Peter Kennedy is one of Australia’s most important experimental artists and one of the pioneers of Australian video and performance art.
Kennedy’s work spans more than four decades and this month the Australian Experimental Art Foundation (AEAF) presents a survey of his work from 1971 until the present day. “There are four moving image works from the past and the present all of which are configured spatially as an installation; it’s not just looking at a screen, it’s looking at screens arranged or designed in a spatial sense,” Kennedy says. The curator of the exhibition, Matthew Perkins, is particularly interested in the history of video art in Australia and where Kennedy fits into this history. “Peter is unique because his engagement with the medium spans the medium’s history in Australia,” Perkins says. In Sydney in the early 70s, Kennedy, along with Mike Parr and Tim Johnson, founded the artist cooperative Inhibodress, an experimental space which mainly focused on installation and conceptual art. It was here that Kennedy first presented the video work Fugue (1971-2015) in 1971 which has been reconfigured for the exhibition at AEAF. When it was exhibited in 1971, it was the first time a video work had been made and shown publicly. “It’s a major piece,” Kennedy says. “In a sense, it sets the scene for visual artists working with video and working with time-based media and moving imagery. It’s a watershed moment; it was setting up something we are now used to. Every time we walk into a gallery we expect to see video and sound installations. This was the first, the very beginning.”
Peter Kennedy Fugue (video still) 1971-2015, 8-channel digital video and sound installation. Courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane.
Originally filmed on quarter-inch black and white videotape, the recordings have been restored and converted to a digital format so that Kennedy could edit them and improve the quality of the sound. What was originally presented as a single channel screening has now been broken apart and made into a multi channel work. “Interestingly he has remade or ‘rethought about’ the work. His dialogue around it was that they were always an open proposition,” Perkins says. “So, he is really interested in engaging with old works and seeing how they translate through new technologies.” Another work Body Concert Extended (1971- 2015) has been extracted from Fugue. In this work, Kennedy and his partner at the time, Barbara Hall, are naked with a contact microphone between them that they move over as much of the surface of their bodies as possible without dropping it. “The sound of the microphone rubbing against their skin is one of the predominant investigations,” Perkins says. “He has made it into a work that gets repeated in one video projection and it’s delayed in each segment so it has a sort of domino effect.” These two works originating from 1971 appear alongside more recent works, The Photographs’ Story (2004-2016) and Small Tales and True (2005-2011). The Photographs’ Story relates to photographs printed in the newspaper in 2003 which recount the incident of a young Palestinian child being shielded by his father and shot dead by Israeli soldiers in 2000. Doubts were then raised over the authenticity of the footage. “The work really engages with how stories become mediated and manipulated through media,” Perkins says.
Peter Kennedy, Small Tales and True (video still) (detail) 2005-2011, 4-channel video installation. Courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane.
Kennedy has created a dialogue around the photographs which his son, who was eight years old at the time, graffitied on. The story is from the photographs’ point of view, as if the photographs were the narrator. The narrator in the moving image work is his wife Gillian and Kennedy’s son Alistair also appears in the six-part story. Shot in night vision, Small Tales and True is a story about a burglar who tries to rob three houses and gets caught each time. When he is caught he has a story as to why he is there which is completely ridiculous and unbelievable. The work is seen through the eyes of the robber. “It’s a bit like the role of photography or the camera in the context of photography as the stealer of images and stories,” Kennedy says. Titled Resistance, the exhibition celebrates an artist who has spent more than 40 years engaged with the medium of the moving image, using the medium to offer the viewer a different point of view. “In this exhibition I believe people will experience something they have never experienced before,” Kennedy says. Peter Kennedy: Resistance Australian Experimental Art Foundation Curated by Matthew Perkins aeaf.org.au