The thrill of the unknown is the innocent face of a mystery that only broadens when we give it credence. We are taught that mysteries exist ‘out there’--as in somewhere beyond ourselves, in distant reaches and on planets and territories beyond our understanding. What we do not know about ourselves is the true mystery, constantly being visited by artists like Karla Knight, who reveal the secret codes and symbols that unite us all in both knowledge and fear.
Her current exhibition “Notes from the Lightship” at Andrew Edlin Gallery displays a dozen works unique for being simultaneously non-objective yet indicative of a technologically driven and descriptive reality. They read like a cryptic language that invites our curiosity yet offers no key. To decipher them we must look deeply and profoundly into the underlying structure of clues that bind them.
Knight plays with images that are totemic despite being caricatures. She combines them together with other series or aggregates of signs that allude to a hidden meaning. Her paintings are like languages waiting to be translated. Looking for an ancient culture we accidentally come upon one that could only have been made in the future. Knight puts us in our place, mining the romance of mystery while making a game of our heightened expectations.
Three types of images stand out in Knight’s paintings, and though depicted in a stylized manner, they are no less impressive for not being a mundane real thing portrayed in a naturalistic style. Eyes, planets, and spaceships all appear with progressive uniformity and accrual in each of her works. Like the collage element in the Combines of Robert Rauschenberg or a reverse-exposed element in a photogram by Man Ray, they take on a faintly sublime character. They are both cat and mouse in a chase toward an unknown future in which presence trumps consciousness. Just by being there, repeatedly there, they force us to confront Knight’s reality, in which a reckoning with mysterious forces is not just something to read about in comic books.
According to her own story, Knight’s own father was obsessed with theories about UFOs similar to the superstitious controversies that attended Witch Hunts of the 17th Century. A secularised society, compartmentalized and power mad from the top down, produces aggregates of outliers whose fascination with an idealized other manifests as the desire to escape a perversely hegemonic society in which they are otherwise powerless to fulfill a satisfying role. One can only enter into dramaturgically excessive scenarios to narrate such an origin story. Looking at her paintings, one wants to reason them out, define particulars, and receive their constituent parts as an archived knowledge.
Each work adds to the constituent layers of possible meaning, outpacing our ability to interpret what we are seeing. Knight herself denies the importance of interpretation. She keens to the concept of “living with the unknown.” So are her paintings meant to attend to these mysterious details serially depicted in much the same way as Monet described haystacks, lines of poplar trees and flowers in his garden? Knight leads us down the garden path into trackless depths where fear, aesthetic or otherwise, has no role to play. There’s a beauty in the unknown.