Devin Kenny chats with MD about his thesis show Begin There/There-being.
Today artist Devin Kenny talks to MD about his thesis show “Being There/ There-being,” the MFA experience, and the various conversations his work engages. Hailing from the south side of Chicago, Kenny is an interdisciplinary artist and Cooper Union alumnus who has continued his practice through the Bruce High Quality Foundation University, Skowhegan artist residency and collaborations with DADDY, pooool, Studio Workout, Comotroovay-sa, Wild Isle, and various art and music venues in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and elsewhere including: Recess, Het Roode Bioscoop, St. Cecilia’s Convent, Freak City, and Santos Party House. Having recently graduated from UCLA’s New Genres department, Kenny walks us through his thesis exhibition which explores the intersection of identity, “Being there” and the internet, “There-being.” So where does this graduate go from here? Kenny answers the question with his graduation video mixtape.
What was your experience like in the MFA program at UCLA? How has your time there affected your practice?
I always say that it was very “choose-your-own adventure”. A bit like those novels for young adults where if you decide to wade through the water you turn to page 56 and if you decide to cut through the brush it’s page 48. It’s hard to tell how participation has affected my practice as a whole, but it has definitely given me the confidence to ‘own’ the interdisciplinary way of working which is a big part of what I do. Also, I have acquired ways of apprehending why working across and between mediums is crucial to me.
Congrats on your thesis show! In your video you talk about the artist’s role to comment on society. A lot of your work deals with the intersection between identity and the internet. What is your approach to repurposing material whether it be a QR code or a youtube video?
Thank you so much! Well, I think artists can do a few things, one of those is to give form to currents of thought that do not yet exist in a way that can be shared, and another is through enacting what is already present in our society, and still another is expanding what is possible, or giving a kind of proposal. As a Black American, my heritage is a kind of amalgam, some of which is produced as a survival tactic, as a result of harsh conditions both economic and social, and other aspects which came about through a more joyous, organic process, so my way of working forefronts and re-enacts that. I came of age as the Internet was transitioning into what it is today (from web 1.0 to web 2.0, the popular Internet with social networking etc.) and I really feel like there’s a sea change occurring. It’s funny because I’m not even sure I think of using pre-existing material as re-purposing anymore, although Hannah Hoch, and Romare Bearden, David Hammons, Sherrie Levine, Rob Rauschenberg, Elaine Sturtevant, etc and all those techniques of collage, assemblage, bricolage, etc etc certainly brought us up to this stage. It might be more akin to how people conceived of music in Jamaica when dub plates and record lathes first started being more accessible. When you can make new music so quickly it changes how you think about a song. The forms I encounter (intimately or superficially) online, they feel like they have multiple aspects embedded in them and by using some of the other aspects, other narratives can be forged. I only say that because of the ease and rapidity through which this process takes place. I mean, when I was starting, you had to go into ‘activity’ in Safari and wade through a bunch of gobbledygook to find the video you want to rip from Dailymotion or whatever platform. Now there are plugins, now there is youtube2mp3.com or something similar. So it feels like all this material, perhaps because it is data (which has a concrete effect) rather than ‘material’ is destined for reprogramming, destined to be ‘pasted’ into new configurations. The Internet really allows me to explore the associative nature of my mind and there’s something about it which feels very “throw it on the wall and see what sticks” which I think is great also …though I often am excited by the things that only stick for a little while, until they crawl down and flop to the ground in an unspectacular fashion…like QR Codes for instance. At this point, are Jaz Disks sculptures?
In your opinion, are there a lot of artists in conversation with your subject matter? What’s your next step from here?
The idea of conversation is a big one, because online it feels sometimes like a monologue contest, but yes. I think there are a lot of people, not just artists that are in the same kind of queer quagmire with duende to dwindle and spirit to spare. Jennifer Chan, Palmtrees Caprisun Blast, Ashland Mines, Ryder Ripps, Louis Doulas, Chloë Flores, Elaine Sturtevant…there’s a good handful of folks that I have been lucky enough to encounter that are taking this set of conditions and examining it head on, and I’d consider them artistic peers just by virtue of the way they work, regardless of age, heritage, geographic location, etc.. Also there are tons of people looking at it obliquely, and I think even more people are working courageously and just going about their lives, permeated by the same conditions. I mean the kid in high school who gets pushed down the stairs by the security guard and ends up on worldstarhiphop is in conversation as well. Being that I have a kind of privileged position as an artist, I feel the need to use that space in a way that seems suitable.
I’m about to learn …or attempt to learn a bunch of post-Marxist theory so we’ll see where I end up after that. But whether it’s from a happy sunrise or a flickering street lamp, or streets ablaze : the future’s so bright…!
The last question prompted a bunch of songs to pop into my mind…
so I decided to share them.
Kenny’s Graduation Mixtape:
To learn more about Devin Kenny visit his website or check him out on bandcamp or soundcloud or tumblr. So what’s next for you? What is on your current mixtape?