In the Galleries - Currents: Chelsea Knight CLOSES July 1 at the Saint Louis Art Museum

In the Galleries - <i>Currents: Chelsea Knight</i> CLOSES July 1 at the Saint Louis Art Museum
Still from The End of All Resistance, 2010: single channel video; courtesy of the artist; © Chelsea Night
Still from The End of All Resistance, 2010: single channel video; courtesy of the artist; &copy; Chelsea Night
Still from The End of All Resistance, 2010: single channel video; courtesy of the artist; © Chelsea Night

In this two-part body of work — the latest installment of SLAM's Currents series — New York-based artist Chelsea Knight (recipient of a 2012-13 Freund Teaching Fellowship at Wash. U.) explores language's capacity to define power structures, gender roles and other mechanisms of cultural stratification. In the 2010 video The End of All Resistance, a series of duos — male soldiers, young actresses, a middle-aged married couple — carry out military-style interrogations, demanding information ("What insurgent organization are you in?" etc.) over and over in different tones: whispering, shouting, singing. Inherently elastic, language can shape-shift at the speed of sound, from bland to erotic, evocative to somnolent, conciliatory to threatening. It's among the most volatile of human constructs, and slippery. The central aspect of Frame, a multimedia installation crafted for this exhibit, is also a video. Construction workers (the bona fide variety) frame out a building while reciting from memory bits of feminist theory and modern poetry. The disjunctions are predictable — burly man in hardhat talking about the experience of the female body or waxing lyrical about childbirth — but the effect is anything but. Unlike the verbiage of torture manuals, poetry and (occasionally) theory are capable of linguistic elegance (i.e., beauty), in the face of which all conventional roles dissolve. The raptness with which the participants speak their lines hints at language's capacity to humanize — to encourage empathy, to broaden one's conscience, as opposed to simply tearing people apart. Through July 1 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive (in Forest Park); 314-721-0072 or www.slam.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)

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