For Austrian artist and poet Anatol Knotek words possess dimension, weight, and depth. Inspired by Concrete and Visual poets who regard the typographical arrangement and shape of a poem to be as critical to its message as the meaning of the words themselves, Knotek makes language a malleable material in his practice.
Installation Magazine: When did you know that you were an artist?
Anatol Knotek: My definition of the word “artist” has changed a lot. As someone who questions such terms and categories in general, I fear that I can’t really answer this question. But I can say that as a child, I loved to make things and loved to draw. It is still that way, but now I just like to play with words more often.
What is your background in visual art?
I’m a self-taught artist with a degree in Computer Science. My interest in art inspired a lot of of InterRail trips across Europe to visit museums and I collected a lot of art books along the way. My father is a sculptor and, through our discussions, he taught me a lot about art.
Are you working in a different idiom now than you had in the past? How has your work changed over time?
Yes, I made oil paintings strongly influenced by Modigliani and worked with forms that were inspired by Edvard Munch’s The Dance of Life. Even before that phase, van Gogh was my hero- his paintings, his letters- my paintings were rather similar, but not nearly as powerful. At that time, I had no idea that something like Visual poetry existed. My approach changed when I began to include words in my work.
Literary figures like Ernst Jandl are subjects of your work. What is your relationship with literature and how does it influence your practice?
I don’t see myself as a writer because I don’t write long texts. I just love words, language and shallow phrases. My literary influences are poets like Gomringer, Döhl, Rühm and Jandl, among so many other Concrete and Experimental poets.
Has the written word always made its way into your visual expression? When did you first start working with text and what attracted you to it?
One day I met a Viennese poet who, after seeing my text-collages, encouraged me to visit The Open Book in Hünfeld (a city with more than 100 Concrete poems on house facades). This experience was extremely inspiring to me. Additionally, I visited a Basquiat exhibition; he wrote “I cross out words so you will see them more.” The fact that they are obscured makes you want to read them,” which resonated deeply with me.
Which artists influence your practice?
Influential Contemporary artists that come to mind are: Kay Rosen, Rose Nolan, Derek Beaulieu, Jörg Piringer, Christian Bök, Stefan Brüggemann, Fiona Banner, Fred Eerdekens, Micah Lexier, Márton Koppány and many more. While the work of these Contemporary artists has inspired my practice, the discovery of Concrete poets inspired the direction I took with my practice.
Your text-based work, particularly the Textobjekte series presents a new visual vocabulary. Describe this term “Textobjekte”- how did you conceive of working in this manner?
“Textobjekte” is only an approach implemented in my practice, as it is with all terms I use to describe my work. “Textobjekte” occurs when words are injected with a performative quality. The meaning of language is contingent on its context and that is precisely what the Textobjekte series celebrates. It marks a transformation that words undergo from static symbols pierced on paper or digits on a computer screen to language that is imbued with life. When letters are juxtaposed with other media, they assume a new meaning that changes with the presentation of material or surrounding space.
All images courtesy of the artist