Kansas Gallery, New York, 2014
Knot Not Nought
In 1974, under the auspices of Anka Ptszkowska’s gallery 25*, French conceptual artist Daniel Buren painted 8.7cm vertical stripes over the windows of an apartment in Warsaw that would later become Edward Krasinski’s studio. In the early 1990’s Krasinski applied his signature 20mm blue tape, 130cms above the floor, around the entire studio including the windows that Buren had painted. Both artists conceived of their gestures as being a zero mark that revealed the existing architecture in a space. They claimed that the line and the stripes were not things in themselves, but rather framing devices for opening onto a world. What happened when these gestures intersected?
In Knot Not Nought, Sreshta Rit Premnath revisits this historical moment. He uses it to shine a light on the difficulty of distinguishing between a gesture and an object. Redeploying the coincidence of these two previous works of art, he asks if two gestures pointing at each other can continue to function as framing devices, or are they conscripted into objecthood? Premnath brings to bear on this question a philosophical tradition that investigates the relationship between the things that exist and the empty space that permeates the universe. When we gesture toward an object, this school of thought reminds us, we are also gesturing at the nothingness that inheres in it. The being of objects ties the knot between what is and what is nought, but we have not the linguistic means to comprehend this space. It is here that Premnath turns to visual representation.
Performance # 25 and Gradient render the dimensions of a specific pair of windows in Krasinski’s studio. The first uses a gradient of black to white produced by bleaching linen. In the second, he uses a gradient from Chroma Key Blue to Chroma Key Green–standard backdrop colors used in the film and TV industry, which are normally replaced with scenery or effects in post-production. Premnath frequently uses these colors as “zero colors” that exist in order to be replaced, while still allowing an infinite gradient of possibility from one to the other.
J’ai perdu la fin (I have lost the end) is based on a performance by the same name in which Krasinski attempted to disentangle a long black cable. In Premnath’s sculpture of a black tube that snakes through a rectangular wooden frame, Krasinski’s cable is replaced by a “Zero Knot.” This is a mathematical form which literally does not have an end. In the same vein, 1 and X Knots works through the intriguing feature of the zero knot which may appear in an infinite number of entangled forms, all resolving to zero. Each frame of the series Zettel also animates this unending variation on zero. Titled and scaled after the first edition of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s book of the same name, these prints were made by placing bleach-soaked twine on glossy, black C-Prints and lifting off the emulsion from their surfaces.
Finally, there is the small aluminum print in which the caption for a zig-zagging sculpture by Krasinski is replaced by a fragment from Zettel: “but I cannot say this of the line VVVVV.” This, the only hand-drawn mark in Zettel, brings Wittgenstein and Krasinski into conversation. The line that cannot be spoken of also bears a relation to a painted-over line of blue tape that runs around the perimeter of the gallery space, a ghost of a line that is both there and not.
In a way these pieces function as a frame for the more philosophical questions that Premnath probes: how is it possible to speak about nothingness? How does the knot he ties between each pair of gestures speak to the void in which they both take place? Is there a kind of triple negation here – not, not, not – that provides an implicit affirmation? Such are the questions that this show ponders. Like its onomatopoetic homonym – knock, knock, knock – it suggests a passageway into conceptual works that both appropriates and moves past our current condition.
*The gallery changed its name to the number of each of its consecutive events, Buren’s being the 25th event.
–Sreshta Rit Premnath
EK: Shall we begin?
LW: Where shall we begin?
EK: Blue tape, 20mm wide, 130cm high. That’s where I begin.
LW: What about it? Is that a rule of some sort–a guiding principle?
EK: It’s simply a line. It demarcates space.
LW: A line or a loop? A circumscription, a boundary, a mode of separation.
EK: Others make art that separates. I make art that connects.
LW: Ah, this blue tape is art then.
EK: Well, it may or may not be art, but it’s certainly blue tape, 20mm wide, 130cm high.
LW: But so is everything else. I mean, everything is at the very least itself.
EK: Yes, but this is rarely apparent. In fact things almost never appear to be what they are.
LW: But are things not also what they appear to be? We can never separate things from the line–the tape–which draws our attention to them, simultaneously intersecting them and crossing them out.
EK: The tape is merely a stand in. It is a finger pointing at the moon. We mustn’t mistake the finger for the moon. And yet, without the finger we may altogether miss the moon.
LW: Then mustn’t we ask, what is a thing? What demarcates a thing and separates it from another? What separates the blue tape from all the (other) objects it intersects? Is this separation simply our perception or is there a real distinction that cleaves one thing from another.
EK: The answer is rather simple. We see their separation. We may not know how we know it but we know it. This certainty precedes our knowledge.
LW: I cannot disagree more. On the contrary, in every serious philosophical question uncertainty extends to the very roots of the problem. We must always be prepared to learn something totally new.
EK: But then where do we begin?