Waterwalk - Path of Least Resistance
Tim Knowles is best known for his knack for intriguingly displaying the unseen. Particularly fascinating are his projects which use natural movements, such as a tree swaying in the wind, to visualize patterns of behavior that would otherwise go unnoticed. In his project, Waterwalk - Path of Least Resistance, participants were asked to walk down the hill as if they were water flowing through the topography. A GPS unit on each walker kept track of the path they took, and illustrated a pattern that distinctly mirrored the way a river would flow. In the exhibition space, Knowles accompanies the drawing with photos providing information on how the project was conducted. A numbered flag marked the walker’s start point, and the wave of a flag/sounding claxon set them off on their journey towards two finishing markers at the river’s confluence.
Like many of Knowles projects, a major component of this work’s concept lies in the process, which relinquishes control and allows things to take their natural course. By only providing the participants a start point, end point, and general set of rules, the project embraces all divergences from the expected that might occur along the way.
“The work can be seen as a map of the landscape...but it is also a record of an action, involving humans who - behave as humans”(Knowles, T. (2016, May 26). Email Interview)
Unexpected detours around especially wet areas, or cut corners at bends in the river, expand the resulting product from a simple map of the watershed, to one that inherently depicts the behavior of humans as they navigate the landscape. Without loosened guidelines, these unique patterns may be excluded and replaced by something that has a much more predictable and boring output.
Windwalk - Seven Walks From Seven Dials:
Similar to Path of Least Resistance, Knowles' Seven Walk From Seven Dials embraces user interpretation in the process of making the work. In this piece, Knowles equips a helmet with a weather vane indicating the predominate wind direction. The user must monitor the weather vanes orientation and to follow it. In this project a video recorder is implemented to show in conjunction with the final drawings. The video is used as a reference for drawing the windwalker’s course (paths are plotted by cross-referencing video recordings with google street view photos), and presented in the exhibition space to give viewers a better understanding of the mode of data collection. In this work, along with a number of his others pieces,
“it is vital…that the viewer understands the process by which the work's been made…the work is the drawing, the videos and the vane/helmet mechanism all make up the work and function together”(Knowles, T.(2016, May 26). Email Interview)
By presenting video in accordance with the drawing, viewers get a greater sense of how the patterns establish themselves in physical space. They begin to see that the channels which humans are confined to on their daily urban commutes are not only acting upon them, but all natural phenomenon that one does not typically see. The piece impresses upon the viewer the monumental ways in which our built environments influence the natural world around us, in this case by herding winds into channels between the massive structures we make.
Both of these pieces look to flesh out the movement of natural substances through space. Whether it be wind flowing through mazes of city streets or water meandering through a watershed, Knowles is consistent in his approach to visualizing these patterns. Both make use of human subjects, given loose guidelines, to mimic the behavior of these natural phenomena. The end result is a concrete example, provided in the form of a drawing, that embodies these invisible highways for wind and water. Moreover, both pieces point out significance in the production of the drawings by including photographs or video in the exhibition space. As the artist mentioned, understanding of process is vital to these works. By understanding how information is collected, the viewer has the opportunity to look at each resulting drawing and find the unique fingerprint of each record. In Path of Least Resistance, one is presented with a diagram that maps out the path of a river through a watershed. However, when the piece is viewed in accordance with images that show the processes behind it’s formation, the user can look closer and notice things such as a line dodging uphill, or other behaviors inconsistent with the movement of water. The natural randomness captured by Path of Least Resistance is also present in Seven Walks From Seven Dials. Similar to the drawing from Path of Least Resistance, a distanced view of the drawing indicates expected patterns, in which the wind appears to direct the walker along the streets and around large structures. Upon closer inspection, one can easily identify the intricacies that come along with Knowles’ processes as lines meander and redirect consistently through less structured sections of the city. In a time where people are constantly focused on the big picture, in which we try to establish broad assertions based on a limited number of observations, it is refreshing to see a piece that attributes so much value to the discrepancies that are present in our often overwhelming plethora of data.