CV

deankenning@gmail.com

INSTAGRAM

My artworks include kinetic sculptures, videos and diagrams. I employ DIY, allegorical and autodidactic methods and modes of representation to engender visceral, uncanny and humorous encounters and to explore political and philosophical material. I have had solo exhibitions at Matt's Gallery, Beaconsfield and Piper Keys and have exhibited in many group shows in the UK and internationally including at the ICA, Greene Naftali and BAK. I often work collaboratively and am currently a member of the Capital Drawing Group and the Social Morphologies Research Unit. I have published articles in journals such as Third Text, The Journal of Visual Art Practice, Art Monthly and Mute, including on the politics of art and art education. I am a Researcher at Kingston School of Art and I also teach Fine Art at Central St Martins.

 

AWARDS:

Mark Tanner Sculpture Award Winner 2020-21

Arts Council England Developing Your Creative Practice Grant (2019-20)

 

COLLECTIONS:

Grundy Art Gallery

 

ESSAYS:

'Dean Kenning's Kinetics' by John Roberts

'The Weapons of Our Adversaries. George Bataille's Analysis of Fascism and Community' by Hary Weeks. Third Text Vol.33:3 (2019)

'The Creeping Terror of Insecure Dwelling (From Dunwich to Chavganistan)' by John Cussans

 

REVIEWS ETC:

Sight & Sound: 'Atrocity Exhibition', a review of the Sick Monday DVD by Lindsay Hallam, February 2020

Garageland Reviews: Psychobotanical, Abigail Ashford, Jun 2019

Touching on current debates around artificial and plant intelligence whilst evoking horror film props and prosthetics, artist Dean Kenning’s mechanised science fictional sculptures playful enact his Promethian attempts at bringing matter to life A pair of plastic protuberances bump together awkwardly to the laboured thrum of obscured machinery which creaks and groans as if to say ‘I am exhausted, please look after me.’ Sparring flaccidly, the two tentacular figures atop the podium are caught between desperate caresses and a flailing battle for an impossible victory. Brief gaps punctuate the rounds of the doomed dual, in which the white limbs fall trembling into stillness and the space becomes silent; the voyeuristic guilt of the claustrophobic encounter somehow less pronounced. Dean Kenning’s exhibition at Matt’s Gallery extends the artist’s ongoing series of kinetic sculpture into a quasi-botanical realm. The rubber plant on display here is a much meatier incarnation of the nervously wobbling plantoids that appeared in the artist’s 2007 Berlin and 2009 New York shows. His motorised practice aims, in his own words, ‘to develop a compulsive aesthetic and a pseudo-autonomous art object by bringing matter to life’. Kenning’s Renaissance Man sculpture of 2017 is one memorable experiment in this vein. A grotesque reimagination of the artist as a ‘mechanised animal’, the figure’s hollow aluminium body gyrates methodically up and down in a strange quadrupedal press-up. The metal arms strain in a convincing mimicry of muscular movement and exertion, and the swaying hair attached to the modelled face subtly animates the inert technology. Kenning’s sculptures are overtly and proudly mechanical but, through an emphasis on kinesis, draw attention to the ease with which technology reflects the natural and human world around it. Like horror film props and prosthetics, a frightening reality is brought to life not by visual verisimilitude alone, but through the uncanny performance of familiar motions and sounds. Conscious movement tends to signal a nervous system identifiable as alive, yet a lack of recognisable movement, as plant neurobiologists remind us, does not signify a lack of intelligence. On three of the four gallery walls are colourful diagrammatic drawings picturing various routes through questions of origins and values. Kenning has previously used triangular and Venn diagrams to map out his observations of neoliberal crisis and the rise of right-wing populism, and these works offer a similar visualisation of critical thinking through drawing. Asking Where do you come from artwork? he reflects on the creation of the aforementioned rubber sculpture, illustrating different potential moments of conception, from the artist’s mind to the transformative gallery space. These two origins are captioned in a theatrical tone to imply a scepticism regarding the ahistorical, while the remaining two options of materials, processes + contexts that make it up and the naturo-social world it represents seem more sincere suggestions, embedded in cultural production. With this question of how matter is brought to life Kenning weaves his practice together with current debates around both artificial and plant intelligence, questioning human beings’ uncertain autonomy and status within these networks. ‘Life’, in inverted commas, is also interrogated by philosopher John Roberts in an essay specially commissioned for the show. Roberts perceives in old, outdated machinery the fundamental truth that technology never really arrives at its destination. The resultant uncanniness or ghostliness of said technology detached from its usefulness (in rationalising and organising human needs and desires) is what he deems Kenning’s refunctioning of old machines and parts to be concerned with. The impotent silicone rubber figures of Untitled (Rubber Plant) can never resolve their fight (or flirtation), and in this failure is revealed the truth of technological progress; what Roberts terms the ‘death-drive of technology’. The machine is forever locked in self-destructive limbo, unable to die as it is upgraded and adapted in a human-dictated process of evolution. Kenning’s rubber plant is given a new, synthetic existence, but it is a far cry from the rogue, super-intelligent and antagonistic plant-life of science fiction. Kenning ponders this longevity by mapping the vital heat of an animal onto a drawing of Renaissance Man. The result playfully disputes Descartes’ 17th century theory of animals as automata, directly comparing a rodent: ‘ZERO HEAT = DEATH’, to a machine: ‘ZERO HEAT = MAX. EFFICIENCY’. In his analysis, Roberts brings burgeoning anxieties around being outlived by our creations, whether these be kinetic sculptures, plastic bags, or AI, to bear on current ecological thinking and a probable ‘future world of thinking and self-organizing plants and other life-forms’. He (somewhat abruptly) carries his sense of the futility of mechanistic movement into an argument against an assumed ‘solidarity’ between human and the nonhuman. He suggests instead an ‘immanent violence of the human-indifferent human-created nonhuman’ and that therefore there ‘is no harmony with nature waiting for us, even if we get through this current global ecological crisis.’ Unless, he states, humans were to put aside their egoism and offer themselves up to nonhuman lifeforms, as foodstuffs… Although Roberts’ essay provides a compelling navigational tool, I cannot help but recoil from his pessimistic philosophising of the post-anthropocentric conflict that apparently awaits us. For me, his analysis misses an optimistic message implicit in Kenning’s work; that however uncomfortable, ugly and unfamiliar, there are lives that exist outside human aims, desires and value-judgements. And by working through the uncertainties, and inner conflicts such lives provoke in us, we might better equip ourselves to accept and accommodate these differences.

thisistomorrow: Dean Kenning: Psychobotanical, Lucy Holt, June 2019

The centrepiece of Dean Kenning’s new show ‘Psychobotanical’ is ‘Untitled (Rubber Plant)’, a kinetic sculpture made of silicon. On a waist-high plinth, two perfectly white, tendrilled sculptures are motorised to interact with each other in a way which seems both random and imbued with human gesture – somewhere between the wavy wind-sock creatures you see outside MOT garages and a gallery-friendly ‘Day Of The Triffids’. Despite the inanimate nature of silicon, and the non-human nature of plants, it’s impossible not to describe ‘Untitled (Rubber Plant)’ in human terms. In an essay commissioned to celebrate the new show at Matt’s Gallery, philosophical writer and thinker John Roberts says they: ‘square up to each other or dirty dance for territory and perhaps for sexual dominance’, the rubber is fauna come live, despite the fact we can see and hear the basic mechanics of the thing. Kenning calls it a ‘fleshy logic’; the desire to read movements as our own, the desire to see intelligence – or at least artificial intelligence – in certain textures and gestures. This is one threshold where the ‘psycho’ meets the ‘botanical’. This intersection is a preoccupation of much of Kenning’s previous work, which he is said to have ‘tumefied’ for this new show. To tumefy is to become swollen. Organic things become swollen, as do brains, egos, the matter of thinking. It is a curiously precise word for all this stuff. The sculpture is also accompanied by three paintings, each on a different wall of the 3x3x3 exhibition space. The paintings are diagrammatic in their style, something of a recurring theme in Kenning’s practice. Philosophical terms, line drawings of bodies and irreverent captions form the basis of his psychological universe. ‘Are You Human’ (2019) features three human forms labelled BODY, SUBJECT and CULTURE, line-drawn in style and each illustrating the qualities of ‘Chemistry’, ‘Experience’ and ‘Language’. They are charming – take ‘Experience’, which has a belly-full of musical notes and hearts for eyes. ‘Where Do You Come From’ (2019) is an image which takes on the tone of a self-help pamphlet investigating the possible origins of artistic ideas. It’s a testament to Kenning’s skill as visual storyteller that all options depicted (‘the artist’s head’, ‘the materials, processes + contexts’ etc.) seem strikingly well-observed, and at the same time, utterly silly. The humorous streak takes a darker turn in ‘My Animal Friends’ (2019), which compares the animal to the machine through the visual metaphor of the lab rat vs. the robot. This is a ‘joke’ best viewed rather than described. In the essay, Roberts talks about Kenning as having created a sort of ‘synthetic Life 2.0’ in ‘Psychobotanical’, a version of existence bound up in the concerns of our environmentally threatened world, one in line with current ecological thinking which seeks ‘solidarity with the non-human’. If so, Kenning’s artistic solidarity is one which is deeply concerned and full of generosity.

 

Art Monthly: Unnanounced Acts of Publicness, Larne Abse Goggarty, July-Aug 2015

'Kenning’s work with a group of five students ... was entitled Building the Fetish, Described as a ‘Value Map of the Kings Cross Development’, Building the Fetish estimated the annual revenue or cost of sites including student housing (£11m), the retail units soon to appear in the former Western and Eastern Coal Drops (combined: £150m) the nature park (£0) and the luxury homes set to occupy the gas holders (£80m). Materially the project visualised these values in the form of a map and piles of earth that looked like shit - a form of base materialism close to the aesthetics of George Bataille ...'

 

Harry Weeks (University of Edinburgh) reappraises the idea of the 'social turn' in art through the writing of Georges Bataille, and the art practices of Thomas Hirschhorn, Goldin+Senneby and Dean Kenning

 

Spike Art Magazine: A write up of my work by Antoine Catala in 'Artist's Favourites'

Artist, writer and art teacher, Dean Kenning is the type of artist who resists commercialization but keeps on churning out amazing works. He fights against British university reforms that will bring the cost of art tuition in the UK to absurd US levels, and is actively looking for alternatives (a complete rethinking of the educational system, for one) where others are not. Once Kenning told me that he works with murals and kinetic sculptures because they are potentially the worst possible art forms. His hilarious and at times abject sculptures have directly influenced my work. His kinetic, rubber, plantlike sculptures are instant classics (plus they can be integrated into any art show or domestic setting). In Value: A Visualisation (2012), a skinlike-covered ball trapped in a wooden box speaks – with a computer-generated voice – about the market. The focal point of Kenning’s reflections is the use of art and the role of the artist in society – of course I dig it. *1972 in Hounslow, UK, lives in London.

 

Guardian: The Dulwich Horror, Jessica Lack, 11 Aug 2007

The Dulwich Horror is Dean Kenning's witty response to the housing crisis. Inspired by the cosmic horror of cult writer HP Lovecraft, Kenning has taking the novelist's most weird invention, the Cthulhu Mythos - a collection of supernatural monstrous entities - and has tried to realise these creatures by painting them on agents' letting boards. The results can be seen across London. Green ogres with mangled hands and slimy tentacles watch passers-by from their lofty perches, postmodern gorgons clutch at bricks and mortar. Lovecraft's preoccupation with human powerlessness is revealed in this series of faceless fiends.

 

Art Monthly: Dean Kenning: the Dulwich Horror, Eliza Williams, Sept 2007

review