Christopher Knowles

Galerie Dorrie & Priess

At first sight, Christopher Knowles’ Typings, 1988, recall the concrete or visual poetry of the ’60s, with perhaps the most famous examples of that genre being Ernst Jandl’s typographical play on the word moral. Jandl stacked lower-case m’s into a pyramid, and the remaining letters of the word formed a thin extension that poked out from the base, suggesting that when we consider the concept of morality, we see only the tip of the iceberg. Christopher Knowles, too, manipulates a single letter into typographic shapes. But when Knowles does so, he uses the initial letter of his first name, heaping his c’s into “images” that have nothing to do with the tradition of visual picture-poems.

In Hamburg, Knowles recently played the title role in Robert Wilson’s production of Parzival, and his exhilaratingly natural performance has made him the darling of the public there. His artworks in Germany have been received primarily in that context; the gallery became a second, self-contained stage on which Knowles produced his favorite scenes anew. Here, in addition to his works using c’s, Knowles presented excerpts from the libretto of Parzival, sometimes chopping them up and reassembling them (exactly as Wilson does on stage) in densely woven lines, some of which resembled cardiograms. He focused on the pounding rhythms that he heard and spoke on stage and reproduced them through his own hammering at the typewriter keys. Astonishingly enough, this rhythm actually comes through on the paper.

And in the works in which Knowles piles up or configures his c’s into recognizable images—for example, Parzival meeting the large rooster that initiates him into the secrets of life—he somehow manages to overcome the apparent limitations of typewriter-generated images to make rounded and diagonal forms. As with his crayon drawings also on display, we are confronted on the one hand with a naive approach, a desire to create a Sisyphus-like puzzle in the self-limiting form of a kind of embroidery, and on the other hand, an extraordinary wunderkind-like gift, a sure instinct for transforming observed nuance into geometric shapes. To accompany the exhibition, Knowles produced a soundtrack. From a simple tape recorder, the fused voices of other actors reciting lines from Parzival could be heard complementing visual works and challenging the viewer/ listener to internalize the process by which these drumming sentence and word fragments made their way to the sheets of paper. Although Knowles’ creative mind places him beyond familiar critical evaluations, there is a new word now becoming fashionable in German that might apply to him: “frisch” (fresh). It is used to describe things that are utterly remote from art.

Doris von Drateln

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.