, the starry night sky - and Amit Charan said as much during the artist's talk. But I felt like it all worked because nothing was dwelt on too heavily; the artist's narrative kept slipping onto the next event or the next story that he had to relay. Derrida proposed (or perhaps it was Lacan, I can never remember) that the meaning in language is always shifting and being mediated by what precedes and succeeds it. Meaning in text is not in stasis but constantly shifting and being re-contextualised. During this evening, the meaning in Knox's work shifted from the artist, to the audience, occasionally to the work itself, to the narratives Knox relayed to us, to the slightly disjointed conversations held in the gathering gloom. Knox's work wasn't stable in this sense, but propositional.

When I first entered Enjoy I felt as if the gallery space had been closed off from the outside world. But after listening to John Ward Knox speak and spending some time in the space as the light changed, I saw that this work was actually obsessed with what was going on outside the autonomous space of the gallery. The covering over Enjoy's window was really a frame, an arrow pointing out and saying, ‘Look! Look at all that is happening out there!'


Originally published by The Lumière Reader