Contributed by Kari Adelaide Razdow / The motif of time is deeply and deftly embedded in Christopher Knowles’s solo exhibition, STAND, at The Watermill Center. It includes paintings, poetry, sculpture, and sound art spanning a 50-year career. Many of the early works on paper include lines upon lines of the letter C, some forming images and shapes. Within one of the typographic framings, a poem hints at the thinking behind Knowles’s work:
What in the world.
What is all of this?
Well, it is the way of time.
Well, let’s get on with it.
This is the time to say.
This is where the section is.
This is the way to go.
In his contemplation of time, Knowles provides a portal to pop culture from days of yore, with associations to language and sound. Earth Angel presents the full typed lyrics of the eponymous song. His typing series also includes lists of the most popular songs chronicling the top 40 of 1964 and 1969, the top 50 of 1965, the top 20 of 1967, and the top 100 of 1976. Some songs seem to have dimmed over the years, while some have endured.
Works on paper from 1974 include a series of framed typed facsimiles titled The Life and Times of Madame Dane: 10 Acts. Each act presents a snapshot of some transitory phenomenon, such as a treasure hunt, jealousy, parks, driving, singing, and flowers, enigmatically hinting at hidden interior experience. Act 7 reads:
Here is a thing. We are ahead of a steering wheel. I’m jealous of you.
Frame in a seat for us. We should be going on the ture.
Be mad and do not think about it.
I will come to the church and sing.
It was grace. Be a good dollar.
Knowles’s early sound work is also on display. One employs a battery-powered Radio Shack tape player with “This is Chris” and “PLAY THIS SIDE” written on the cassette in ballpoint pen. His voice is amplified with a repeating and echoing rendition of “This is, is, is, Chris, is Chris.” We feel the immediacy of self-actualization through the ritual of recording, without plot or thesis. Another sound work includes a vintage Texas Instruments program recorder device playing segments of popular vintage tunes – including, for instance, The Beach Boys’ “Fun, Fun, Fun.” Knowles also narrates his curation process: “Tuesday, February 11, 1964, 20 years ago today, two decades ago today. So I listen to the popular songs of 1964, twenty years ago today, two decades ago today. So Tuesday, February 11th, 1964, twenty years ago today, two decades ago today, so now listen up.” He leaves it unclear whether the declared dates from however many decades ago are performative or factual.
The hands of Knowles’s clock faces are uniformly painted in a vertical axis, marking six o’clock, perhaps signifying perpetual dusk or twilight. On display on brightly-colored shelves is a flock of battery-operated alarm clocks, pulled from Knowles’s personal collection. Their constant ticking echoes through the gallery, the once-familiar sound of passing seconds now all but silenced. Set to Eastern Standard Time, they are poignantly obsolete reminders of the present as well as the past.
“Christopher Knowles: STAND,” The Watermill Center, 39 Water Mill Town Road, Water Mill, NY. Through December 2022.
About the Author: Kari Adelaide Razdow curates independently at The Sphinx Northeast, an itinerant curatorial project. Her writing has appeared in Hyperallergic, BOMB, NYLON, Huffington Post, the Walker Art Center Blog, Eyes Towards the Dove, and elsewhere.
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