Nicholas Knight






Nicholas Knight

Work from the Sentence Diagrams, Frame & Photo, and Taking Pictures.

Interview with Nicholas Night:

Jordan:

In much of your work, there are underlying (and sometimes blatant) references to the production, deconstruction and obfuscation of the original (sentence, work of art, floor, frame, etc). Quite possibly, it is this method of working/thinking (which is perfectly distilled in Sentence Diagrams) that makes your work so engaging. Do you see this post-structuralist mentality as a conscious part of your work and process? [I normally don’t invoke movements so readily, but Derrida and Barthes (among other philosophers / artists) comprise your Sentence Diagrams source material.]

Nicholas:

I’m usually conscious of this approach to my subjects, but I’ve also found it creeps in even when I’m trying to do something different! But it is not my intention to bolster any received Post-structuralist position. My techniques are more interrogatory, so generally I want to push back on the subject to see if its claims hold up. I pull things apart and put them back together again. And like any tinkerer, when I put them back together, there are usually parts left over.

Jordan:

Taking Pictures is a little bit of an outlier when viewed with your other work, but can be viewed with the same lens of deconstruction. Aside from the irony and photo-specific commentary, what was your motivation for choosing various masterworks to be the off-frame subject of this work?

Nicholas:

At first there seems to be a visual break, yes, but most of my favorite themes are as present here as elsewhere. I’m very interested in how the gestalt meaning of a thing changes when a new form is grafted on top of it. So the Sentence Diagrams are not merely grammatical analysis; they are a picture of the fact of being diagrammed. That is, the diagram exists as a method out there in the world, and there’s nothing the author can do to withhold her sentence once I choose to analyze it. Then, if the results modify its claims, some new thing is created.

And really, I think the same thing is happening in Taking Pictures. This mode of interaction by museum-goers (not just photographing an artwork, but doing so with the particular at-arm’s-length mode that these devices require) is creating a new thing. I’m documenting the phenomenon, but it’s very important which photos I choose to let into the world. There is always some multivalent situation in the successful images: the photographers’ postures, or the details of their appearances, align in some revelatory way with the duplicated histories accompanying the artworks they’re photographing.

Jordan:

I am intrigued by the austerity of Open Source, and Double-Empty Frame. While viewing the work one is denied access to context and image through a challenging of expectations. Traditionally picture frames are objects meant to contain works, not exist as an integral part of the work. How do you view this dialogue progressing with the viewer?

Nicholas:

You’re right that the works are quite austere, and they can be challenging to engage with, since they seem to withhold so much. But I don’t think they deny access to context or image. I was really trying to find some limit condition of the photographic experience. Since photography is so flexible and adaptable, I wanted to use the conventions of it to make something that might not actually count as a photograph. Pushing through the frame and into the real space seemed to be a way to achieve this. So the resulting photo-sculptures are always depict the space they’re made in, and thus are bound to it. They’re “tethered”, if you will. My hope is that the viewer will overcome a moment of dis-orientation by enlarging his own “frame” of awareness about the context that lends meaning to photographic images.

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“Nicholas Knight has covered the walls of the project room at Steven Wolf with something of a relic of an older educational system: the sentence diagram. Each wall is consumed by a single, spidery, large scale diagram done in vinyl lettering with the remnants of pencil guidelines lingering beneath. But the point of the piece (because this space should really be thought of as a whole), is not the almost forgotten model of sentence diagramming, but how this form allows the carefully selected quotes to be broken down, dissected. Here, on two facing walls, sit the combined diagrams of a quote by Jacques Derrida, alongside one by Henry James. On each one is in French (grey) and one in English (black). They read, “To read between the lines is easier than to follow the text” / “Il est plus facile de livre entre les lignes que de suivre le texte” (Henry James) and “Il n’y a pas de hors-texte” / “There is nothing outside the text” (Jacques Derrida). One can already see, just from the combination of these two quotes, not only the pun inherent in their visual form, but the theoretical dialogue. I feel that the James quote speaks more to our tendency towards quick interpretation based on our own pool of knowledge, while Derrida warns against the potential pitfalls of such actions. I.e., the two quotes are not necessarily at odds, as they first might appear (or are they?). The real object here is to get the viewer to think – to analyze. Somehow, I feel that having the quotes diagrammed out (and therefore made more of a struggle to read) further enforces this.

The third wall is adorned with a quote by John Lehmann, “To talk about translation is rather like talking about the glass in front of a picture.” This, of course, adds an additional layer to the Derrida/James conversation, wherein one pairing features each quote in its original language and the other in translation. I can only hope that the Lehmann quote is presented as a point to be contested, as there are debates among scholars even with the translation Knight uses for “Il n’y a pas de hors-texte” (not to mention what is “lost in translation”). (see here for a discussion).

Here, like in many conceptual works, the aesthetic element is almost incidental – the stylization serves only as a springboard for discussion – however, it is integral to the piece, as much so as the evidence of the process involved in its design. All of Knight’s work seems to follow a Goethe quote he used in a previous piece – “Thinking is more interesting than knowing but less interesting than looking.” – Percolator Magazine

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