Raven Row, 56 Artillery Lane, London, E1

  • Peter Kennard 01
    Title : Peter Kennard 01
  • Peter Kennard 09
    Title : Peter Kennard 09
  • Peter Kennard 1
    Title : Peter Kennard 1
  • Peter Kennard 10
    Title : Peter Kennard 10
  • Peter Kennard 12
    Title : Peter Kennard 12
  • Peter Kennard 14
    Title : Peter Kennard 14
  • Peter Kennard 4
    Title : Peter Kennard 4
  • Peter Kennard 7
    Title : Peter Kennard 7

Review by Sally Mumby-Croft

The opening of ‘At Earth’ at Raven Row coincides with the release of Peter Kennard’s 192-page photo-essay of the same title. Many of the works featured in the gallery appear within the book. As stated in the press release ‘the book will use images alone to argue that the attempt by a few to dominate the majority and exploit global resources has led to wars, crises of the economy and the environment.’

The exhibition and the book reproduce forty years of Kennard’s paintings, photomontages and digital prints; ‘At Earth’ opens with twelve black paintings that appear within Chapter Two. As the audience moves through the space, contrasting angles provide different points of view and the human faces concealed within the paint become visible. Throughout the exhibition, painted and digital, framed and unframed images, jostle for the viewer’s attention.

Kennard’s photomontages scrutinize accepted power structures through jarring combination of everyday images; the collages located in the middle galleries are composed from photographs of the earth, poker games and (poignantly) speedometers overlaid with ticking clocks, next to cutouts of nuclear arsenal. In a particularly somber composition a poker chip has been replaced with the photograph of an African child. Whilst the faces of the poker players remain invisible, the whiteness of their hands is suggestive of who is gambling away our future. Kennard’s practice challenges the idea of a singular - visual and ideological - perspective and invites the viewer to look again, and to think about what they are looking at.

In the topmost galleries, the cut and paste collages are joined by Kennard’s exploration into the smooth surfaces of Photoshop. These digital compilations are glued directly onto the building’s walls, bringing the artist’s relationship to the fast-paced nature of subversive street art directly into the gallery. The subject of oil emerges: in one arrangement, it drips in a silent scream across the Earth’s surface; in another a bloodied face stares, her life support attached to an oil refinery. Potentially didactic, these images resonate when recalling scenes from the 2010 BP oil spill. By condensing a world saturated with images, news and theories into compelling snapshots, ‘At Earth’ asks the viewer to reconsider what is being reported.

Neither the book nor the exhibition provides titles or explanations to accompany the topics explored by Kennard. Potentially easing the decision to refuse to engage with Kennard’s practice, viewers are encouraged to spend time reaching their own thoughts on current global crises. We can, quite simply choose not to look.

Choosing not to look would be an oversight; whilst ‘At Earth’ may appear to simplify global politics, Kennard’s collages are carefully considered, satirical and frequently disturbing takes on political hegemony. Politically engaged art is often accused of merely pointing out the world’s troubles; ‘At Earth’ burns with forty years of a continual refusal to accept the status quo.

The image which closes the exhibition lies within the lower ground floor, nestled between a series of tattered medals and an image of a dissident awaiting execution. A digital print which has held sway over the media for the last ten years dominates a single wall: a doctored photograph of an American soldier kicking the world into touch.

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