June 29, 2018
Role: Guest Curator/ Experience Designer
Client: Denver Art Museum
In 2009, Nick Podgurski and I were sitting in a diner somewhere around Baltimore. Nick had just introduced me to scrapple (which I’m learning now as I google the term, is also known as “pan rabbit”). We were gnawing on our scrapple (or am I remembering that scrapple dissolves in your mouth?) deeply talking about music. “What are you thoughts on [unnamed classically trained experimental rock band]?” To my confusion, he responded, “No good. They do that thing where they swap between genres in this self satisfied way that adds nothing to the conversation. It’s just two emulations next to each other. I’m not interested when A+B = A&B. The real stuff happens when you take elements to amalgamate something entirely new. I’m much more interested in bands that take A and B and come out with X.” (Okay, so Nick’s quote is probably much more how I speak than how he speaks, but it’s been nearly a decade and it’s my memory, not his, so pardon my liberties.) But it’s been nearly a decade and that instance has stuck with me. It’s been a guiding light. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve developed an admiration for people who put two things next to each other in interesting contexts. However, the things that really get me fired up inside are those beautiful chemical reactions when A and B explode into each other and something completely unforeseen emerges.
When I was approached to curate this evening, I knew that I wanted to design containers to be filled with the unknown. I wanted to obscure the sense of authority and authorship through utilization of chance operations. I wanted to decentralize the focal point of the event so that movement through the museum would become an anarchistic choreography with no logistical hierarchy of attention. I also wanted to use it an excuse to encourage some of my favorite people to collaborate. The theme came naturally - A+B=X - an evening where artists I love set up situations which require input from museum visitors to create unforeseen outcomes.
There aren’t any photos of the event in this documentation of the event. The staff photographer didn’t show up to the event. (That’s the museum’s words, not mine.) I’ve felt salty about that for quite a while, but as I’m writing this, I’m reminded of words by Califone that I didn’t fully understand until I was listening to them in a sleep lab, cut off from the outside world. “Evidence wrecks a memory again.”
Leading up to the event, I took each collaborator on a walk around the museum. We yammered about their ideas. I pointed out my favorite small sounds and awkward corners. It’s nearly impossible for me to make work in a space without spending time in it first. No amount of photos or videos can replicate feeling a space respond to you or feeling yourself respond to a space. I also believe that walking is a great way to generate ideas. When you’re concerned about tripping over your own feet, there’s less room to be self-editing.
A week before our event, I cooked a twelve-course meal for the collaborators. We crammed in close around a concrete patio table in the courtyard of my basement apartment, scuttling plates and bowls in circles to get the chance to nab up a slice of pickled daikon or a triangle of fried tofu. We drank sake from the bottle and everyone presented their ideas. Sharing is food is one of the most important things. I’ve had many music rehearsals that consisted of purely of eating food with my collaborators. Often, food speaks enough.
Okay, so the event. Rather than painting some linear picture of moving through the space, I’m just going to list what happened.
A photographer sits in a car having conversations with strangers based on randomized conversation topics while a camera takes snapshots of close ups of the front seat passenger and projects them on a full wall a floor above the car.
A sculptor sits behind a table stacked high with forms of queries of love and hate to be filled out and handed to strangers, archived, or shredded in a pile.
A pile of cassette players warbles in a room of photographs, worn by earth and time. Visitors push pause. Rewind. Flip tapes. Slide volume knobs. The room changes.
Two performers in geriatric prosthetics respond to whispered concerns and questions with pre-written surrealistic words of synthetic wisdom. Polaroids document the interactions.
Photographs of the corners of inside the museum are scattered throughout the museum, creating a book when collected.
An installation artist and archivist debut newly improvised 16mm film loops created by visitors in a theatre with a predetermined soundtrack. Light and sound meet for the first time.
A group of performers crawls in an out of an inflatable dome, reacting to words and colors. Projections splay out across the inside of the dome and into the peaked ceiling panels of the museum. Undulating low frequencies billow out of an modular synthesizer enveloping the white walls in a pulsing sonic fog
A guitarist passes a guitar to an audience and requests they retune it. Upon the guitar’s return, the guitarist attempts to reproduce a composition written for a photograph in a completely different tuning.
Recordings of construction and crowds from outside the museum are played through hidden speakers inside the museum.
An archivist passes out markers and awls to deface slides of auto parts and found family vacations. The vandalized slides are projected in liminal spaces throughout the museum.
A hoarder improvises duets with strangers on a piano prepared with found vernacular photos and forms of positivity given to strangers. A man in geriatric prosthetics flings his shoe onto the piano strings
Click on the photos of my collaborators below. Each one contains a bio of these beautiful people that I wrote myself.
This interview about the event was conducted with Lauren Hegge and embellished after the fact by me.
Lauren Hegge: I suppose you have different ways of explaining yourself. Bookmaker/printmaker might be the quick answer. The larger answer is ‘searcher of meaning’ through whatever system you find. I think you’re a very genuine person who works well with other people. You make space for people. But what you make with that space is... questions.
Jordan Knecht: You’re pretty spot-on. It’s not often easy to explain myself to people. I’m a career learner. ‘Searcher of meaning’ is the most accurate description I’ve heard from someone else outside myself. My work really is about searching and exploring subjects from as many simultaneous perspectives as I can. The medium of my work isn’t the focus. As I learn new skills, they are added to my toolbox, which helps me understand the world around me. I think the reason that my work is hard to describe is that it is there isn’t often a tangible object produced. The work is the searching itself and not a physical product made at the end. The ideal outcome from my work is that someone walks away with a new and interesting way of engaging with their world.
LH: What lead to what? Were you always working in all these different mediums? Did you start in print and then expand into sound?
JK: The first book I designed was in third-grade. It was for class and I didn’t think anything of it. I never thought I would become a publisher.
I taught myself printmaking in my early teens because I was playing in punk bands. We couldn’t afford to pay someone to make our album packaging, so I learned graphic design and screen printing in order to make it myself. From the beginning, visual art and sound have been intertwined.
My parents are both artists. My mother is a visual artist. My father is a musician and recording engineer. I grew up in an interdisciplinary household. I started playing music in first or second grade. I knew that I wanted to play drums. My parents made me learn piano first. I’ve been playing drums since I was nine. I’ve always dabbled in drawing and graphic design. I studied photography at a young age. I was involved in rigorous writing programs—both creative writing and technical writing. In and out of the household, I’ve been involved with so many different creative mediums my whole life. There’s never been a separation between those things.
LH: Yeah, that’s not how your brain works.
LH: I like the idea of your tools in a box. These are all things you know how to do, but it doesn’t define what you’re actually doing. You utilize those tools as you need them. I think a lot of artists work that way now. It’s fairly old-school to think, “I’m just a painter.” There are still people like that, though.
JK: Yeah, I have a deep respect for people who devote themselves to mastering a single thing. That’s just not my nature. You have to follow your nature, ya know?
LH: Let’s talk about ‘the creative.’
JK: Sure. I am very opposed to the notion of a creative class of people. My problem with it is that it implies that people who aren’t ‘creatives’ don’t possess creative skills. It encompasses a very narrow view of what creativity is. I am interested in breaking down authority structures in artmaking. I want to empower people to form their own opinions and to take control of their own experience in art. The notion of “creative” seems to form an unnecessary barrier.
I don’t believe that everyone is creative in the conventional sense. I do believe that everyone has the potential with their perceptual strengths to flourish. The notion of a ‘creative’ doesn’t save space for people who don’t fit into conventional ‘creativity.’ People who are very logical thinkers or who are very analytical are not included. My friend Kal is an incredible mathematician. I think he is very keen and inventive in that medium. If you put him in front of a canvas with paint, he might not flourish. If you can figure out how to encourage people to hone their strengths, they have potential to shine within their strengths.
LH: I want to talk about that theme of collaborating or connecting with other people. How and why is that so essential to what you do?
JK: Collaboration is one of the most potent ways to reach much more interesting results than I could possibly come up with by myself. It’s that illusive ‘X’ that results when two or more entities come together and create something larger than the sum of their two parts. That’s where we get the theme of the event—‘A+B=X.’ It’s so much more enjoyable for me to observe and appreciate an outcome, than to try to forge an outcome. Failure only happens if I try to do something and don’t do it correctly. If I do something and am open to unforeseen results, failure is nullified. At that point, everything becomes a whole lot more fun.
I am so incredibly excited to work with my fantastic group of collaborators on this Untitled Takeover. Each of them is an educator. Each is a lifelong learner. We have people working within visual art, sound and performance. I really want to represent a wide range of perceptual styles. I’ve brought together some of my favorite people in Denver to create a web of activities and small events which require the input of museum visitors in order to create unforeseen or indeterminate outcomes. This Untitled is going to embody collaboration on a wide range of levels.