Friday, May 04, 2007

Nicholas Knight at Steven Wolf (SF)

On the walls of the smaller space at Steven Wolf Fine Arts, New York artist Nicholas Knight has installed two of his sentence diagrams. When you enter the space, you may think there are three of these works, but the two on opposite walls are part of the same piece. (On the fourth wall, there is a photographic and framing work that derives, cryptically, from the John Lehman diagram on the opposite wall.)

The diagrams, made of vinyl lettering and lines applied to the walls, have a bold, analytical graphic quality that belies the mysteries they ultimately evoke. The first mystery is of course to parse the quotations from Henry James, Jacques Derrida, and John Lehman that he has diagrammed. French and English are combined in the two-panel work, which further complicates the reading. Interestingly, the end point becomes not a successful reading of the text but a lingering awareness of the odd quality of language, at once structured, simplistic, subtle, and evasive. Presented this way, language appears as a sieve through which reality drains away. Yet not all is lost.

Below are images (derived from those provided by the artist) of the two-panel work. Perhaps seeing these diagrams has put me in a schoolroom mood, but I have noticed two things. One is that Knight has changed the verb tense of the quote from Henry James. The original line, from the novel The Portrait of a Lady, reads “To read between the lines was easier than to follow the text.” The other item is that the original Derrida text, from his early book Of Grammatology, used the compound word “hors-texte,” so I am not sure that diagramming “hors” as a modifier is correct in this instance. Class dismissed!

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