ON CHRIS KENNY
Amelia Rawlinson, January 2017
London based Chris Kenny's work is reflective of his sarcastic sense of humour; a dry perspective on the absurdity of the human experience. At first his literary sculptures seem structured, minimal and aesthetically pleasing. However, on closer inspection the arrangement of words is garbled and overwhelming, confusing to the viewer. I wanted to find out more about Kenny's creative process and how this informs his final work. Although Kenny has a broad sculptural practice, I have focused predominantly on his phrase sculptures.
Kenny explains that his process begins with his experience of a variety of forms of literature. He cuts out phrases and sentences from the books he has read, looking for rich language, confusing statements, ambiguous questions or even explicit blasphemy that demonstrate both the ridiculous and the mundane. This method brings a curiosity to his work. Based on the combination of invention and discovery, the phrases link together to form a disconnected storyline. His work focuses around language and its use. Personally, I see this as Kenny questioning our collective use of language and the different contexts in which it can be utilised. His process reflects his search for new meanings from existing sources that evokes a strange sense of peculiarity. We are encouraged to think twice to understand the importance of words and their meanings, and our attention is drawn to the folly of misunderstanding.
Kenny gathers phrases without any clear knowledge of how he will incorporate them into his work. By taking them out of their original context, new meanings are layered through re-contextualisation.
The phrases used often provoke wonder, amusement or awkwardness which confront and perplex the viewer. The forms of his work, however, contrast with the erratic display of phrases. His structures are confined, usually around geometric forms such as circles and squares, to create a balance between the chaotic order of the phrases and the formality of their arrangement.
Chris Kenny, Pink Map Circle, 2015. 24 x 24 x 3". Construction with found map pieces.
Chris Kenny, 100 Questions, 2016. 24 x 24 x 3". Construction with found text.
This structure can be seen as restrictive yet it allows the viewer to choose to read their own path in accordance with the phrases they find interesting. Different stories can be created; Kenny is using his transcribed cuttings to create a multitude of different tales in his own right.
Kenny describes the variety of cuttings used during his making as an "entomological enjoyment" which can be seen in the attentive care and precision that Kenny has used to place each phrase. The spacing accentuates the differentiations. Despite each cutting being, as Kenny explains, “altered by their new context”, the viewer is still aware of the history of each sentence. His assemblages also call attention to the materiality of the sculptures themselves, and by using paper, the fragility of the medium is highlighted.
With current exhibitions at Musée Hébert in Grenoble, France, and at Hardware in Belsize Park, London, Kenny exhibits these works fixed on walls or presented in the form of video, delicately stacking the phrases on top of one another with a clear theme that unites them.
Ultimately, Kenny's art can be summarised through his interest in the uncomfortable union of what he calls "the banal and the profound. The way an under-seasoned sandwich can be as troubling as the fear of the planet’s extinction."