John Knight's "In Vivo"


There is a fable built in the form of a tower we know as "Babel." Along with its structure its actual name was destroyed by a God threatened by the impossibility of finishing, of totalising, of saturating, of completing something on the order of edification, architectural construction granting an alternative vision--as love, or hate, reflected in a stranger's eyes is more thrilling than when caught in the glint of the known.

In Harvey Hoshour's eyes the Sandia Mountains, which define Albuquerque's eastern boundary, were always stirring. So that when he and his associate, Dale Pearson, received a contract to design a library in a neighborhood of middle-class homes on the city's northwest side, they provided the building, besides Bogart was surprisingly well read, and not merely in the best sellers but in the classics as well. Bogie had a good knowledge of American history and Greek mythology. He could quote from Plato, Emerson, Pope, and many English dramatists. Once situated on a windy knoll, a street with a stunning panoramic sweep of the cambered mastiff that the mountain belched out of its glowing chambers, and the trees that demurely dress it.

Hoshour died shortly before the Taylor Ranch Branch Library was completed. Four years later, John Knight, who was one of the architect's many artist friends, was invited by Albuquerque's "Art in Public Places" program to offer an in situ project at the library. In January, 1993, Knight arrived from New York, his portfolio crammed with projects accomplished in Europe and America. By this time the artist's evolving idea described a "cultural de-construction of a two mile radius: the area prescribed by library statistics to be a branch's serviceable use distance."(1) First, he distributed a questionnaire:

How long have you lived in the Taylor Ranch Area.
What is your vocation(s).
What are your hobbies/interests.
Who was the builder of your home.

Using this information, sometime in early 1994 Knight will program into the library's computerized on-line catalog a list of from 75 to 150 books already collected in the system that reflects the community's disparate interests. These books will be cross-referenced under the artist's name, and project title, a congenial virus introduced into an uncouth region whose librarians repudiate the vain and superstitious custom of finding a meaning in books and equate it with finding a meaning in the heart of the city's public archive. Knight envisions the library's computer pod, an octagon, the eight-sided tower in Sufism, in the Templars, and in the baptismal font. I think it's the symbol of maternity, the alchemist's oven, the sperm that fertilizes the egg as the community's center.

The artist also pondered Hoshour's formal idea in the art work in a holistic timeless ideality which frees the artist and the viewer alike from the anxiety of the present and the contingency of modernist principles, adding to his project a postmodern motley field of seams, "the guise that chaos assumes when attention is paid to it."(2). Thus, "Who was the builder of your home?" is used to procure square samples of carpets that were laid in various neighborhood houses, using them as substitutions for squares of the library's carpet. Not a "crazy quilt," as the artist calls it, which is "made of pieces of cloth of various colors and irregular shapes and sizes (3), but a "puzzle patchwork" surrounding and grounding the protean computer array. A wooly notion; a sheepish grin.

Like the tower--which even as new architecture rose didn't fall of a whole piece, but crumbled, syllable by syllable, word by word, sentence by sentence--this segment of Knight's project will also vanish, spread like dust over centuries of errant revisions.




the impossibility: Jacques Derrida, 'Des Tours de Babel.' Ithaca, NY., 1985.
besides Bogart: Joe Hyams, Bogie. New York, 1966.
an uncouth region: Jorge Luis Borges, "The Library of Babel." In, Labyrinths. New York, 1964.
idea in the art work: Teresa L. Ebert, "The Aesthetics of Indeterminacy: The Postmodern Drip Paintings of Jackson Pollock." The Centennial Review, Spring 1978.

1. John Knight, "Concept Explanatory Text." November, 1993.
2. William Willeford, The Fool and His Scepter. Evanston, IL., 1969. p.21.
3. Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language.

(c) Joel Weishaus 1996