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Residency: Rob Kennedy

Rob Kennedy reports from his New York residency

Knicks cheerleaders in Madison Square Garden

Knicks cheerleaders in Madison Square Garden

I’m sitting in JFK airport, in the only spot the heating does not seem to be on full, reflecting on having spent five weeks in residence, thanks to the Scottish Arts Council, at Location One studios, in New York City. I’m counting down a three-hour plane delay with the bar already closed.
 

“I remember quite well when I gave my famous
barnyard party…
‘Captain Willy, in this Jade Ballroom I am going to
give a farmyard party, a barn dance.
I am going to have trees with real apples on them,
even if the apples have to be pinned on. I’m going
to cover those enormous chandeliers with hayricks.
I’m going to have clotheslines stretched across the
ceiling on which the family wash will be hung. I’m
going to have a beer well. I’m going to have stalls
with sheep, real cows, donkeys, geese, chickens and
pigs, a hillbilly band…’
‘Yes, Miss Maxwell’, said Captain Willy. ‘Certainly’.
‘Impossible. How are you going to get live animals
to the third floor of the Waldorf? What about the
parquet floors?’
‘We can make felt shoes for all the animals’, said
Captain Willy, firmly…’
The centerpiece of Elsa Maxwell’s party is Molly the
Moet Cow, a cow that milks champagne on one side
and whiskey and soda on the other.’[1]
 

The past week has been an anxiety ridden period of ‘too much choice’, all stemming from the appearance of nine, yes nine, separate art fairs that have simultaneously adorned this city over seven days. I have managed the Armory Show and Pulse, along with the two venues of the Whitney Biennial; I have ventured to Harlem’s Hispanic Society to see the most recent version of Francis Alÿs’ engagingly repetitive Fabiola project; I’ve experienced Lee Ronaldo and Leah Singer digitally underperform at Phil Niblock’s place; I’ve heard Shelley Hirsch’s wild vocals over Uchihashi Kazuhisa’s ecstatic guitar; and so on.
 

On my first Saturday night a Georges Franju film played at Anthology whilst a Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet retrospective was screening at a gallery on the Lower East Side and Digital Underground played the Knitting Factory. This annoying simultaneity of events is not, it transpires, a rare occurrence; it is forever occurring. This multitude of riches, this overdose of cultural entertainment, with the addition of the basketball spectacle at Madison Square Garden and the mass of options both in liquor and food, especially in view of the currently weak dollar, has grown into a stifling concoction. I’m left sitting blankly in the studio pondering these too many options.

‘We in New York celebrate the black mass
of materialism.
We are concrete. We have a body. We have sex.
We are male to the core.
We have founded our kingdom on the senses,
and we glory in it.
We divinize matter, energy, motion, change.’[2]
 

Location One: a warren of basement studios, beneath a classic SoHo gallery of high ceilings and even higher rents, providing a still glamorous address for numerous international artists, who, contrary to belief, do not all dabble in ‘new media’ technologies. There has been a constant conveyor of curators, gallerists, artists and other interested bystanders, travelling through the studio spaces; with a few you will share interests, with a lot you will not, it is a matter of percentages. This is the norm, this is part of the project, and although very hard to get used to, it becomes obvious that this is the point. Four months on an artist’s residency in most places is a good amount of time to begin (or if lucky complete) a body of work. In New York, this time is eaten into from the moment you set foot in the city and the realisation dawns that it is far more important to use the time for looking, meeting and existing than it is to be working. The continual draw to this city I presume is no different for artists than for other folk—it is a bizarre matrimony of complete anonymity in the hectic metropolis fused with a vague belief in the city’s ability to proffer success (in all its various forms).
 

Part-way through this residency, I’m returning to the UK for two weeks, officially, for work purposes, but unofficially, I suspect, using the opportunity to take a more distanced view of the last months proceedings and to decide how best to navigate the terrain of the remaining eight weeks.
 

‘Action is consolatory. It is the enemy of thought
and the friend of flattering illusions’[3]
 

In previous residency situations, my experience has been: find yourself alone in an alien situation and then work out the most efficient way of establishing cordial relationships with the people that are there in order to assist you to make work. The beginnings of the plot at Location One are similar, but with the added ingredient of another seven artists in exactly the same situation. Suddenly the parameters are very different, it feels a little like rabbits in hutches, or is it a breeding ground for ideas and cross-pollination? Random relationships with neighbours occur automatically; after all we’re all there for the same reason, aren’t we? Some of these relationships will last, most of course won’t, but in a city like New York where life seems a little more dislocated than just about anywhere else, then it is just another part of the disorientation; another shift in perception.
 

Just prior to this residency I completed the commission ‘Happy the believers...’, at Threshold Artspace in Perth, Scotland. The video, screening in each of the eight public toilets in the building, is a reworking of an installation that shows a 12-hour video of the character ‘Carl’, from the video game Grand Theft Auto 3: San Andreas, walking aimlessly through the various landscapes of the game.
 

Constantly moving away from the viewer, the romantic wanderer seems completely wrapped up in his own existence, oblivious to his surroundings. Constantly pacing forward, he stops only to take in the grandeur of the digital landscapes. The more usual psychopathic behaviour induced in the playing of the game has been ushered to the sidelines; any provocation toward action, or to invoke reaction, is met with a turn of face and steady slow step advances towards the next horizon. Making the work necessitated my own prolonged involvement in the same walk. If he is walking, I, with aching subtlety of the joystick, am making him walk; if he has stopped, taking in the sea view, I am making more coffee and a sandwich in the kitchen.
 

The journey of this virtual walk seems not too dissimilar to actions I have taken to get my bearings in the metropolis these last few weeks. With very little aim, apart from the discovery of new terrain, I have wandered at all hours down random streets, under freeways, over bridges, along riverbanks, across train tracks, stopping only to look and to refuel. It doesn’t feel like I’m doing anything much but  if I do it long enough perhaps this too will seem like psychopathic behaviour. By the time I return to New York, the next long-awaited installment of the GTA franchise will have just hit the streets; rumour has it that NYC has been systematically mapped to the tiniest of details to provide the framework for this version of ‘Liberty City’. I look forward to freely negotiating the simultaneous terrain of the virtual and the real, whilst having a clearer idea of my cultural entertainment needs.
 

‘So psychopathy is freedom, psychopathy is fun?’[4]

Rob Kennedy is artist in residence at Location One from March-August 


End Notes:
[1] The Unofficial Palace of New York, Frank Crowninshield, 1939
[2] Mirrors of New York, Benjamin De Cassares, Joseph Lawren,
New York, 1925
[3] Nostromo, Joseph Conrad, Everyman, 1947
[4] Super-Cannes, JG Ballard, Picador, 2002