Smile though your heart is breaking | Michelle Knowles
Dates: 14 September - 12 October
Where: Melbourne Projection Space
From: Current Projects
Details: Digital video, 2013, 4:57.
Writer: Caitlin Jade Ramsden-Smith
Michelle Knowles is a Brisbane based visual artist. Her practice explores notions such as the uncanny, the fetishisation of objects, performance and ritual, the otherworldly and imaginary spaces. A curiosity in belief systems and broader spirituality drives the conceptual underpinnings of her practice. This interest has been the catalyst for experiments in both video and photographic works that utilise objects, including handmade artefacts, as tools for transformation.
Michelle has a BFA (Visual Arts) with Honours from the Queensland University of Technology. In 2011 Michelle undertook a winter residency at the Banff Centre in Canada which culminated in an exhibition of her work. She most recently exhibited a solo exhibition at Sawtooth ARI in Launceston. Her work has been exhibited widely in Brisbane galleries such as The Block, Metro Arts, Gallery Artisan and QUT Art Museum, and in artist run spaces such as Level, Accidentally Annie Street Space and inbetweenspaces.
Michelle is a founding member of Current Projects, an artist run initiative that provides exhibition opportunities for emerging and mid-career artists.
Caitlin Jade Ramsden-Smith is a freelance writer and artist based in the lovely town of Melbourne. Currently completing a Diploma of Visual Art at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, she spends much of her time pondering the nature of existence and wondering what all of the cats are thinking about. Could they possibly know? She’s willing to bet they do.
Smile though your heart is breaking
by Caitlin Jade Ramsden-Smith
For those who reside in large and fast-paced cities such as Melbourne, quiet moments of contemplation are rare luxuries. The simple act of taking a minute to appreciate the small and spontaneous moments of beauty that happen all around is often overlooked in day to day life. Allowing this small but under-practiced act of letting oneself slow down momentarily and be drawn in by something simple, surreal and out of place in the midst of the hustle and bustle can have a lasting effect. It is this endeavor to facilitate a moment of tranquility, a break from the ever-persistent rush of city life whilst remaining within it, that has helped Brisbane based visual artist Michelle Knowles create her film piece Smile though your heart is breaking, shown at Melbourne Projection Space.
Situated in the heart of the Melbourne CBD, Melbourne Projection Space - a double-story black brick building, displays the current exhibit over three large screens facing out of the windows and onto the street, one on street level and two upstairs. Smile though your heart is breaking takes up all three windows, with the film repeated on an endless loop, staggered between the three spaces with a slight delay between each. This method of exhibiting adds to the already surreal quality of the piece itself as, at first glance, the work can be seen as if three separate yet interconnected snippets of footage.
Knowles work, ethereal documentation taken spontaneously at a kite show, depicts a glorious blue sky with a series of kites bobbing lazily in and out of frame as the clouds roll by. Their movements are restricted and slow, bound to the earth by an almost invisible rope lifeline. The entrance, and exit, of a new kite into the frame is sudden and the new addition is immediately recognizable as moving at a different pace. This figure, a vivid yellow diamond wearing a big smile, moves far more freely through the framework, dipping and gliding to and fro as it pleases. This becomes a focal point, hard to ignore as it works it’s way through the sky at a far more leisurely pace than the others. The screens seem to be interacting with one another, a kite leaving one frame to appear in another as if on cue, exaggerating the range of freedom enjoyed by the vibrant yellow diamond smile. This method of showing the work invokes a change in perception of the piece from stand-alone footage playing in three spaces to an interconnected and interactive piece, ebbing and flowing into itself.
The slow and transfixing nature of the piece itself, coupled with the effort to engage with a different beat to that of the surrounding streets, allows the work to inspire a certain reflection on the internal discourse on human nature. The contrast amplifies the works ability to arrest a passing and unprepared audience. It is able, at the same time, to remove the viewer from their surroundings and in the same moment create an acute awareness of it, bordering on absurdity.
The nature of the gallery space is such that the work is shown strictly when the sun is down. This increases the sublime sensation of the experience as only the impossibility of sitting in a dark city street watching a kite show on a beautiful day could. When viewing the work, parallels with the human experience are conjured and the notion that we are, as human beings, bound to the world by certain rules and invisible regulations yet some feel the ability to move more freely within this shared plane of existence is brought to mind. Our lives, travels, destinations, are all subject to unpredictable, external elements, but ultimately we are controlled by something stronger and more permanent. Those parts of ourselves that guide us whether or not we know it. Both at times seem to be outside our power to change. The juxtaposition between title and content is effective by way of unsettling the calm of the film and leading to a deeper enquiry into the themes and concepts the work evokes. Kites, having a naturally nostalgic element to most of us, call to mind memories or idealized notions of childhood. The size and nighttime setting exaggerates the unlikely context in which they are being viewed and enhances the vulnerability of the viewer.
Knowles’ practice encompasses a massive range of mediums, from photography to large-scale installation and near everything in between. Knowles says of her work “the piece was conceived rather spontaneously but it speaks to my broader practice and I see it as one of those works that sits within the larger processes of my practice. That being said my practice does work across a broad array of media and has since its inception. Video is useful in speaking of time, and in order to capture those ephemeral moments that hold us in some kind of momentary rapture.”
Dealing with notions of the spiritual, as well as presenting an otherworldly feel, the works can be viewed on a broader and more inclusive scale. Each piece can stand equally as strong alone as it can when viewed in the wider context of Knowles’ practice. Smile though.. is an ambitious piece which is evocative of the increasingly rare moments we find ourselves arrested in a moment, a genuine pause, if not removal, from the point a to b ‘necessities’ we prescribe for ourselves. Or perhaps simply one recorded moment of beauty in an individual’s day that urges us to take the time and remember to appreciate the multitude of passing ones in our own.
 Michelle Knowles discussing this piece and her practice