Article and Studio visit photos by Devon Caranicas
Housed at the Universitat der Kunst Berlin, Fabian Knecht’s studio is a large one room space flooded with light. At age 31, Knecht’s practice is based on a steady ritual of daily production.”I have an idea and then I have to do it,” he explains matter-of-factly. And while this constant stream of creation is slightly impulsive it is never impetuous. Yes, Knecht takes risks, but there is always an intellectual rigor and precision coupled with his childlike inquisitiveness. I came to Knecht’s studio in the late afternoon and enter just as the Paris gallery director for his upcoming show is exiting. A stereotypical scene lays before me: leaning pieces of wood, a television monitor, scattered tools and construction materials take up the floor while remnants of past works cover the walls. Fabian Knecht’s oeuvre includes painting, sculpture, video and performance. The lines of medium specificity are always overlapping, blurring boundries and prompting works that are both visually poetic and substantial.
Ambiguity is the word that comes to mind when looking at the work as a whole. Fabian provides a situation, a visual or both while always remaining acutely aware of their vast interpretations. For Knecht, the viewer’s understanding and interaction with a work is just a valid as his own. A 2011 piece from Knecht’s 6 months stay in Los Angeles, Mir ist kalt, (I’m Cold) is a performance/video of an artificial blizzard he created on the 101 Freeway. The piece touches on notions of climate change, Los Angeles as a city of fictions and at its most basic, creating mischief during a commute best known for its monotony. But at first observation one can’t help but smile with a envious touch of I wish I had been in one of those cars. A visceral reaction to Knecht’s work is inevitable.
A favorite of mine, Fabian Knecht spielt Johann Sebastian Bach (Fabian Knecht plays Johann Sebastian Bach) is a 3 minute video from 2009 in which Fabian affixes his fingers to a professional pianist and then films his newfound ability to play classical piano. This witty take of notions of authorship and authenticity is simultaneously bringing the classic into the contemporary, another concept that can be seen regularly in Knecht’s work. It should not be assumed however that Knecht’s works are all intelligently packaged jokes. While the youthful engagement with his practice is often amusing there is an earnestly that runs through much of his work that deals with universal motifs of life and death. One particularly controversial piece, Fred spuckt in den Pazifik (Fred Spits in the Pacific), 2010, is a performance and photo documentation of Knecht’s arduous 16 day journey by train and ferry from Berlin to Tsu, Japan where he dropped the spit of Fred, a terminally ill boy from Berlin, from a small glass container into the Pacific ocean.
A large portion of Fabian Knecht’s practice is immaterial and is only now experienced through its video documentation. However, propped atop the radiator in Knecht’s studio are several of his sculptural like paintings. I use the term sculptural because of their boxy black frames that sit flush with a sanded glass front giving the works a significant width to them. In turn, the combination of painting and obscured glass creates a resulting unfocused image that can’t fully be articulated. The canvas surface is not in clear view, removing any material signifier and therefore making it unclear whether the sources are photographs or photorealistic paintings. The images appear like childhood memories; impressions that can’t be forgotten that were, for whatever reason, too aggressive and will forever be seen in quick unfocused flashes. The content varies: a street seen though a car window, a war photograph, ambiguous body parts and as said, these notions of suffering reoccur in several of Knecht’s works but the overt visual moroseness is most literally represented in these paintings here. Although the subject matter is disparate it provokes an uncertainty and intrigue that remains constant- a pull at your most basic human emotions- a feeling that can be applied to Knecht’s work as a whole.