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John Knecht makes complex animated videos that move along at a fast clip, piling idea upon idea. Any first-time viewer of these tapes might fairly think: These are animations; I ought to be able to swallow this stuff in one sitting.

It's not that easy. Despite the pop flavor of the imagery and the sometimes jaunty soundtrack, Knecht is grappling with some weighty material here, and it is almost all presented in broad -- sometimes frustratingly broad -- metaphorical form.

His text, whether crawling across the bottom of the screen or popping up amid images, comes at you in small disconnected bits. It suggests specific ideas, but seldom is any thought carried forward in logical sequence.

A tape like "301 Nails . . . No Air Loss" has a vague narrative -- something about a criminal gambler and his sidekick, Spider -- but you can never quite piece together what's going on.

It's unlikely that the seedy tale would cohere with further viewing. Knecht seems satisfied with capturing the texture of fiction, its feel and heft. The mere possibility of a narrative is enough of a framework for ruminations on such abstract topics as fate and destiny.

"Impermanent Firmament," for example, begins with a black hulking figure trudging over a barren landscape. This threatening silhouette could be a monster from a horror movie. But other images quickly take over this ominous heap and dispel the illusion. Pop-art brains drift by and graffiti rains down. In little boxes various 1940-type characters appear in rapid succession. Then, for no good reason, sheep appear, caught in a filmic perpetual rotation.

Nothing in "Impermanent Firmament" points toward doomsday -- at least not in a cohesive way -- but one is left with an uneasy feeling. It's like one of those dreams in which nothing out of the ordinary happens but still you wake up thinking that the entire world has just caved in.

I see Knecht's point in diffusing content, but I found myself wishing that he would occasionally let an image or idea stand solidly on its own. In "The Possible Fog of Heaven," for instance, the voice of Elvis describing heaven in rich, descriptive terms far beyond the dead singer's real-life abilities is a great comic moment. But Knecht refuses to play it up.

The content of Knecht's entertaining paintings is just as ambiguous. Cuddly animals suffer at the hands of sinister horned tormentors. A masked man reaches for the key in his car while cartoon bugs hover nearby.

But then, the conventions of painting are one thing and those of filmmaking another. The demand for narrative flow is strong in motion pictures of whatever sort. Painting, on the other hand, thrives on the discontinuous and the pure pleasure of ambiguity.

John Knecht:
Animating Destiny

Videos and works on paper by an artist noted for his seriocomic take on the problems of contemporary life.

At Castellani Art Museum, on the campus of Niagara University, through Nov. 30.

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