Art & Voices Matter: Daniel Knorr on interrogating authoritarian structures

STIR looks at Romanian artist Daniel Knorr’s ‘Stasi Stones’ through his framework of materialisation.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : May 24, 2021

Daniel Knorr has a fascinating and challenging practice which he has dubbed “materialisation”, and within which his State of Mind exhibition stands out as a particularly fine example. As his interview with STIR reveals, he begins with an idea but allows the materiality of his work to trigger mutations in perception.

The work presented here is manifested through the usage of Stasi, or erstwhile East German secret police documents, which detailed the surveillance and torture of thousands of people. These were hurriedly shredded, mixed with oil and compounded into large “stones” in order to obfuscate efforts to investigate the many atrocities of the aforementioned agency. These stones carry with them a physical and metaphorical weight; they sit in their exhibits, heavy and brutish, as they once did over the lives of the German people.

02 mins watch Daniel Knorr presenting Depression Elevations, Moon Lake three (2018) | Daniel Knorr | STIRworld
Daniel Knorr presenting Depression Elevations, Moon Lake three (2018) Video: Daniel Knorr

1. Please talk about your general practice.

I call my practice “materialisation”. From the moment when the artwork appears in the mind of the artist, it starts a process of materialisation. The idea itself triggers the media of the work, its material and manifestation. I have a conceptual-driven practice that aims at exploring critical interest in art production and perception.

Close up of a stone. One wonders what the conspicuous number meant | Kontakt, collection of Erste Bank Vienna, AT | STIRworld
Close up of a stone. One wonders what the conspicuous number meant Image: Courtesy of Kontakt, Collection of Erste Bank Vienna, AT

2. What are the key concerns that you aspire to address through your work? What prompted you to make this your area of focus?

I am interested in finding a subversive way of contemplating artistic practice and perception. I want to perpetuate a critical view on things around us, and initiate discussions that can be implemented in society. I have many themes I worked on in the past and the prime engagement has been the human and the place it takes or occupies in different worlds. I try to see the artwork as a real element of our time that can enable and initiate new ways of perceiving and acting.

3. How do art interventions aid the process to voice anxieties of the subaltern and question the normative order? Do you think art helps its audience to think and experience about matters that are otherwise considered of a lesser-importance?

I think the paradigm of racism is the amnesia of majorities. The discrepancy of “high” art, social discussions and cultural achievements versus primitive social behaviour and modern racism makes us so vulnerable.

I also think self-referential art is a dead end. It stigmatises the artist and his/her art as a shaman of individual feelings or porter of cultural provenance, projecting it to an ecranisation of the guilty conscience of the majorities. And just like that, this cultural spectacle skips any engagement with a deeper perception of marginalised art or art practices that, in turn, engage with a deeper understanding of culture.

Records turned to barren terrain; these stones offer little evidence of the Stasi’s horrific atrocities | Kontakt, collection of Erste Bank Vienna, AT | STIRworld
Records turned to barren terrain; these stones offer little evidence of the Stasi’s horrific atrocities Image: Courtesy of Kontakt, Collection of Erste Bank Vienna, AT

4. What kind of artistic liberties do you take to reflect (your version of) the reality of the community? 

We live in a time where everything gets valued, measured and branded within the scope of individualism. I see it as escapism against the truth. I am referring to a parametrising of society through a system of algorithms. But maybe this is equality? For me I think, I would like to see art evolving outside of this process of evaluation. It’s hard to say whether we are or aren’t far from that. My utopia is a society with artists but no names, with art but no museums, no galleries and no openings. Art evolves and comes out from everywhere, the society understands it first and foremost, and then chooses to protect it or not. The artists in my world live off their work, through their engagement with society in synchronicity.

A Stasi uniform | Kontakt, collection of Erste Bank Vienna, AT | STIRworld
A Stasi uniform Image: Courtesy of Kontakt, Collection of Erste Bank Vienna, AT

5. How do you involve artistic sensitivity to capture the fragility of the people already relegated to the margins? How do you balance the aspects of sensitivity and solidarity?

One of my older and largely invisible works was called Klaus. Klaus comes by foot, from 2001. I was interested in presenting a peripheric existence; in this case, of a former museum guard living on social welfare and slowly entering the heart of the art world. It was a real-life performance series, where the person that was the “artwork” attended the opening of the show without being introduced to the public. The trajectory of the perception of this work was meant to engage a sensibility for the peripheric. When the work got media coverage - this being a way the work materialised – it was not its value that was raised, but rather, the personality of the person Klaus that was engaged with in a greater capacity.

Furthermore, the work Block for Artist Space in Auckland, NZ, showcased a music piece that I produced by bringing classical music instruments into a largely ethnically-populated prison, and making a recording with the inmates. I saw the classical instruments as a tool used for colonisation and the enforcement of European culture. In the hands of the Maori inmates, the sound produced was the loud scream of a suppressed community.

Destroyed STASI documents (east german secret police); taken from booklet | Kontakt, collection of Erste Bank Vienna, AT | STIRworld
Destroyed STASI documents (East German secret police); taken from booklet Image: Courtesy of Kontakt, Collection of Erste Bank Vienna, AT

6. Lastly, how far have things changed in past years and what do you aspire as an outcome in medium for the long term through your work?

For a while now, my workload has increased drastically. It is not always a virtue. When I was in art school in the early 90s, I was keen on producing works that evolved for the moment of exhibition and presentation, using social structures as material, such as a piece called Powder, which focused on the police displaying seized cocaine, within which I did a drawing. Afterwards, the cocaine was returned, and with it, my drawing simply “evaporated”. Now I work with galleries, I have storages and engage with serious art production, and I hope we all can survive in the art world. But I think art has to change, and that we are at a watershed moment that offers new paths that can foster new ways of thinking for the entirety of society. I guess it needs to be a more flexible and understandable change, for microsystems as well as big conglomerates.

Daniel Knorr| Verena Brüning | STIRworld
Daniel Knorr Image: Verena Brüning

Art & Voices Matter
Co-curated by Rahul Kumar and Dilpreet Bhullar, Art & Voices Matter is a STIR original series of interviews with global creative practitioners who bring to the core the issues of communities that may be seen at the periphery.

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