Jon Knowles / Mixed Misuse

"There's a mushroom on my eyelid
There's a carrot down my back
I can see in the distance
A vast quantity of beans
To you I'm just a flavour
To make your stew taste nice
Oh my god, here come the onions
And - I don't believe it!
at least a pound of rice.
There was a time when bacon sandwiches
Were everyone's favourite snack
I'm delicious when I'm crunchy
Even when I'm almost black
So why you make a soup with me
I just can't understand
It seems so bloody tasteless
Not to mention underhand.
Now there's no hope of getting out of here
I can feel I'm going soft
Dirty waters soak my fibres
The whole saucepan's getting hot
So I may as well resign myself
Make friends with a few peas
But I just, I can't help hoping
That a tummy ache will bring you to your knees
Bring you to your knees
Bring you to your knees
Bring you to your knees"

Soup Song by Robert Wyatt (1975)

This show marks a continuity between production and display based on a two and a half year period of engagement with the behaviourism of studio work at the Darling Foundry (strategic showroom, quasi domestic living room, artisanal atelier etc).  I have formulated my studio production through an aesthetic of re-use, repurposed and a kind of performed distress that characterizes the Foundry environment.  What I have also been toying with recently is that I am basically producing a show for my landlord. Of course my peers and colleagues are also viewing this show, as well as the mirage general audience consisting of art lovers, the culturally curious and several undefined interest groups of who knows what.  

Showing for your landlord is analogous to a renter cooking dinner for their landlord while repairing their leaky faucet. Autonomy, agency and a gift economy are part of the equation. Needless to say, friendship can also unfold from this contingent situation. Repairing a leaky faucet or improving the state of the physical space in any way would improve the value of the space, for your landlord and temporarily for yourself.  We know that the more the space (and in turn the house) is improved, while others in the neighbourhood are generally following a similar logic of improvement, the neighbourhood will also rise in value along with the property.  Real-estate developers and the banks are also very much implicated.  Outside of this fairly modest first exchange between tenant and landlord (though this is never without social complexities and power relations), what can be made of some peoples interest that the neighbourhood’s value rises, all without lifting a finger? What is my “petit métier” in this rendering of things? What is the Darling Foundry’s relation to the creation of surplus value in the neighbourhood of Griffintown?

Now in Montreal, there is a real feeling in the air of values (and the process of re-evaluation) being seriously questioned and struggled over: this past winter and spring the focus has been on education.  How can we bring this re-evaluation into the sphere of the Darling Foundry (and the Montreal art field) without coquettishly appropriating tactics found in our students unrest (and now we can finally say “our" students as it should be properly understood that this is a social process implicating a whole population irrespective of any libidinal economy between generations)?  What is the crisis of representation when you make a show for your landlord (and by extension pay for education or eat a $12 dollar bowl of soup in a restaurant decorated with Maoist era Godard film posters)? There is a need for me to examine the myth of marginality that the Montreal cultural milieu lives on (so green to the idea of an art market that it is tripping over itself with a vitrine protecting a chrome encrusted studio). Maybe it is time to fix the leaky faucet of the idea that what happens in the Darling Foundry is severed from what happens down the street in this “industrial cluster” of service and affect production. If there is any ambiguity to this show (and naiveté in this text) it is due to the feeling that somehow the show for the landlord desperately and embarrassingly needs to be understood as part of the soup we all find ourselves in.       

Jon Knowles (Spring 2012)

Text by Robert Knowles

I am disappointed in some people's lack of memory of an event that I am certain was a regular occurrence. When aged about seven or eight my family would regularly go round to the home of some family friends for dinner. At some point in the past the children of said family friends had been presented by their father (himself the head of marketing for a major soap concern) with a child-size market stall on wheels, made entirely of plastic. This sat in front of one of the large plate glass windows of their cod-modernist house. Typically, the stall was found liberally adorned with plastic fruit and vegetables, ready to be used as props in the currency game. It was common for us kids to contribute to these events through both the production of real food for consumption and, in a perhaps more playful form, with the unreal fruit of the market stall. One evening, when the time came for my parents to call their inevitable 'hometime', the boy of the family and I shared an unspoken understanding that this was the moment to collect as much plastic fruit & veg as our t-shirts could cradle and climb to the landing at the top of the stairs. Thus supported, we would, piece by piece, release the fake flora from our dangling hands, sending it plummeting down to the floor below in a slow and steady clattering rain, until our supplies were exhausted and we were physically removed from our perch. Once sampled, needless to say, it became impossible for me to leave without completing this process. I am certain that our work together over those evenings was crucially formative in his later becoming a high court barrister.

Text by Vincent Bonin

In each of the rooms, partitions have been set up to fit with the I-beams of the building’s original frame. These rooms are strictly reserved for the private use of tenants, while the common areas – corridors, kitchen – facilitate impromptu encounters. Wooden battens, 2 by 6 inches thin, separate the ceilings from the floor. Noises and cigarette smoke filter from one floor to the other. At night, when one of the rooms is in complete darkness, light beams also come through the cracks between battens. In the morning, a layer of soot covers the floor and the occasional tables.

 Translucent glass brick walls set on two sides of the architectural enclosure are regarded as one of the house’s distinctive features. Unlike windows that reflect natural light in the manner of a two-way mirror to gradually reveal domestic space at sundown, these walls deprive the owner as well as passersby a clear view of the inside or outside. By day, natural light shines through the blocks. By night, this enclosure is artificially lit (from the front and back) thanks to projectors affixed to cleats and ladders. Whether one is standing on one side or the other of this interface, a blinking becomes perceptible, signalling motion and events without necessarily evoking human presence. The first floor is devoted to daytime professional activities and the third floor to nighttime private life. Between the two floors, one finds the piano nobile. The communicating rooms, some of them occupying two floors, raise a soundproofing issue that is not easily solved.

In front of the building, there is a power plant with translucent openings through which only the blinking of machines is glimpsed. That was the view he had from the third floor.

The landlord has isolated himself in an alcove to manipulate the cabling of an antique lamp. Not far from there, on a large table, he has lined up old faucets, pipes and other plumbing items manufactured at the beginning of the century, that seemed to be waiting for someone to repair them. “I leave them that way, as their forlorn look reminds me of my father, After having completed his studies in fine arts, he left the architect’s profession, found a job as an urbanist and bought a suburban house. He did however intend to build his own house. During one of his study trips to the United States and Europe at the end of the 1960s, he had photographed hundreds of Modernist buildings. Those slides were empty of human figures, like most pictures taken during our family trips a few years later.” He then guides me towards the mezzanine, soaked in underwater lighting filtered through those famous glass blocks and reflected against the floor’s rubber tiles, now covered with cracks and asperities. Noticing that I was dwelling on the details, he added: “I attempted to keep the house the way I found it. This desire stems from my interest in originality. Original things have a patina that is revealed with time, slowly constituting the spirit or character of a place.”

“A project’s occupied territory of intervention is at once regional and national. The pool of businesses associated with multimedia is strongly concentrated in Montreal’s metropolitan area and pericentral neighbourhoods. This reality necessarily has an impact on the definition of a project’s territory of intervention, that will have to take into account the dual territorial dynamic. This dual dynamic is made up of a sector of economic specialization corresponding to a minimally regional territory and a desire, at the beginning at least, to provide a model for the rehabilitation of the Faubourg so as to intensify mixed occupation. The Cité du Multimédia constitutes a new tool for local/regional economic development associated with the new economy’s mode of organization. In that sense, this project emphasizes the quality of the jobs that will be created, of real estate and technological infrastructures, of the environment and social relations to be built.”

The second building’s freelancers give the impression of forming a team, but none of them is subordinated to the same person. Before that, they had tried to work here and there – in cafés, at the library – without however striking conversations with strangers, as they had ultimately been hoping. It is after all at work that one finds sexual partners. Like the first building’s tenants, they put aside part of their salary to leave their apartment and go live “in a community”. It rarely happened that these two groups came across each other, excepting perhaps during fundraiser evenings organized by the landlord of the first building where the general public is invited. At that time, tenants (by virtue of the contract they have signed) must open the doors of their offices that then become showrooms.

“I was no longer able to remain shuttered at home. I had to get out. I even thought of abandoning my profession as a translator to get any job in the customer service industry. I sometimes spent an entire week without saying a word to anyone, except for cashiers or salespeople in stores. Friends were rarely heard from all of a sudden. Most of them are in a relationship, so they just stopped calling, for lack of time or maybe because my presence was getting to be unbearable (when I see them, I start talking without stopping, as if I had accumulated an overflow of speech during solitary intervals). I decided to rent an office in this common area. Now, in the morning, I can get my day started by chatting with friends who share the same daily life. Although our professional fields are (…)” “Before I can work, I carry out an exorcism. First, I have to ban unknown people, and finally, my family. Then, when I sense that this space has been emptied of those undesirable presences, I see (…)” “These days, I enter it with less language than I used to, and I start by imagining shapes. Through the play of these shapes (…)” “What happens here is preceded by day dreams, by choices and by sketches in a space that I claim as mine. I remember certain places more than others, not only by their dimensions, their decoration or their localization, but on account of the small epiphanies they have given rise to.” “I met my spouse there and we now have a son who is two and a half years old.” “This place seems as little relevant as what is drawn from it at the end of the day. Now, we no longer define our work in relation to a physical site, but in terms of fields of interest, of geographic models and technologies. (…)” “This place is filled with things – with found objects, manufactured objects, things that may help me make other things. (…)” “To this day, I feel nostalgic about simpler times when I used to frantically wait for the muses to transport me from this place to uncharted territories (…).” “It is embarrassing to hear our colleagues’ conversations, but we get used to it eventually.” “We become sensitive to the way this place is used, as it doesn’t seem to become obsolete as we make it our own. Our practice may change, but we always return to it.”

I decided to add to the title Mixed Misuse the word melodrama, referring to the film by choreographer YR, Life of Performers: a melodrama (1972). The film begins with a long take of members of the company dancing in a space that looks like a loft. We hear YR’s voice giving instructions. Then, to stills of photographs of their performances, dancers start describing the romantic plots that arise and are undone during intervals of common life. A few years ago, I suggested that you show this film in your gallery. Going down to the basement, one discovered a place you had set up almost like a white cube. During vernissages, guests would gather in the kitchen. Generally speaking, I feel rather uncomfortable during these social rituals and I would then take refuge in the basement. I was often alone there, as people got up to the second floor once they had seen the exhibition.

I believe it was in 1997. The great hall was almost empty and uniformly lit by the prisms of a disco ball. A song by Frank Sinatra was playing in a loop. At the center, a kind of pellet had been set up: actually, a rotating motorized platform. Visitors entered this space at their own risk.

Shooting schedule (great hall): 1. Pile of pants bouncing. –Another angle from above, fall, cut. –On wooden tables (metal surface) 2. Macro lenses A. Knobs 2-3 B Identification signs 2-3 C. (ideas for close-ups) – Through buckled belts. –On crest 3. Pants that move – They are worn and then fastened. 4. Hanging jeans – textured wall. 5. Crouching before the textured wall. White. Close-up.

In 1966, this program consisted in defining daily moves and tasks as gestures sufficiently charged to defuse the exhibitionism of performance. Industrial artefacts had then a different status when they showed up in a white cube or on a stage. The moment of transition between dance and cinema in her practice also marked the failure of this project where objects could “tell the truth”. She would later recount his failure: “I sat down with my walkie-talkie on the balcony, set back to observe the 200 x 200 feet performance area like a sultan surveying his troops in a vast battlefield. (This choice of an imperial position later bothered me. Why could I not just leave the performers free to move the objects as they pleased? After all, my piece’s program had to do with highlighting ‘the idea of effort and finding precise means for this effort to become perceivable or not’, but no, I had to direct everything).”

On the card it was written: “with the participation of”. How was it actually decided that I would be the curator? You did want to surround yourself with collaborators, but it seems that this wish was wrongly interpreted. I completely defend the position of those who decide not to work with curators. The definition of the word “to police”: to civilize, to soften the manners. Since your project deals with issues of use value and exchange value, I had to “meditate” anew on this anecdote, as the texts commissioned by institutions (and artistes) to accompany exhibitions often become mere promotional materials. The name of authors is used to add a certain prestige to the project – for the benefit of both artists and institutions. This publicity stems from a transaction –when the author is known, s/he has to be remunerated accordingly to take advantage of the name’s plus-value. I do not belong to this group. There is, quite obviously, the other case in point of texts producing this value without a signature – the press release –, in which however all voices are condensed (those of the artist, of the gallery, of commentators). It is always difficult to precisely quantify the debt resulting from this trade-off. The artist can offer the author a work or a service, but the institution that gets between the two parties allows the friendship to be protected and remains in a space of its own, as it were. Even in a situation where two friends (the first as author, the second as artist) decide to collaborate, the payment of a fee makes it possible to avoid the ambiguity of a gift economy. At the start of our discussions, I had mentioned this model that seemed to me a successful attempt to “make good accounts”: an artist or an art historian. The gallerist asked them to work together. The first would write texts on the other’s work in exchange for a weekly salary for a year. The second would use this material to produce a new work. In the end, the artist created a video made up of re-edited excerpts of a film with running subtitles – the other’s text. The author’s contribution was restricted to that space of visibility. His manuscript was quarantined in the gallerist’s office. However, the work was on sale. I found this scenario a little cynical, even if for me it was the only way to make that “mercantile dimension of the written word” perceivable. We had to come up with something simpler. It would not have bothered me if my intervention had been completely erased. “With the participation of” – that could have been limited to the simple gesture of interpolating an object in your exhibition. Would I have then deserved the title of collaborator and that my name appear on the invitation card? I doubt that you will keep this segment in the final version of this text. When I showed you a rough sketch of it, you made this suggestion that may have obscured your wish not to be one of my narrative’s protagonists: “I would take my name out. I know this takes it out of the dialogical context, but it seems interesting to imbue the text with something more introspective.” I have thought long and hard about the way to write something introspective “around” your work. You also suggested I start by discussing writer’s block. I then thought again of an especially unpleasant session with a therapist, who had let me talk and, after half an hour, had the gall to proffer this curt diagnosis: “You suffer from logorrhoea.” It seems to me this was the very thing not to say if the idea was to enable speech to unfold. I wrote the text as a long digression. I do not master all of the specialized knowledge embedded in your work, so I have used borrowed voices. Evidently, bibliographical references are associated with each of the excerpts paraphrased, but that stays between us.

Two articulated elements, one with a fixed triangular platen and the other with two swivelling elements with a platen with three metal blades and circled fastenings. Height: 103 cm - diam. 50 cm. Here, the functionality is also veiled or rather defused – the jardinière suggests something else, a human figure… He made it using photographs and your drawing (extrapolating the almost invisible details in the picture). You paid him for his services. When we discussed this delegation protocol, I brought up again the issue of “post-studio” and you stopped me right there, adding that the idea was not to represent the division of labour – or to represent the split between manual labour and intellectual work.

Go hide, object! That spell was relevant in 1968. Today, we are again talking of anthropomorphism by reappraising the issues surrounding the ready-made. Objects can no longer expose themselves in their nakedness (as publicity). Whether displaced from their context or exchanged, they only exist within a community of speakers sharing the same codes and participating in the same series of transactions. And yet, despite this generalized fetishism, some objects remain orphaned. Even when they are associated with their author, they keep on transmitting their lonely character or, in the best of cases, they bring to the fore the absence of the archaic economy that was the reason for them to arise in the first place.

“More hours of love than it would ever be possible to pay” — this sentence has been interpreted as the insignia of generosity. Yet when he made it up, he was attempting to describe a strategy adopted by the members of the working class to extricate themselves from sexual and affective want. A gift (here the knitted piece of clothing) has been produced, whose material appearance makes it possible to symbolically decipher effort and thus to quantify the value of the debt (understood as use value). This transaction, relegated to the plane of a never fulfilled desire — unrequited love —, brought forth a tacit contract between producer and recipient.

“Your tactics might be interpreted as an anti-idealism of last resort, or as a form of approximate realism. (…) The question remains: what does the effigy hide? (…) For the effigy displays the products of élite culture under cover of a morbid simulacrum. Those tactics also open these forms to substitution, as well as to the likelihood that they will be mobilised by other dynamics, other impulses, other ‘cultures’. What could be the entity that prospers behind this surface? What is the heart, if there is any, that beats behind the façade?”

By getting rid of these objects in hopes of cancelling the debt, their owner also wished to forget an episode of his life (or a being who tied itself to him, with violence, by virtue of this symbolic exchange). He would then get them to circulate in the secondary market. One day, they would reappear by the thousands, like a tide held back for many years. The undertow would leave small animals on the shore as they breathed their last. Plants would cling to the abandoned beams until they completely covered them. After a few years, no trace of the event would be left.

The room would from then on be almost empty, with the exception of tools, tables, and other objects entrenched in a corner. I would replace him during his work shift, seated in front of a white wall that would still hold some traces of paint. People would enter thinking they were to meet him (since his name is on the door) and strangers would initially figure out it was indeed him. I would avoid talking first. When his loved ones or colleagues would appear, they would be startled to find me there, while he was missing from his spot. I would then start reading this text. I would go on reading, only to stop the moment the room was again empty. Party noises would filter from the floors below. Towards midnight, he would come to lock up. A phenomenal quantity of trash would have accumulated on the street.

Jon Knowles would like to thank the following individuals: Caroline Andrieux, Lorna Bauer, Vincent Bonin, Esther Bourdages, Lloyd Davis, Alfonso Esparza, Pierre Giroux, Florence Larose, Sergio Leon-Chantres, Luc Paradis, Laurent Sasiela, Steve Topping as well as the volunteers, interns, artists and residents of the Darling Foundry. 

The artist also acknowledges the support of the Conceil des Arts et des Lettres Québec.

List of works

  1. The Roomate, 2012
    Custom wall, 24 glass blocks, hand-knit sweater, fishing line, lighting fixture 
  2. The Neighbour, 2012
    1 Cold-rolled steel replica of Pierre Chareau design for a plant-stand
  3. The Subletter, 2012
    1 cold-rolled steel replica of Pierre Chareau design for picture hanging system
  4. The Tenant, 2012
    31 faux I-beams derived from Darling Foundry artist studio, mdf, paint, rope, fake vegetables
  5. The Resident, 2012
    1 replica of Pierre Chareau design for « paire de chenets » (firedogs/adiron), blanket, fake fruit, coffee maker, hotplate
  6. The Visitor, 2012
    Various faucet handles, aircraft cable
  7. Untitled, 2012
    Found metal, antique faucet

Jon Knowles

Jon Knowles was born in Oshawa, Ontario and has been living in Montreal since 2005. He studied at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design (Halifax), The Cooper Union (New York City), and Concordia University (Montreal). Knowles frequently collaborates with Michael Eddy and Robert Knowles under the name Knowles Eddy Knowles.

In all of Knowles' projects, the artist develops a conceptual structure and a situation that pays special attention to context, site, documentation, written language and the everyday. He is motivated primarily by a discursive approach that seeks out peculiar elements from art history and popular culture while subjecting these elements to questions about consumption, cultural distinction and representation, resulting in an inter-media based artistic practice.
Jon Knowles’ concurrent solo exhibitions include Blood Oranges at Laroche/Joncas and Mixed Misuse at the Darling Foundry.  Knowles has participated in group exhibitions at The Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Düsseldorf Kunstverein, Pavilion Projects (Montréal), Cooper Gallery (Dundee Scotland), Eyelevel Gallery, Anna Leonowens Gallery, Dalhousie Art Gallery (Halifax).  In 2010, Knowles organized (along with Vincent Bonin) Blooming Flowers on the Coffee Table for Artexte. As a member of Knowles Eddy Knowles he has produced commissions, performances, and exhibitions for TENT (Rotterdam), Portikus (Frankfurt), Apex Art (New York), Presentation House Gallery (Vancouver), FormContent (London), Fabrica del Vapore (Milan), Centre de Recherche Urbaine de Montréal, Museo Studio del Tessuto (Como), The Store/Vitamin Creative Space (Beijing), and Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery (Montréal).  Knowles will present a new project at Vox Centre de l’image contemporaine during the spring of 2013.