Exhibition review: Paul Knight: L’ombre de ton ombre, MUMA

Paul Knight’s solo exhibition brings into focus the role of chance in human connection.
Paul Knight. Image is a large empty gallery save for one photographic image on a wall. There are different yellow planes jutting out from the walls.

Consisting of photographs of varying scales, textiles and a digital element, Paul Knight: L‘ombré de ton ombre reads like a visual diary – intimate, sentimental and absorbed. Like the camera lens, the exhibition zooms in and out of focus, from the fine details of everyday surroundings to the bigger picture of human, machine and cosmic relationships.

A slanted divide positioned near the gallery’s entrance, Binary Star (2023) is made up of black, hand-loomed bedsheets. One of three textiles works in the exhibition, it seeks to reference the binary star system alongside the hypothesis that it triggered the asteroid impact that ended the dinosaurs. But it is unclear how this has been contextualised visually in the exhibition and in the artwork itself.

On the other hand, textile work number two, Don’t stand by my side, stand inside (2023), poses an affecting intervention with space and light, where the bright yellow sheets cast the gallery in a warm glow. The height of the draped bedsheets is higher than eye level, but low enough that someone of taller stature could easily bump against it, spurring conscious navigation around, under and “through” the artworks – as its title gently beckons.

Yet, the varying scales of the photographs presented in L’ombré de ton ombre in the first and proceeding galleries do resemble the planetary synergies suggested by Binary Star. This visual thread also evokes a timeline of memories and the sense that there are snippets of thoughts among the more significant pillars that may be pivotal in one’s life or relationship. Chance is mediated as core practice – at the click of the shutter, these images and moments in one’s life float into a timeless archive.

‘Paul Knight: L’ombre de ton ombre’ installation view at MUMA. Photo: ArtsHub.

For Naked Souls (2023), Knight fed an archive of text messages between him and his partner in the first two years of their relationship, alongside passages from Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2015 novel Aurora narrated by the starship’s artificial intelligence, into an AI system. Two chatbots engage in a mumble-jumble of conversation, imitating the pair’s desires, creativity and even the mundane toil of human life. They are not quite speaking to each other in a way that is intelligible to us, but is seemingly meaningful to them.

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Perhaps what links Naked Souls to Knight’s continuing photographic series, Chamber Music (2009, the same year Knight met his partner, Peter) is this handing over of the responsibility, or urge, to document what is ultimately ephemeral. The camera, and now chatbots, are left to create digital albums of our memories, while what we are left with as humans, is to love.

Paul Knight: L’ombre de ton ombre is on view until 9 December at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA); free.

The exhibition will tour to UNSW Galleries, Sydney from 28 June to 15 September 2024 and the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts from 26 October 2024 to 19 January 2025.

Curators: José Da Silva, Director, UNSW Galleries, Sydney; Hannah Mathews, CEO, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts; and Pip Wallis, Senior Curator, MUMA

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. She took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs and was the project manager of ArtsHub’s diverse writers initiative, Amplify Collective. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne. Instagram @lleizy_