Peter Kennedy's Resistance
by Julie Reed Henderson
The Australian Experimental Art Foundation has exhibited work by Peter Kennedy with curation by Matthew Perkins. I find it difficult not to overstate the rare and absorbing accomplishments of these video installation works collectively titled Resistance. In relation to performance art and video, it is more than a little remarkable that work with this pedigree is not more familiar to us. Peter Kennedy’s performative video work had its genesis in relation to the nascent Australian performance and video art scene of the early 1970s notably through the influential experimental artist group Inhibodress. Although work from this period including that with fellow founding member Mike Parr is well documented, critical attention for Kennedy’s practice since then has been somewhat sporadic (1).
In the AEAF exhibition, works from the 1970s period have been digitally remastered for flat screen and digital projection wearing the temporal and technological divide between older and newer versions seamlessly. In part the impression of accord from all four works in the exhibition might usher from its spatially incisive layout.
Particularly striking in Fugue 1971-2015 is the combination of a high line of flat screen videos of various scales spanning three walls. A continuous black shelf at a standardising head-height with incorporated speakers formally separates eight screens and offers sound at ear level. Short loop video images of figures (including a younger Kennedy) play out their relations. Their bodies and voices dance, surmount dictate and inhibit each other. Their simple, affecting and affected movements occur in relation to past technologies; reel-to-reel recorders, cathode ray televisions and microphones. There is a playful, even pun-like reiteration here; of replaying and relaying to make clumsy attempts at communication between the modalities of sound, visual image and the perceiving eye all at odds with one another. One witnesses and experiences the need to make sense of things re-layered and clipped, yet of conflicted or untranslatable intent.
Small tales and True: A short Story in Four Parts 2005-2011 considers questions about the relationship between image and text, and narrative perspectives. The scene is set at night in a suburban neighbourhood where four protagonists testify about their recollection and experience of a “break-and-enter” crime. Here one might be given to question whether the crime is told or foretold, real or imagined. The story unfolds through personal account in the way of literary luminary W G Sebald whose para-fiction writing and photographic accompaniment exceeds and presses between personal truth and history (2). In this work each fragmented testimony appears as projected text below an associated filmstrip-like repeated image, shot in video night-light mode. One may choose to read across the two walls of text and imagery from left to right in a broad sweep or take in each individual viewpoint as the plot unfolds from parallel perspectives. Here again the artist’s considered use of space suggests an address to a whole wall /picture or a more close up association with one version. In an emergency one needs to grasp the “shape” of the imminent danger (especially when the criminals involved are armed) so one is compelled to the associated anxiety by this work, as the incoherent succession of events in Small tales . . . leaves one in the dark by any account.
The Photograph’s Story (2004-2016) is the latest permutation and most compelling of the works in my view. As a young boy the artist’s son innocently writes a series of swear words over a newsprint article. In the article a Palestinian boy Muhammad al-Dura is apparently shot dead by Israeli soldiers in 2000, but the veracity of the images is in doubt. The work is narrated from the perspective of the son’s mother. She appeals to the fathers judgment of the son’s apparently callous act, as the father has been away and just come back . . .
The installation, involving three surrounding wall projections is replete with references to passing time and visits the presumptions of truth based on personal and collective memory, politics, and potentially based on differences of age, religion, gender and class. Interpersonal connection and disconnection both through the body and mediated through and conditioned by the advent of digital phone media are questioned. The work engages us through sound in the drumming of the artist’s son at various ages moving into the centre of his own life and living with the challenges of the digital world. Whole screen shots are devoted to newsprint text on blue screen with moving image underlay of the shooting. The role of reportage and our failure to examine the detail in the sheer amount of information that we are exposed to daily is intimated here. The pacing and energetic movement of information within and across the screens overall in this work examines these themes with immersive effect.
Resistance succeeds in its refusal to foreclose on misjudgement and misunderstanding related to analogue processes or physical distance as much as those stemming from the modes of functioning heralded by personal digital devices and in the professional context of relating news accurately to contemporary audiences. Perhaps Kennedy has succeeded because the initial versions of these works were based on analogue technologies, but there is a coherence to this exhibition that in my experience is rarely achieved.
The artist referred to and acknowledged the literary work of W G Sebald at the AEAF opening night in conversation with curator Matthew Perkins