12 Dec 2019 — 31 Jan 2020
Richard Kennedy
missed connections

Theater has its etymological roots in the Greek word theatron, meaning seeing place, or more specifically the seating area section of an ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine theater. the theater was a favorite culture-and-entertainment venue of the ancient Greeks, and theater squares are said to have been crowded with spectators, day and night. We can only imagine what contrast the theater would have made against the mundane toils of life in the Hellenistic Period. It is the audience's job to willingly suspend disbelief and accept the dramatic events unfolding on stage as an extension of his or her own life. This act of belief is not of mere accedence, but of active belief and action; tragedy invoked the heart to consider life under a different life and to take action.

Based in New York, Richard Kennedy works across a variety of fields, including contemporary art, musical composition, opera scripting and directing. Kennedy was only in third grade when he started going to the Sorg Opera House in Middletown, Ohio. The local opera company offered students two-dollar tickets for dress rehearsals and Kennedy made the most of the opportunity. Operas are multi-disciplinary in the sense that meaning is presented through an interaction of multiple representations. That is to say, it is the dramatic narrative, poetic lines, the vocal capacity of the thespians on stage, appealing sounds, costumes of the appropriate contemporaries, and magnificent stage mechanisms that come together for an opera. Kennedy points to that diversity of roles within any opera as what merits his interest and inspires him to create a new world.

Richard Kennedy's paintings on display at Gallery 2 were inspired in the process of producing (G)hosting, the opera without an audience. Kennedy explains that he felt a need to create an opera reminiscent of a first encounter with a stranger. His opera was manifested at the exhibition halls rather than on the stage. His exhibition shows sections of white wire-link fence with display panels hanging from them, sculptures, and paintings. The sectioned fences are staggered in a way that requires spectators to make navigational decisions around the obstacles. A total of four hanging panels on separate fences play videos with sound, containing bizarre, dissonant, and hyperbolic information that elicits apprehension from spectators. Sculptures and paintings installed in the exhibition hall heightens visual tension that further adds to the unease. This open-endedness encourages viewers to explore a completely different plot: a novel first encounter.

The paintings with text are analogous to an opera's libretto (meaning "booklet", libretto is the text used for extended musical works such as operas). For Kennedy, it was the paintings that summoned the libretto into the physical world and gave it the ability to create new code. The artist explains that he looked into visual media such as paintings and sculptures, to perform an audience-free opera. To the artist, a painting is a representation of drama, synonymous to a stage device that congeals the atmosphere of the opera, a chorus that enriches music, and a synopsis that provides a more intuitive understanding of the story.

Richard Kennedy likens dance to painting without a brush. If so, the painting itself is the trace taxidermy of dance upon the surface of the canvas. He grooves and moves about to a playlist of techno music in his studio, dancing with the canvas as his partner, the brush creating layer upon layer. Text too, is layered upon the canvas, created in a variety of typography, size, and words around the canvas. The final touch is put with different size swipes on the canvas, obscuring his work (opera) with a layer on top, creating a veil or barrier for the message between the spectator and the painting. The words layered into Kennedy's paintings are terms used by queer communities and are intentionally abstract to avoid media censorship. It is a language that is whitewashed and at times obfuscated. The artist's elaborate and laborious approach to painting also works as a metaphor of sorts for the language spoken by the community.

The repeated texts found within his paintings are like separate iterations of a verbal utterance. even when repeated by the same individual, such utterances can show differences with distinct accents, tones, loudness, and emotiveness. Such reiterations which can be likened to a repeated reading of a libretto, evokes the distinction between rehearsal and realization in an opera performance. The utterances of an opera, as consummated on stage, is crystallized into a single iteration that comes from countless iterations preceding it. Of the countless iterations, the utterances, only one is to be identified on stage. Yet the iterations found within the paintings reveal uncertainty whilst providing no such identity. Indeed, his paintings cast the question of whether definitive utterances are possible at all, and whether the metric for such judgement exists in this reality. They are paintings of verbose silence.

Unclear to the spectator whether they are making utterances or seeking utterances from the spectator, the paintings are full of surreptitious intent to engage the spectator. It heralds the spectator's senses yet yields no bearing, keeping the spectator in a moral limbo. Richard Kennedy states that his interest is in capturing the lives of black and queer in American society similar to himself, through opera, a holistic performative art predominantly considered to be the realm of the fair-skinned people. His paintings are not interested in presenting images of fellow Americans, blacks, and queers. Rather, they appeal to the potential of life to unfold into various directions through the spectator's act of observance and utterance.
installation view