Renaissance Man

Kenning, Dean [Artist] (2017) Renaissance Man. (kinetic sculpture).


Renaissance Man is a mechanised figure, with casts of the artist’s face, hands and feet, assembled around an aluminium trough with moving limbs. Two versions were commissioned in 2017 by Greene Naftali gallery and Piper Keys (supported by Elephant Trust). The works were concerned with two main, related, research concerns. The first was to develop a ‘compulsive’ anti-aesthetic, one that would challenge a contemplative, and class bound mode of artistic spectatorship, and to eschew a professionally slick and conceptually refined type of contemporary art whose surfaces exclude material slippage. In this respect horror, humour and ‘idiocy’ (see Kenning, ‘You Cannot Be Serious! Art, Politics, Idiocy’) were employed to produce something weird, crude and unnerving. The second research concern was to undermine the idealized, humanist model of intellectual progress, represented by the male modern artist, with his technical prowess and creative assertion of selfhood, and in its place to assert something more abject, compulsive and machinic, closer to the decentred and sexually determined subject put forward by psychoanalysis. In the work Kenning imagines himself metamorphosed into a mechanised animal, on all fours, locked in a single repetitive movement. He is rendered into what Jacques Lacan has called, in a reversal of Cartesian ontology, a ‘jammed machine’ (Seminar II). The artistically debased genre of kinetic art enabled a method of production whereby Kenning relinquished control over an array of compositional effects, focusing on getting the mechanism moving rather than on formal concerns. The finished sculptures displayed a compulsive character, embodying a ‘weird’, unnerving, somewhat crude (anti) aesthetic through seesawing and hinging movements and accidental sounds. The effect of this was witnessed in audience reactions to the work, which ran from laughter to wonder, anxiety to offence (Dan Graham: ‘it’s the most offensive work in the show!’)

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