Text by Laura Elizabeth Barone
Chelsea Knight’s current solo-exhibition at the Saint Louis Art Museum, Currents 106: Chelsea Knight, is a two-part, show, split up into two galleries on opposite sides of the museum, each of which have a distinct – though language based – all-encompassing environment. Knight is clearly fascinated by the power of language, by what is meant and by what is said, and how language enables us to maintain ideas of our own race, class, gender, and identity every day. In one of the galleries is a short film, titled The End of All Resistance (2010), a single-channel, 29 minute video of psychological test and play. Across the hall is Frame (2012) an installation meant to look like a construction site with photographs and an 11 minute film with real construction workers reading and commenting on feminist texts.
The End of All Resistance consists of three pairs of people: two male, U.S. army interrogators, a married couple, and two female actresses. The married couple and the actresses were both given scripts based on the techniques demonstrated by the interrogators from a U.S. army manual on torture. In using the techniques to discuss their own marital and quotidian issues, the married couple becomes aware of sources of conflict, power, self-interest, and ambition within their own relationship, and the actresses’ near exact mimic of the interrogators technique reveals the inherent performative aspect and character play within a questioning session. The film is divided into nine sequences, each one, a demonstration and acting out of a specific technique, such as the “Fear-Up” technique, or the “Repetition Approach,” the “Silent Approach,” or the “I have a Vision” technique, in which the interrogator describes the person’s ultimate “happy place” in exquisite detail, promising fulfilment of that place if the one being questioned cooperates. Sitting on a bench, facing the film in a dark room, the film allows us to look reflect upon ourselves, how we manipulate through language, even unknowingly, and forces us to examine the cost versus the benefit of this for both ourselves and the other person.
Frame, by contrast, explores the performative aspects of language by pairing a stereotypically unexpected combination together – construction workers and feminist texts. The construction workers, non-actors, are filmed while building the set for Frame, while also reading, sometimes their own interpretation, of theoretically heavy readings. In an interview in the gallery guide with curator Tricia Y. Paik, Knight said the work was meant to “reference the proximity of labour environments to discursive environments,” thereby bringing to light the connection between life and theory (or lack thereof). Knight’s film attempts to bridge the gap between the people writing theory versus the people living it, and questions if that has to be mutually exclusive. The whole environment of Frameimplies the viewer in these constructs as well; you can walk around the “construction site” while listening to or watching the film, experiencing the constructed product of the labour while hearing both male and female construction workers speak of the societal constructions of women.
Knight’s exhibition at the Saint Louis Art Museum is at an exciting time in her career – Knight is the 2011-2012 Henry L. and Natalie H. Freund Fellow and the Triangle Arts Association Artist-in-Residence for the year. Fittingly, it’s also an exciting time for the Saint Louis Art Museum itself, as it has been undergoing a major and costly expansion project to be complete in mid 2013, making Frame a particularly poignant and timely piece for the museum, itself surrounded by construction noise, machines, and workers all day, every day. Now that some of that construction has been brought inside through Frame and that viewers have been given a lesson in manipulation through The End of All Resistance, Knight has aided us greatly in becoming aware of how we play identity, some of the reasons why, and making us question if we really want to keep doing so.
Currents 106: Chelsea Knight, 06/04/2012 – 01/07/2012, Saint Louis Art Museum, One Fine Arts Drive, Forest Park, St. Louis, MO. www.slam.org
Chelsea Knight Untitled (2012)
Chromogenic Print; 40 x 50 inches
Courtesy of the artist