Mark McKnight

BOMB 151 Spring 2020
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Discover MFA Programs in Art and Writing

Nude man crouched in water titled If Water Forgets How To Play Mirror by Mark McKnight

…if water forgets how to play mirror, 2018, gelatin silver print, 32 × 40 inches. Images courtesy of the artist.

In Mark McKnight’s photographs, the material of the terrestrial world merges with a celestial aspect. Dark bodies, asphalt, oily birds, decomposing stone, and dimpled flesh all radiate from a field of tarry shadow. The literal darkness corresponds to a figurative one, a subtle intimation of the entropic path of matter—what McKnight calls, after Simone Weil, its “decreation”—into lower states of order. Yet the terms of this rebirth are distinctly non-hierarchical. Animate and inanimate matter mutually inscribe upon one another. His images propose a queer ecology that eschews the boundaries of a reductionist or essentialist biology and look, rather, at the ligaments—a stream of piss into water, the pucker of a cave’s opening—that bind the living and nonliving. The effect is to animate both his personal circle and inert matter with the revitalizing fecundity of mothering.

While the gesture of McKnight’s work is heavenward, the vantage is downward, turning to the cleft, nook, pile, or crease. These are chthonic images, inflected internally toward a charged, private space—not the springlike locus amoenus of the pastoral but an intimate enclosure created within exchanges of empathy and care.

McKnight’s gaze is attuned to the transcendent but not inured to the politics of how bodies and lands are abused, policed, and degraded. His photographs look lovingly at stretch marks, scars, blotches, and burns, at marred landscapes and fleshly bodies in repose. They propose a counter to the history of erasure and violence that’s been visited upon bodies like his own, and they find a redemptive beauty in the land despite our breaches of the natural contract. The threat is not trivialized but rather put in context beside the main event: the alchemical feat of turning matter into light, which McKnight looks to as an emancipatory act.

—Nich Hance McElroy

Nich Hance McElroy is an artist and writer based in Los Angeles.

Mark McKnight is an artist from Los Angeles. His recent exhibitions include Mark McKnight (Aperture Foundation, New York, 2019) and in this temporarily prevailing landscape (Klaus von Nichtssagend, 2020). In September, he will release his first monograph Heaven is a Prison (Loose Joints, London), followed by a solo presentation at Park View / Paul Soto, Los Angeles. McKnight is a former Fulbright Scholar and the winner of the 2019 Aperture Portfolio Prize.

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Originally published in

BOMB 151, Spring 2020

Our spring issue features interviews with Chitra Ganesh, Tania Cypriano, Charles Atlas, Netta Yerushalmy, Vi Khi Nao, Amani Al-Thuwaini, Andrea Hasler, and Bruce Boone, as well as fiction from Verónica Gerber Bicecci, Justin Taylor, Rebecca Dinerstein Knight, and Lee Relvas, and poetry from Shuzo Takiguchi and Bruce Boone.

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