Daniel Knorr

4 November - 28 November

Block is an ambitious project by German-based artist Daniel Knorr created for Artspace, in collaboration with prisoners from the New Zealand corrections system.

The exhibition consists of three parts. The first is a film made in collaboration with prisoners at Auckland Prison, Paremoremo, while the second is a curated exhibition of paintings and drawings by prisoners from both Auckland Prison and the Northern Region Corrections Facility. The third element is a sculptural response, which fully materialises only when activated by visitors to the exhibition.

The project brings recognition to the unseen and invisible elements within our society—those who are behind bars. Knorr’s exhibition examines the means by which prison art is traditionally framed as therapeutic, revelatory and even redemptive. It offers a more complicated perspective which brings to the fore the institutional boundaries still in force.

The film presents prisoners from Auckland Prison’s art class participating in an experimental workshop playing music. A mix of complete amateurs and some with contemporary music experience, they attempt to play a range of classical instruments: a harp, double bass, cello, violin, timpani and flute. In order to conform to the conditions required by the Corrections Department no faces or identifying marks are shown, instead, individual identity is revealed only through the sounds they produce.

The sounds produced connect as much to the ethos of punk and the aesthetics of free noise as to that of orchestral production. Classical music is seen as one of the highest representations of culture within European society. In this context it can be understood as a symbol of the imposition of Western high culture on a Pacific nation, New Zealand. The film also explores the oft-quoted notion that music is a universal language, and presents the possibility of collaboration as a tool for communication.

The exhibition of paintings and drawings by prisoners represents works made within the prison during art classes. For many prisoners, such classes are a catalyst for their first artworks. Within the drawings (able to be credited to first names only) individual identities can be glimpsed only through references to different backgrounds and experiences.

The third element is a large constructed cage within which the classical instruments are trapped. Knorr describes the cage as offering an inverse situation, in which the real world could become the prison and we might momentarily gain a prisoner’s perspective. Under boundaries established by Knorr, the instruments are able to be played by visitors to the gallery, but only if they are not professional musicians. Thus the work operates as a leveler, and again suggests the potentiality of amateur experience.

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