RMF: There is evermore debate about the real purpose of art and the motivations behind it. Who or what is an artist?
KK: I think an artist is someone who is part of an artistic community, which includes contemporaries and peers engaging critically through whatever chosen medium film, performance, photography, painting, etc. – with the world and the community they live in. Art is part of everyday life and creativity can be found everywhere, from ordinary domestic gestures like rearranging your home to ambitious initiatives in public spaces. It’s certainly not limited to a gallery space. Since the Fluxus movement, there are so many forms it can take, from agitprop to playful, and more recently a do-it-yourself aesthetic and collaboration between artists is coming to the fore again. Contemporary art is still hindered, in my opinion, by patriarchal attitudes. Very few women are given solo shows in museums and major galleries compared to men. And art by women doesn’t appear at the top of auction sales. The ‘Guerilla Girls’, an anonymous collective of feminist artists formed in the 1980s, have long since pointed this out with humour.
Hello Karen, thank you for this interview. I would like to start from the beginning, from your first photographs and the start of your career. The origin of your practice is particularly relevant today with the ‘rediscovering’ of your first body of work Punks (1976); a collaboration with Olivier Richon, now Professor and Head of the Photography programme at the Royal College of Art. Tell us about how it all started.
The following text is based on an interview between Karen Knorr and Nirati Agrawal, from the Indian magazine Marwar. The interview took place during the Delhi Art Fair in January 2012, where her recent work, India Song, was exhibited at the Delhi branch of Tasveer Gallery, a pan- Indian network of photographic galleries based in Bangalore. The images following the interview are all from India Song.
Interview by Ana Bergueta with Karen Knorr PHOTO ESPANA 2008
– Why did you choose a uniform format for your earlier black and white work? What determined the choice of typographies?
A conceptual approach structured the series. Similar lighting, camera angles and conventions of environmental portraiture were employed throughout the work. The typographies vary depending on the series: Gentlemen uses ‘Garamond,’ Country Life uses ‘Boldoni’ and Connoisseurs ‘Times.’ Belgravia utilises ‘Century Schoolbook,’ evoking a school textbook on upper class ideas and attitudes constructed out of conversations.
Challenging ‘The Order of Things’: a call to arms in Karen Knorr’s Academies.
Established in 1768, the Royal Academy of Arts aimed to elevate the status of the artist. Instead of teaching practical skills to the commercial artist, the Royal Academy encouraged its students to create works of high moral and artistic worth. The monkey perched before the easel in Karen Knorr’s ‘Painting after Nature,’ photographed in the Life Class Room of the Academy, can be seen as an example of a civilised post-Darwinian gentleman engaged in a refined and educated endeavour. Yet traditionally the monkey is known for its ability to ‘ape’ or imitate reality. In photographing the monkey, Knorr draws upon a nineteenth century trope of the photographer as an organ-grinding monkey who cranks a handle to generate a tune.
The problem is no longer one of tradition, of tracing a line, but one of division, of limits; it is no longer one of lasting foundations, but one of transformations that serve as new foundations, the rebuilding of foundations.
AS WE MOVE closer to another millennium, we enter a period of transition marked by the rapid expansion of global markets based on lesser developed countries’ cheap labour force. Technology, the media and its owners, will run the world of the future. Those who own the means of production in the media are becoming a major force in international politics.
Considering the recent period, where much UK fine-art photography is either minimally abstract, suggestive of the banality of the everyday, or full of bleak (and dare I say dull) representations of the post-industrial landscape, it is in fact rather satisfying to consider a body of photographic work by an artist that remains faithful to the meticulous development and consistent refining of her own oeuvre, as opposed to the ever-changing and unpredictable morphology of trend.
In his book Science and the Arts (1935), Jacob Opper describes the change in the theory of nature from the eighteenth to the nineteenth centuries as one that involves a shift from Cartesian and Newtonian mechanics, to biology – the science of life.
Dans le sillage d’artistes aussi fameux que La Fontaine ou Chardin, Karen Knorr s’intéresse depuis longtemps aux rapports entre l’animal et la société. En mettant en scène la gent animale dans des intérieurs ultra chics, aux antipodes de son habitat naturel, l’artiste anticonformiste nous balade, un sourire espiègle aux lèvres, dans les labyrinthes de son univers.
Qui aurait pensé qu’en installant les animaux dans les musées et les châteaux, ils allaient nous enseigner la sagesse plus efficacement que n’importe quel théoricien ? Karen Knorr, en fée de la photo, est parvenue à rendre les bêtes beaucoup plus éloquentes qu’elles ne le paraissent !
“No space of representation without a subject, and no subject without a space it is not. No subject, therefore, without a boundary”. (Victor Burgin, In Different Spaces, Place & Memory in Visual Culture, University of California press, 1996: p52).
The work of Karen Knorr has developed intellectually and aesthetically at quite a speed since the mid 1980’s. Following an initial practice relating to social documentary, Knorr discovered a new area of investigation that went hand in hand with her natural curiosity, interest and knowledge of art theory and art history.
The encounter between two disciplines doesn’t take place when one begins to reflect on another, but when one discipline realises that it has to resolve, for itself and by its own means, a problem similar to one confronted by the other.
Like the mutilated classical statue, a photograph seems to result from the artwork’s encounter with a scythe of real time, showing the bruise imprinted upon an artwork by a clash with a time not its own.