Kristina E. Knipe

Artist Statement
The compulsion to self-injure often starts in adolescence, and like a rite of passage the body is marked in a transitional moment. Skin becomes a map – a surface on which the ineffable is expressed.

I was 14 the first time I self-harmed; I took a Swiss army knife and slit open the top of my forearm in short diagonal cuts. I was searching for something in that moment, exhilaration, consciousness, proof I had the strength to withstand pain.

Scars connote history, the trace of an event; a narrative inaccessible but tantalizingly apparent on the surface of the skin. It is a riddle that begs to be decoded. I look at my body, or the body of the other and I ask questions: why on that part of the body? What was used to make that mark? What were you thinking about?

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This project emerged out of my desire to open up these narratives. I traveled to my hometown of Allentown, Pennsylvania and contacted Shana, Kathy, Andrew; individuals whom I knew self-injured, and asked them to collaborate. Simultaneously, I posted an advertisement on the New York City craigslist and met Leannet, Marisa, Courtney, and others that I would never get the opportunity to photograph.

We met with a hunger for exchange, liberated by the knowledge of our mutual transgressive behaviors that we could talk about this taboo without fear of judgment. I asked each participant to choose objects for me to shoot, and places to photograph.

The culture of self-injury is often characterized by secrecy; most individuals chose to keep their participation in the project a secret from their loved ones. The creative act of photographing felt subversive. We were wary of being overheard, of being exposed. Regardless of our fear, the sessions had a meditative quality; the simple acknowledgement of a repressed history has healing power. Harming oneself is often an attempt to heal oneself, it is a way of coping that is both creative and destructive.

– Kristina E. Knipe, 2013

Artist Bio
Kristina E. Knipe received her BFA in 2012 from Tisch School of the Arts. In 2012, Knipe received the Leon and Michaela Constantiner Fellowship, and in 2013 she was named a finalist of Critical Mass. Currently, Knipe lives in Kingston, NY and assists artist and educator Erika DeVries in Saugerties, NY.


Juror’s Statemet
A Private Landscape: The work of Kristina E. Knipe

In her project I Don’t Know the Names of Flowers, Kristina E. Knipe, begins with a quiet color photograph of a child’s toy house fashioned out of tin, sitting in a puddle (Tin House, 2013). Our vantage point is not one of looking down upon it but rather straight at it, as though we could approach the house and enter through the front door. Thoughts of the quintessential suburban home and the innocence of childhood come to mind. But the palette is gray and ominous. The tin house, while innocuous on one hand, is metaphorically astute on the other. It reflects itself in the puddle but what is the significance of that reflection? What is the representation versus the reality? Does the tin house embody and reflect the ideal of a happy life? Or rather, might the façade mask the emptiness inside? In this respect, questions are raised about the disparity between someone’s personal life as presented to the public and what is really happening within.

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In Knipe’s photograph Marisa (2012), we find ourselves inside the “suburban home.” Most likely of high school age, Marisa sits holding a cat in the oddly arranged and mostly barren room. She appears apprehensive, wearing forebodingly-patterned, ripped jeans. Her placement in the photographic frame in relation to the viewer is similar to the tin house. There is a distance.

And then we come to Leannet’s Arm (2012).

The photograph of Leannet’s arm, heavily stitched and lying over a field of flowers, has firmly imprinted itself in my consciousness. The comfortable gesture of the arm, up and open, is so vulnerable and exposed. The peacefulness in pose is nearly deathlike. Leannet is very much alive but suffering within. We see the valley of the deep cut pushed closed by two mountains of skin being forced back together again in order to heal. This juxtaposition of the pain and the sublime takes my breath away. The backdrop of flowers brings to mind the field where Alice, of Walt Disney’s movie Alice in Wonderland, disappeared in a dream one afternoon, freeing herself from boredom, to enter a surreal world of stories with highs and lows, frustrations and bliss.

Knipe’s photographs delicately present a poetic and poignant look at a prevalent yet hidden habit. She employs the familiar genres of portraiture and landscape and formalist style to give voice to an issue that exists as an undercurrent in youth society. While the subject matter of self-injury is culled from Knipe’s own life experiences, she has focused her attentions outwardly, collaborating with friends and fellow cutters – whom she found on Craigslist. Their scars stand for their story and are references of the past. She inquisitively asks in her own mind, while looking at her etched history and that of others – “Why on that part of the body? What was used to make that mark? What were you thinking about?”

Most of the photographs in this series are not as overt as Leanet’s Arm (2012) but we look for signs; we look for a way in and to understand. In Andrew in the Rose Garden (2013), Kristina’s friend Andrew, buffered by a thorny rose bush that conceals his body and blocks our way, engages our gaze with his own. Leanet appears again in another image (a year later), wrapped in a bright yellow top. Her skin blends in with the fleshy pink bathtub tile and bar of soap. The emotionally manifested landscape on her arm is healed but the scarred topography remains. She remains anonymous.

The brutally honest and self-reflexive images by Nan Goldin and Catherine Opie come to mind when looking at Knipe’s work; two influential women photographers who explore their personal community in various ways. With the same intimate interest, Knipe portrays the beauty and vulnerability of youth, the layering and representation of self, identity, and uncertainty, and the culture of cutting. Her conceptual narrative is a powerful exposè for public display.

– Larissa Leclair, 2013

Juror’s Bio
Larissa Leclair
is an independent curator and writer. She is the founder of the Indie Photobook Library, a U.S. based archive that collects and showcases self-published and indie published photobooks, and facilitates discourse on trends in contemporary publishing and scholarly research now and in the future. Since May of 2010, the iPL has organized over twenty pop-up library spaces, events, and feature-length exhibitions in the United States, Canada, Guatemala and China. The seminal traveling exhibition A Survey of Documentary Styles in Early 21st Century Photobooks was featured in the San Francisco Chronicle and on TIME LightBox. Leclair has written for PDN, GUP, PQ, Photo-Eye, and VOP. She has served as a juror for the New York Photo Awards, Blurb Photography Book Now competition, Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward Festival, and the 4th International Photobook Festival Photobook Award in Kassel, Germany. She has lectured at the School of Visual Arts, Georgetown University, the Corcoran College of Art & Design, MICA, the New York Art Book Fair, and the Cleveland Museum of Art, among others.