The concept is referenced in the exhibition’s title, “_UNG,” the German suffix that transforms a verb, or action, into a noun, or idea (much like the way a gerund is formed in English by adding the suffix “-ing”). In the artist’s provocative performative work, this comes up frequently, as he enacts seemingly impossible or outrageous events as almost a means to normalize horror—and thus critiques our impulse to normalize such things at all.
In the series “VERACHTUNG” (German for “contempt”)—represented in the exhibition as a video, a suit covered in ashes, and a pile of rocks—Knecht headed to the streets of New York to confront the way we deal with terrorism and war today. Dressed in a suit covered in dust from Hillah, Iraq, the site of a suicide bombing, Knecht walked an imaginary line connecting New York to Iraq, ultimately reaching the former site of the World Trade Center. Approaching the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks covered in dust, his presence was an eerie reminder of the tragedy that took place nearly 15 years before, like a ghost or phantom that, in the video documentation, goes largely ignored.
At Galerie Christophe Gaillard the artist confronts visitors with the iconography of terror from the instant they step foot inside. An unattended backpack sits on the floor. In our “if you see something, say something” age of public paranoia, this simple gesture sets the tone of uneasiness: is this simply a careless act, or something more sinister?
In the series “FREISETZUNG” (German for “release”), Knecht injects terror into the gallery space in another way. Documented here in a series of sketches, photographs, and video is Knecht’s 2014 intervention at Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie, where he made white smoke pour from the museum. From the outside, it appeared that the museum was burning. In the video of the project, we see passersby snapping cell-phone photos of what looks to be a tragedy—as poignant a portrait as any of life in 2015.