Silke Otto-Knapp Explores Performance And Interaction With Dark Landscapes

Silke Otto-Knapp

At the Camden Arts Centre’s latest exhibition, Silke Otto-Knapp explores performance and landscape in her watercolour and gouache paintings. Several paintings are of the iconic, choreographer Anna Halprin’s outdoor stage, which is enclosed in her Northern California forest. Choreographers and dancers have used this outdoor stage, and the magical setting must have inspired great creativity.  Silke Otto-Knapp refrains from any colourful pigments, sticking almost entirely to grey and black. Light, either from the moon or some other ambiguous source, illuminates aspects of the landscapes, which further change depending on where the viewer stands.

Stage (Moonlit) was one of the most memorable pictures, the viewer peaks through the tree bodies to an empty stage in the dead of night, a moment that the public is not usually privy to. The deserted space is eerie, but the forest setting is magical. It seems only natural that the free movement of contemporary dance be in tune with nature, and not confined to a studio. Silke Otto-Knapp mentioned that often in her works ‘the motif is what remains,’ and these images reveal what is left of a performance stage after the lights have gone down and the dancers have left. The state of emptiness is eternal, for a forest will inevitably be deserted but will not necessarily become populated again. The title of the exhibition, Monday or Tuesday, plays with this idea, for inevitably the weekday will again be Monday and Tuesday.  

The majority of Silke Otto-Knapp’s pieces are of seascapes and forests, which are good subjects for her dark palette, since the curve of the mountains and the branches of the trees are both atmospheric and clearly rendered. Otto-Knapp also paints interiors of dancers on conventional stages, and pictures of dancers in ambiguous settings. The details of these bodies are lost in the darkness of her palette, and become rough shapes that obviously represent humans, but lack anatomical details. The dancers do not own the space through the beauty of their movement, but merely exist in it. In Otto-Knapp’s Stage (Les Biches), based on Bronislava Nijinska’s Les Biches, a moon sheds light onto a theatre through a window, which allows Otto-Knapp to further show off her mastery of light. The moon also makes the viewer question if the dancers are mid-performance, since it is unclear if it is the real moon or a detail of the set.

This exhibition will be accompanied by a season of dance events. Artist in residence, Flora Wiegmann, will perform her piece inspired on Monday or Tuesday on January 24th, and Silke Otto-Knapp will design the costumes based on Yves Saint Laurent dresses from the 1960s. On March 29th to 30th, Nissa Nishikawa will run a Masterclass. On March 2nd, Silke Otto-Knapp and dancer Kate Coyne will hold a series of performance screenings with a conversation on the topic of cross-disciplinary collaborations in art.

Dancing into the Woods: Silke Otto-Knapp at Camden Arts Centre until 30th March 2014
Words: © Katherine Morais Artlyst 2014 –  Photo: Courtesy Camden Arts Centre and the Artist.