Galerie Gisèle Linder
Galerie Gisèle Linder GmbH
Elisabethenstrasse 54
CH-4051 Basel
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Clare Kenny’s second solo exhibition at Galerie Gisèle Linder brings together a large ensemble of work to create an overview of the artist’s practice as it has developed since she arrived in Switzerland in 2007. Thanks to exhibitions in Basel, Zurich, Geneva and Lausanne, Kenny has become well known in this country as an artist who exuberantly engages with the processes and materials of photography, often making three-dimensional objects from photographic origins. These formal concerns are undoubtedly important, but this exhibition also emphasises the personal elements that form the foundation for the artist’s work.

The exhibition ‘Tales of the Authentic’ includes works from at least six bodies of work. These encompass traditionally presented photography; pieces that make glass itself the ground for works, rather than their transparent cover; the legs of jeans filled with plaster; works in different kinds of building render or finish; ‘puddle’ pieces presented on the floor; and new works where plaster casts are treated with techniques from interior decoration. Through choices of subject and media Kenny acts like a tour guide, or even an ethnographer, of her origins. Not only does her work bear traces of her Northern English cultural heritage, but her choice of materials is equally informed by the fabric of the environment in which she grew up. In making these choices, she plays with stereotypes of the bleak, industrial North, and of the pliability of memory. As the ethnographer must guard against changing – or accept that they inevitably will alter – that which they observe, the artist knows that her ‘Tales of the Authentic’ are unreliable documents.
Viewers of previous works using large sheets of photographic paper often mistake the paper for metal, and in some of Kenny’s most recent pieces the topics of illusion and appearance become explicit. This exhibition for example includes 3 plaster impressions taken from photography developing trays entitled Arrested Development (2014), which are displayed hanging on the wall. Where the base of the tray is reproduced, the plaster has a scagliola finish that was created during casting. Scagliola is a plaster effect traditionally used to create imitations of marble in grand buildings, one that Kenny knows well thanks to experience gained as a specialist decorator creating such illusions. Her iteration of the technique does not try to trick or to create a convincing trompe l’oeil, but makes the material evident. Nonetheless, it engages with a history of aspirational aesthetics. (It is little surprise that this field is one we all understand yet is rarely deemed worthy of investigation.) As does the work Pebbledash (2014), a circular disc of the exterior treatment, presented as if it were an abstract painting surface. Pebbledash is the ne plus ultra of home improvement in the UK, a finish that signals the urge to better one’s residence while in all likelihood decreasing its value. Salford Lad’s Club (2014) presents a similar sample of a building finish, in this case red brick. The material is what is expected of ex-industrial cities in the north of England, though here there’s an extra layer of cliché, for the title and graffiti reproduced on the wall echo a famous photograph of the band The Smiths that was used for their album ‘The Queen is Dead’. (The Northern band, famous for bleak and pessimistic music, sought ‘authenticity’ by posing outside a club created for boys from deprived backgrounds, while their own success drew them away from this very context.)

Kenny’s use of these specific connotations is not just – if at all – a commentary on English building idiom. Rather it helps create fruitful comparisons with other systems of classification and status, as abound in the art context. The distinction between art photography and photography, or the respect that painting enjoys, say. So while Kenny’s sculptures and images are endlessly optimistic in their brightness, they are underpinned by a nuanced understanding of the class distinctions they work with and against. As the titles of both exhibition and individual pieces suggest, every work of art is codified by its medium, yet sometimes materials deserve to be appreciated for their own qualities rather than the associations to which they are continually subjected. Aoife Rosenmeyer