Interesting interview with the artist duo Kennedy Browne, who currently have an exhibition running at the Hugh Lane called The Redaction Trilogy. This has been described as a quasi-history of societal change brought about through technological progress over the last two decades. See our piece about it here. Tell us more about what Kennedy Browne
Interesting interview with the artist duo Kennedy Browne, who currently have an exhibition running at the Hugh Lane called The Redaction Trilogy. This has been described as a quasi-history of societal change brought about through technological progress over the last two decades. See our piece about it here.
Tell us more about what Kennedy Browne means?
Kennedy Browne is what we call our collaborative practice, as Gareth (Kennedy) and Sarah (Browne). We both also work as solo artists, so giving the practice its own name makes it recognisable as a single entity that’s different from “Gareth and Sarah”. We enjoy that it can be thought of as a person in itself.
What is your background briefly?
We met when we studied Sculpture in the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, from 1999 – 2003. We began working together in 2005, in addition to maintaining our solo artistic practices, and have continued to do so since. Our collaborative work has always been distinctively different from our solo projects. Together, we tend to work as co-directors with moving-image projects that we script collaboratively.
Kennedy Browne at the Hugh Lane till January
Does it seem like a logical background to what you do now?
Yes. We consider Kennedy Browne to be very much an artistic identity born out of Web 2.0 – that is to say, the phase when the internet became focused on user-generated content and participatory ‘mash-up’ culture – think the advent of YouTube and Facebook.
We make quasi-historical works that are framed roughly by our lifespans from 1979 and 1981 onwards, which as it happens coincides with the neoliberal economic experiment we have experienced over the last generation and a half. To structure and mediate these narratives, we use internet based resources. Increasingly we’re interested in making objects also, which we consider as ‘artefacts of the present’.
Sculpture is concerned about bodies, material, time and space. Pixels and gigabytes are just another form of matter. The internet, although we don’t often think of it in such terms, is profoundly material in its infrastructures and is physically networked globally with undersea cables and server farms plugged into hydroelectric dams. It is also voracious in its demand for both extracted raw material and on our finite human attention. This directly affects bodies, and their (our) experience of time and space. Hence the need to make sculpture to reckon with all this!
How would you describe the common theme across your art works in this exhibition / the Redaction Trilogy?
The artworks in the exhibition explore how technology is changing our understanding and sense of the ‘public sphere’ — both where it is located and how we behave as citizens within it. Did you know that when you wear an Oculus virtual reality headset, you are bound by the laws of small claims court in California wherever in the world you may be (exclusive of Germany)?
Did you know that the Data Protection Commissioner of Ireland is responsible for protecting the privacy rights of billions of citizens worldwide, since so many global tech corporations have chosen to locate their EMEA (European, Middle Eastern and African) headquarters in this country? To us, these are cultural and aesthetic questions as well as social and political issues.
The works on display have a particular connection with Ireland, and Dublin in particular. It’s very important to us that this exhibition is staged in The Hugh Lane Gallery, a civic space in Dublin, a city where cultural space is rapidly shrinking.
The artworks include a video scripted through an internet workers forum, a kind of dispersed solidarity that existed in lieu of real world union representation (How Capital Moves, 2010); a video and series of artefacts made with a child actor in Silicon Valley exploring the tech-entrepreneurial founder myth (The Myth of the Many in the One, 2012 and The Wonder Years, 2013); a thought experiment experienced on a virtual reality headset, and an edited series of interviews with internet content moderators (Real World Harm, 2018).
Collectively these works all made within this decade chart a near-history of the present: from changing labour patterns, to entitled neoliberal myths of individual destiny, to the implications of privacy rights underpinning other fundamental rights within a public (non-corporate) sphere.
With more & more revelations coming out about Cambridge Analytica, FB, Trump, Johnson, your exhibition is timely. We seem to face a challenge where ‘facts’ alone are not enough to dissuade people from supporting populist / nationalist / lying leaders – question, what sort of response have you had so far, and what do you hope to achieve with this show?
We have had a very engaged response to the exhibition, particularly through artist talks and tours we have done with the public. There are many different kinds of sensory engagement with the artworks in the exhibition – sitting and watching a film; listening to the testimony of internet moderators; reading and looking at objects; using a virtual reality headset, maybe for the first time. It’s become clear to audiences that while some of the technology might be new or unfamiliar, the questions we are dealing with are old problems.
The thought experiment that audiences encounter in the headset is derived from Plato’s Republic, where Glaucon asks, would your actions be moral if they couldn’t be seen? So people (or corporations) behave well because of a just nature, or due to fear of punishment?
While carefully researched, Kennedy Browne’s concerns do not lie in straightforward documentary or exposition of facts. The artworks also highlight moments of humour and absurdity within this landscape! Our work is really one of decoding and compositing select cultural material, and of distilling material down into artworks that while layered and multifaceted, are, we hope, accessible. A good myth has many such layers.
This is why they expand the scope of our understanding in their re-telling and reenactment. We’ve had a number of discussions about the relationship between art and politics, and the opportunity to examine with audiences how these spheres of activity might be similar or different to each other.
We hope that the exhibition is an opportunity to unpick narratives and mythologies of “progress”, which are always related from a position of power, and to suggest different ways of telling these stories or accepting their supposed inevitability. As artists based in Ireland, we feel there is an urgency to situating these questions within the civic, cultural space of The Hugh Lane Gallery.
Do we have any grounds to be optimistic going forwards?
We can only be optimistic if we collectively take responsibility for making change. Optimism is a position that requires action.
How can people find out more about you personally & your work?
Please go and see the exhibition in the Hugh Lane which runs until January 26th!
We archive our work on our website at www.kennedybrowne.com and are happy to answer queries by email.
There is also a new book published on the occasion of the exhibition, The Redaction Trilogy, designed by Peter Maybury. It’s available in The Hugh Lane Gallery bookshop and by mail order.
Anything else you’d like to add / we should have asked?
An important aspect of the exhibition is a project we have developed in collaboration with the gallery’s Education Department titled Digital Self Defence. This involves a special series of workshops, discussions and screenings with invited guests, which take place within Gallery 12 on the ground floor, using the exhibition as a forum for discussion, exchange and learning.
Contributors include artists, lawyers and activists such as Elizabeth Farries (Irish Council of Civil Liberties), Ben Grosser (Illinois-based software artist), Noelle Brown (playwright and adoption rights activist) and Mark Boyle (author, The Moneyless Man and The Way Home: Tales from a life without technology ). See www.hughlane.ie for details of forthcoming events.
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