River Phoenix and Jesus Christ

28 January - 1 February

Installation image
Towards the end of the 20th century, we saw news become entertainment. Competition for advertising and the revenue it generates, as well as market shares and viewership battles, incentivised news sources towards increasingly sensationalised, polarising styles of reporting. The result is news, as a concept, becoming increasingly blurry, with partisanship normalised, accepted and even desired by media consumers. If news was once the recounting of current events, it is now typified by a bending of the truth in favour of bias,  whether that be a genuine socio-political one, or merely an attempt at growing or maintaining a market share - a defacto synonym for audience in the 21st century.

The lack of recourse for bending news led to public apologies, corporate statements and press wars in place of structured inquest. We ingested this new form of corporatised communication, eventually birthing generations without knowledge of any alternative. We’re business entities from birth, presenting ourselves as products with an innate awareness of branding. The language of branding is a semiotic one, relying on the interpretation of imagery or language as subjective symbols, sigils gaining power as more people share the same interpretation.

In this installation, Jack Kennedy (B.1994, Leeds) questions the validity of interpretation in a post-truth media environment. The use of popular culture figures, from River Phoenix to Rachel Wade, is not to vilify or vindicate the individual but to reveal the reduction of the individual to a symbol based on the values or awareness of the interpreter. To attempt to deconstruct Kennedy’s work is to embrace ignorance, the fact that a supposedly objective truth is actually based on one’s prior experience.

The reality of a figure like Wade is muddy, she’s a murderer, but also a human being with a life a behind her and a set of circumstances that lead her there. Without knowing that, or even knowing who the women in the pictures is, our understanding of the images (and resultantly, the artwork) shifts into unreality, a narrative crafted by the viewer based on a semiotic reading of the images that make up the work.

Kennedy’s use of stock photography and social imagery focuses on representation as commodity. In Wishlist, the use of stock photography addresses the production and dissemination of the image more than it does the content, utilising the presence of the child soldier as a commodity traded not only within conflict, but also by the photographer and the publisher - in the case of Getty, profiting off of the commission and control of imagery. In Gilles de Rais Mickey Mouse, the context and content of imagery is muddied through aesthetic choices as well as proximity to one another. The phenomena of military Tik Tok accounts making loose threats to civil rights protesters (“Today’s guns can shoot 30 bullets at once”) is an individual dissemination based on socio-political identity, the poster is saying something about themselves as much as they are saying to the group they’re talking about. This is shown in contrast to the imagery in Wish List, encouraging the viewer to ask questions about the lineage, purpose and production of digital imagery.

RIver Phoenix & Jesus Christ is an amalgam, made up of pre-existing and site-specific works, refitted under a new title. This is endemic of Kennedy’s process, a practice hinged on aura and typified by an uncompromising approach to media.