When an exhibition is introduced as aiming to “unsettle the convention of the ‘explanation’, to foster an empowering, uncertain and open series of encounters”, it can go one of two ways: be rich in meaning and ideas, or have very little meaning at all.
Entering Rob Kennedy’s Acts of Dis Play, you are struck first by the dislocated title and then by the impressive scale of the exhibit: A large tree rises up to the ceiling, a section of scaffolding juts out into the room, and small paintings are placed on huge planks of wood. There is ‘shrapnel’ at the edge of every work, and in every corner of the room. Distorted patterns of light glare out from splintered screens. Our senses are awakened, alert to every detail.
Yet it appears there is little worth being alert to, here in Edinburgh’s Talbot Rice Gallery. The video displayed in the second room again holds your attention; yet the sequence of amusing amateur videos pulled from the internet do not align to form a clear idea.
Of course, the gallery states that lack of clarity is the artist’s intention, yet in this case claiming ambiguity seems to be a cover for lack of depth. The literature for the show makes this all the more apparent. The small pamphlet goes between describing a scene of intellectual posturing between the artist and the curator, and sounding like an art history textbook. Kennedy probably thought he was being clever and ironical, by mocking that which he is inevitably a part of. Yet the whole endeavour lacks purpose and substance: it exists in a vacuum of intellectual boredom.
This kind of self-awareness is only interesting when the artist is examining both individual and wider human experience. Instead, without anything grounding it, Kennedy’s work gets caught up in the vapid cycle of his own creation. Acts of Dis Play would have been better staying on the surface, because it turns out there are only shallow waters beneath it. Is this pamphlet of universal mockery an act of deliberate self-sabotage? If so, the artist succeeded and gained nothing from it.
At Talbot Rice Gallery, Until 17th December