Critics’ Picks

Tim Knowles, Windwalk #2—Charing Cross (detail), 2008, helmet vane, 48 x 24 x 24".

New York

Tim Knowles, Pe Lang + Zimoun

bitforms gallery
131 Allen Street
January 24–March 7

Chance often comes off as a cheat. Consider Hans Arp’s Untitled (Collage with Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance), 1916–17: The composition is too balanced to accept without question that the work’s elements fell from Arp’s hand into such a harmonious arrangement without a nudge or two. Chance is an influential aspect of Dada and Surrealism’s legacy, but early examples such as Arp’s cast doubt on artists’ claims of having rigorously followed chance’s lead. The suggestion of chance, it would seem, is sufficient, and a little after-the-fact fiddling is just fine. An exhibition by British artist Tim Knowles and Swiss duo Pe Lang + Zimoun demonstrates, however, the rich yield of surrendering the artistic process to chance movements taking place on a minute scale. What if, the exhibition might ask, Arp had charted not where his bits of paper landed, but the whole fluttering course of their downward drift?

In his 2008 “Windwalk” series, Knowles put himself at the mercy of central London’s microclimates. Donning an irresistibly goofy head apparatus—essentially a wind sail attached to a bike helmet—he set out from Charing Cross five times, allowing the shifting early-morning winds to plot his course. Video recordings, taken from a camera attached to the sail’s starboard side, reveal the walks to have been markedly different in their itinerary and oftentimes hilarious in their futility. A collusion of breezes condemned Knowles to meander back and forth over Trafalgar Square; another pushed him relentlessly toward construction fences and other insurmountable boundaries. Information recorded from a GPS tracking device turned these wayward routes into a cibachrome print of five spindly lines stemming erratically from a central point, resembling nothing so much as a Surrealist experiment in automatic drawing.

The point of reference for Pe Lang + Zimoun is, more specifically than chance, chaos theory, the mathematical study of systems where minor changes in initial conditions lead to wildly divergent outcomes. Untitled Sound Objects, 2008, offers a tempest-in-a-teapot model of such a system: Four hundred vibration motors—the sort found in cell phones—sit in discrete compartments of a wooden modernist grid. When the piece is switched on, these identical nooks become unique snow-globe riots, each with its own jumpy trajectory and bopping hum, like so many dice caught in a perpetual tumble.

A video of Pe Lang + Zimoun’s Untitled Sound Objects, 2008, can be found here.