After the participation of Vito Acconci, MBIArch students had the chance of taking part in a seminar with another noted contemporary artist, California conceptualist John Knight, around the topic of constructing critical practice. Knight’s work concentrates on the relationships between architecture, design, and art. For the course, he presented a series of projects that span from the early seventies to the late nineties, which he considered were most relevant in his own experience of crossing the boundaries between architecture and art by focusing on spatial conditions.
The early connections to architecture in his work can be trace to 1972 piece, I Assume, which was developed while Knight was part of Food, the restaurant co-founded in 1971 by Gordon Matta Clark in SoHo, New York,which was managed and staffed by artists. Unable to actually visit the gallery (Project Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts) due to budget constraints, Knight created a series of cards wrapped up in a package that was sent to the gallery and then given to visitors, detailing assumptions he made about the exhibition space. The intention was to confront the perception of the viewer with the space of the gallery and the artist’s own assumption about the space and the experience.
For his 1990 project Bienvenido, for the MOCA La Jolla in San Diego, California, Knight juxtaposed the precious seaside vista of the gallery with the hostile, blocked view of San Diego from the other side of the Mexico-U.S. border by partially covering up the gallery windows of the exhibition area, as well as the offices and administrative facilities. By departing from the original architectural intentions of the space and turning the visitor’s attention to the less scenic aspects of location–pointing to the conflictive nature of the border–Knight demand an active awareness from the user, based on spatial perception. Through a critical evaluation of the space, Knight turns from formal aspects to the performative cualities of program, perception and use.
Context is again a central issue in his 1999 intervention for a sculpture park in Upstate New York. Under the title 87 degrees, Knight focused on the site conditions that preceded the actual intervention as point of departure for the project. Nothing is really installed in this site-specific installation. Taking the water tower on a nearby industrial site as a basic spatial signifier (a symbol of industrial production, a classical reference for modernist architecture, a typical civic and topographical landmark) Knight simply points to the view of the tower from a telescope located in the park at 87 degrees. This simple gesture points to complex relationships between previous site ownership, social and productive heritage, economic relationships, etc. It also questions the traditional notion of the “architectural product”, representation, symbolism, and scale.