Savannah Knoop: EarthlingSeptember 11th - October 9th, 2021
Photography by Dario Lasagni
Essay by Lee Relvas
Somewhere on earth there is a cave so large that clouds form within it, and the monkeys who live there inhabit nests constructed from their own saliva. I’ve never seen pictures, but just the fact of its existence perfectly encapsulates the energy emanating from Savannah’s new body of work, a vibration I’d like to call extraterrestrial, if extra equals more, and terra equals earth, and earth equals life. More life!
Under this influence I marvel my way through some thought-experiments: if these sculptures emitted a sound, it’d be a low static, intermittently soothing and ominous … if these sculptures had a smell, it’d be the smell of peat bogs where ancient and perfectly-preserved homosapiens lie…. Like that old queen Hamlet says, there are more things under heaven and earth, and hints of the philosophy dreamt up by these sculptures might be found in their colors, collected from all over the place.
Like the seafood aisle of the supermarket: the enervated brownish-blues and pinks of frozen flesh, and the scuffed blacks, grays, and yellows of the trucks that delivered them there. There are the almost neon taupes found in night-vision footage of reclusive birds whose beaks look like Stone Age tools. Of the many different blackish-greens Savannah uses, I imagine they are sourced from the very oldest forest, moist and sunless and terrifying, with millions of insects seething among the roots, providing pale specks of sheen and gloss. And there’s a red that doesn’t even seem like a color at all but more like a supernatural spirit, a pair of red shoes that turns the wearer into a firebird.
Speaking of form, a detour through materials-n-process is instructive: these sculptures are all made out of newspapers, and not just any newspapers but newspapers from 2020, the year that “doomscrolling” was selected as Word of the Year by both the Oxford English Dictionary and the entire country of New Zealand. These newspapers are cut into strips, rolled into thin scrolls, then woven into masses, swathes, tangles, and trails.
But perhaps a more accurate term to describe the method of creation is incubation, because the forms that emerge are unmanageable, inexplicable, unforecastable, and unforgettable in the same way that images in dreams are: overgrown chairs, buildings with holes in the wrong places, hair that is coffin-long, and corners that seem to be jealously gathering the walls toward themselves. By year’s end, these mysterious forms had already insinuated themselves deep inside our psyches long before Savannah showed them to us in the plain light of day.
Sometimes Savannah posts little videos on Instagram: their strong blunt fingers rolling, rolling, rolling the news, little glimpses of the artist in their studio habitat. Which makes me think of the spider I saw this morning, swiftly rappelling down its self-made skein, busy as ever and to me, inexplicably so. But because I’ve been mind-melding with Savannah’s sculptures, I suddenly wonder what I might look like to the spider: gargantuan, and disconcertingly exoskeleton-less. “And what on earth is it doing with its antennae?” I imagine the spider thinking, hangry and exasperated as it watches me type. I zoom out further and see this:
The artist in their studio is a human in a habitat. And durational performance artists of the sixties got nuthin’ on those monkeys in their saliva nests. Art is the evidence slash residue slash byproduct of life, that’s the important part. What results from these activities – a spider’s sculpture or a human’s web – can’t be exhaustively defined, interpreted, deployed, or consumed. But the force – curiosity – that animates both activities – making and looking – is inexhaustible. More life. That’s what these sculptures want to make sure I remember.
Savannah Knoop is NY-based artist, and educator working in film, sculpture, writing, and performance. Savannah has studied dance and martial arts for over twenty years. Movement and choreography is at the core of their practice.In 2001, Savannah Knoop founded the clothing line Tinc, which ran until 2009, with creative partner Parachati Pattajotti. From 2009-2016 Knoop co-hosted the monthly queer audio-visual party WOAHMONE. They received their BA at at CunyBa under the mentorship of Vito Acconci, and their MFA at Virginia Common Wealth University in Sculpture+Extended Media. They have shown and performed at the Whitney, MoMA, the ICA Philly, Bell Gallery at Brown University,Movement Research, the Leslie Lohman Museum, Essex Flowers, and ACP in Los Angeles. In 2007, they published their memoir Girl Boy Girl: How I Became JT LeRoy (Seven Stories Press) and adapted it into a screenplay, co-producing the resulting feature-length film JT Leroy (Universal Pictures, 2019) directed by Justin Kelly, and starring Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern. Knoop has written essays for the LA Review of Books, 032C, Dazed, BOMB, Critical Correspondence, and Cultured Magazine.