The Museum of Art proudly presents a recent acquisition, Fragments from the Wheels of Ezekiel, nos. 13, 6, 10, 8, a quartet of digital videos by John Knecht, a pioneering video artist who has recently retired from Colgate University.
The images in Knecht’s Fragments are trippy and people keep asking me what it all means. Here are some thoughts I have had:
John was born in 1947 in Wisconsin, the nation’s heartland. He is part of the enormous baby boomer generation that grew up in post-World War II America, when our country exerted itself as an economic and military superpower. The United States of the 1950s was presented on television as Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, I Love Lucy and other programs showcasing comfortable middle-class white families.
These stories with their gentle moralizing were at odds, though, with real-life racial struggles, paranoia about Communist infiltration, and fear of nuclear war. In the 1960s and early 1970s, these and many other tensions erupted into nationwide rioting and demonstrations in protest of the Viet Nam War and of oppression against minorities, women, and the LGBT community. In 1974, President Nixon resigned his office for rigging the election and lying about it; all his protestations to the contrary, POTUS was, indeed, a crook.
It was altogether a disillusioning time for young, idealistic hearts and minds.
Knecht is himself a veteran of the Viet Nam War. As an artist, his influences also include the blunt drawing style of comic books, as well as the Bible, particularly the book of Ezekiel (well, d’uh).
Ezekiel was a prophet of the Israelites whose extraordinary visions described such things as multi-faced, winged beings that moved effortlessly on wheels:
Then I heard the sound of their wings, like the roaring of mighty waters, like the voice of the Almighty. . . . Above the firmament over their heads something like a throne could be seen, looking like sapphire. Upon it was seated, up above, one who had the appearance of a man. Upward from what resembled his waist I saw what gleamed like electrum; downward from what resembled his waist I saw what looked like fire; he was surrounded with splendor. Like the bow which appears in the clouds on a rainy day was the splendor that surrounded him. Such was the vision and likeness of the glory of the Lord.
Knecht’s Fragments from the Wheels of Ezekiel are funny and strange, direct in their visual imagery and obscure in meaning. We look through an ordinary-seeming kitchen window, or find ourselves in a corner tavern, but then . . . something really weird enters the picture, like a science-fiction creature that is not really scary, but menacing just the same, because it’s just so, well, . . . weird. I mean, is that a bowl of chili with legs? It’s as if Knecht has pulled the proverbial curtains back far enough to see behind the surface of appearances. Is that a mixed metaphor, by the way?
Come and see for yourself, in the Museum of Art, Cardamone Gallery AND, through November 9, you can see more of John’s work at the Earlville Opera House, in Earlville, New York. It’s a great Knecht season in Central New York.