Dave Kennedy Uses Photography Because It's the Medium That Makes Us the Dumbest
Written by Jen Graves, The Stranger SLOG
Sometimes what an artist wants is so simple. It might be put this way, as a request to anyone viewing their work: If you don't know what it is, don't stop looking.
We can talk about the fact that Seattle-based, Tacoma-born artist Dave Kennedy takes his mixed-race identity—and the question he regularly gets, "What are you?"—as the driving force behind his new show at Bridge Productions, Anamorphosis, as well as the rest of his work, but the work doesn't need to be reduced
to any single topic. The pictures are about looking into something, not just at it.
We should all, this election season, go into Bridge and look, look, and look at Anamorphosis, follow its lead, do what the artist is asking. For several years, Kennedy has used photography as his medium because it's the one that makes us the dumbest. It makes us believe things that aren't true and miss things that are. No matter how well we know that what we see is not what we get, photography still triggers our desire for visual fidelity—only to make fools of us.
Kennedy has staged pictures of döppelgangers that demonstrate the unreliabilty of appearances—in one, the same person in the picture is under anaesthetic on the operating table, and wearing the scrubs and mask and ready to cut, both patient and doctor.
In big pictures of viscerally sliced-open fruit, he's made violent the difference between a body's surface and interior. In his new series he's taken hundreds of photographs of places and things seen as throwaways: wood scraps, rusty clips, alleyways strewn with tarps. These, he says, are inspired by having grown up in a World War II-era housing project in Tacoma, where the materials were crumbling but the place was non-homogenous and full of possibility.
Using color copies of those many views, Kennedy tiled together composite images of those same places and things. Or, he made composite sculptures of them, turning photographs back into 3D objects.
Copies are convincing. Sometimes the actual objects are mixed in with the pictures of them, or mixed with the sculptures of them (made of photographs of them).
Anamorphosis, or the distortion of an image so it's only clear when looked at from a certain angle, has been a tool used by artists for centuries. What it does is disrupts the completely universal human desire to foreclose on a single meaning or interpretation in order to make sense of the world. Are you ever worried you'll say or do the wrong thing based on a first impression? Me too. The way Kennedy uses photography and reproduction, we can practice safely, again, the act of trying to remember the crucial gap between looking and knowing that is so, so easy to forget.
Photocopies, wood scraps, duct tape, tape, light grey tube, blue cap, and rusty clip. 113" x 73" x 6"