Autumn Knight, Untitled Study (The Studio Museum in Harlem) (2016) (all images courtesy the Kitchen)

There’s something delightfully humorous about watching a room full of jaded art world denizens suddenly grow shy and squirm a bit. When such discomfort is caused by a Black woman artist unapologetically performing her work — of which eliciting such nervous skittishness is a vital part — my chuckles usually morph into full-blown cackles. For Autumn Knight, a Houston-born and New York-based interdisciplinary artist, being attuned to and strategically utilizing such audience dynamics is key. Often moving seamlessly between deadpan and absurdist strands, her performance personas reflect a keen interest in revealing how identity colors perception, particularly as it relates to Black women. As fellow artist and scholar Ayanna Dozier writes in the 2019 Whitney Biennial catalogue, “absurdity runs amok in the work of Autumn Knight, becoming an avenue via which we may navigate societal crises of identity.”

Autumn Knight, Untitled Study (the Kitchen), (2020)

In the past, Knight’s work has taken diverse forms. From satirical musings on the dietary benefits of cockroach milk (the 2017 video “Roaches Aren’t the Easiest Creature to Milk”) to an improvised participatory talk show (the ongoing Sanity TV, of the aforementioned full-blown cackles), her work slyly critiques the raced, gendered, and classed nature of power, or rather the imbalance of it along such lines.

For her next project, Knight will be navigating audience dynamics in a slightly different manner than usual. As part of a two-week residency at the Kitchen — the multidisciplinary art center which remains closed to visitors amid the pandemic — she will broadcast a series of live-streamed performances to virtual audiences. Curated by Lumi Tan, these performances will enlist the empty building and its architectural features as collaborators in creating new work that responds to the “anxiety and gaslighting of the current moment” while exploring the “generative potential of disappointment.” This latter aspect feels particularly intriguing as institutions continue to stumble over the tensions between their past misdeeds and recent declarations of allyship.

When: July 24, 6pm (EDT); July 31 and August 7 (times to be announced)
Where: Online, via the Kitchen Onscreen

More info at the Kitchen’s Twitch page   

Dessane Lopez Cassell is a New York based editor, writer, and film curator, as well as the former reviews editor at Hyperallergic. You can follow her work here.