PROVIDENCE — Artist Savannah Knoop goes to a bathhouse on New York’s Lower East Side where people towel down with newspapers. Knoop, a multidisciplinary artist and writer, rubs newspapers on their own body to absorb sweat and oils as part of their artmaking.
The artist is also a dancer and jiu jitsu practitioner. Their art explores the body’s knowing and expression. “Savannah Knoop: Soothing the Seams” at Brown University’s David Winton Bell Gallery addresses the news’s bodily impact.
The show’s installation, by Bell Gallery’s acting director and curator Kate Kraczon, is swooping and canny. It starts playfully and gets prickly, then personal. Near the entrance, Knoop’s hybrid furniture/fashion pieces — big, unwieldy, dinosaur-type tails with seats — might be giant toys, but hint at the weight we drag.
The news of the last year and a half unfurls in “Giant Newspaper Tarp/Shower Curtain (2020/21),” a 40-foot-long quilt of New York Times pages obsessively sewn together (inspiring the show’s title) and coated with resin. It drapes over a wall, drops to the floor, and lifts again, a threatening wave.
Knoop rubs newspapers on their skin, rolls the pages tightly, and weaves them into resin-coated wall sculptures. “Curve” drops like a fall of hair. “Corner, Free Weaving the News (January/February 2020)” opens like wings. Visible but illegible text and graphics give these works the bristling energy of a fierce current entrapped in a solid object.
The video “SCREENS: A PROJECT ABOUT ‘COMMUNITY,’” featuring footage from the bathhouse, hides behind a wall in the rear. Some of it unspools in womblike darkness, with shards of light glinting as people of a variety of races, nationalities, and political stances float and chat. They sing for each other. They debate the news. There’s tension, but also safety. The water, the steam, and the nudity make the bathhouse a space for ritual and transformation.
Maybe rubbing newspapers on their skin is Knoop’s way of transferring the harmony of that place outward, onto the onslaught expressed in newsprint. The news engulfs us, but maybe in some small way we can alter it. Slow down, this exhibition seems to say. We are human. We are exposed. We can be together.
SAVANNAH KNOOP: SOOTHING THE SEAMS
At David Winton Bell Gallery, 64 College St., Providence, through July 18. Reservations required. www.brown.edu/bellgallery