Galerie Gisèle Linder
Galerie Gisèle Linder GmbH
Elisabethenstrasse 54
CH-4051 Basel
Tel +41 61 272 83 77

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Clare Kenny - „Birthmark“

09.04. – 14.05.2022

A birthmark is something that is determined before we are born. In the UK there is a belief that people succeed due to hard work and talent. In fact, the lives we are born into largely determine the lives we go on to live, which are affected by the schools we attend, our family and social networks and even geography. Opportunity is not equal. There is a disproportionate percentage of people from middle and upper classes in the arts, numbers of those from working or precariat class backgrounds have halved over the last forty years. In fact, according to UK statistical classifications of profession you cannot both be an artist and identify as working class. Inequalities are perpetuated through generations and by what is valued and given worth. For example every community creates culture, it’s just that some of it has historically been defined as ‘high culture’.

Clare Kenny is rightly proud of her background, her family. Her artwork is authentically hers and formed by her value system and view of the world. She does not aspire to be an artist making other people’s art, she rightly requests that we appreciate the value of her work and the circumstances that inform it. She is acutely aware of what is, and has been valued, in culture and how that has skewed the world in favour of the elite.

Kenny brings to light some of those things that have been overlooked as being worthless. Her interest in fountains, for example, comes from the fact that many urban waterways are redirected or built over, whereas ornate fountains take pride of place in civic parks. They are often alongside statues of the great and the good, who are raised high above the common people and shown at their best, or better. Kenny’s fountains become stained over time with the dyes that are usually used to trace those hidden streams and rivers. Whiteness in sculpture has for centuries been wrongly associated with taste and civilisation, when in fact the ancient Greeks and Romans painted their marble statues in gaudy colours. The acid and pastel colours in Kenny’s work are also a nod back to her formative years, when they were fashionable as part of the rave scene – itself an evolution of working-class Northern soul culture.

Kenny’s Nana (grandmother) spent her working life making rope in a factory in the North of England. There was always rope around Kenny recalls – it was perpetually in use as a washing line in a large family, for example, and was a symbol of self-sufficiency, because you can always fix something with a bit of rope. It’s a culturally loaded material, used in industrial not office jobs. Her Nana, like many others, was employed on an hourly rate to physically create something that was then sold for profit by people in suits. The repetitive slog of her labour shaped her body, like the slumps in Kenny’s forms. The rare punctuations of so-called ordinary life – weddings, birthdays, parties, the memory makers – are represented in this exhibition through the leftover and partially deflated balloons.

Kenny’s work is aesthetically and materially seductive and interesting. It is borne out of a great work ethic and commitment to understanding processes and materials, to pushing at what they are capable of. It also drives at the heart of inequalities, informed by her experiences in the UK. Through drawing attention to the profound in the everyday she reveals its dignity and value. She asks that we look at the overlooked and in so doing reconsider deeply embedded assumptions – to appreciate that an apparently ordinary life is anything but.

Helen Pheby, March 2022