If you've ever forgotten where you parked, and you wandered, with increasing desperation, around the ramps of a parking structure, you'll be delighted — or scared silly — by John Knight's installation at REDCAT. The L.A. artist has transformed the contemporary art gallery into what the space used to be: a small part of the third level of the parking structure underneath Walt Disney Concert Hall.
To step into "A work in situ (2016)" is to travel back in time — to that moment after the parking structure was constructed and before a section had been converted into REDCAT.
But the first thought that enters your mind when you step into Knight's installation is that you have lost your way — that, somehow, you have gone through the wrong door and ended up back in the parking structure.
That perception is all the more disorienting because there are no cars in Knight's installation. Neither are there any vividly colored lines dividing the floor into parking spaces. The concrete is spotless and freshly polished. No shadows darken the corners of the brightly illuminated space. The temperature is just right and the ventilation system seems to be working perfectly: Not a trace of exhaust can be detected.
That's when you realize that you're standing in a work of art. And that Knight has gone to great lengths to make you think otherwise. Not to trick you or to have a laugh at your expense. But to disorient you, momentarily, so that his installation might heighten your awareness of your surroundings.
That has been one of art's jobs for a couple of hundred years. In Knight's hands, art compels visitors to think about how a location is used in the present, how it was used in the past and how it might be used in the future.
His installation invites comparison to other kinds of architectural fakery, including malls, entertainment centers, theme parks and casinos. Many of these businesses serve themselves up as sanitized versions of real cities.
That kind of stage-managed culture transforms the unpredictability of city life into escapist entertainment. Knight turns the tables on the dynamic, encouraging visitors to see the big picture and to get out before it's too late.
REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., Los Angeles, through June 12. Closed Mondays. www.redcat.org/exhibitions/john-knight.