Peter Kennedy Light Years 1970–1

In the early 1970s, Brisbane-born artist Peter Kennedy was a leading figure in the development of conceptual art in Australia. Light Years restages work from three solo shows he mounted in 1970 and 1971, which contained pioneering examples of installation, light, performance, and sound work.

Art Exhibition previously on at IMA - Institute of Modern Art in Australia.
From Saturday 07 May 2011 to Saturday 25 June 2011

Peter Kennedy Floor Piece 2 1970 image Peter Kennedy Horizontal Wall Piece 1970. image Peter Kennedy Neon-Light Installations, Gallery A Sydney, 1970 image Peter Kennedy Floor Piece 1 1970 image Peter Kennedy Luminal Sequences 1970 image Peter Kennedy But the Fierce Blackman (detail) 1971 image

Published by Institute of Modern Art on Tuesday 19 April 2011.
Contact the publisher.

Neon-Light Installations, at Gallery A Sydney in February 1970, is considered the first exhibition of Australian neon work. Kennedy made the works while employed as a sign designer at Claude Neon, Sydney. Many of the pieces featured straight lengths of coloured neon housed in reflective channels that concentrated the coloured light; the channels were treated as a compositional building blocks. Installed on the floor, the walls, and along the ceiling line, Kennedy’s neon pieces responded to the gallery architecture. In one work, neon light was modulated by bent expanded mesh; in another, by wood wool.

Kennedy’s second and final show at Gallery A, in March 1971, foregrounded the elements of time and subjectivity by playing off past and present, the real and the depicted. Luminal Sequences featured neon lights, theatre spot-lights, and slide projections, all activated by timers. In their theatrical interplay, these different light sources generated a sequence of optical effects. The slides were images of the gallery space, of the work itself, and of people engaging with it—Kennedy incorporating ‘documentation’ and ‘the viewer’ into the work.

Kennedy staged a concurrent exhibition at Sydney’s Inhibodress—the alternative space run by Kennedy, Mike Parr, and Tim Johnson. The work he showed may be the first incidence of live performance and sound art in Australian art. Inspired by the ideas of John Cage, But the Fierce Blackman was menacing. A looped tape recording of the artist repeating the mantra ‘but the fierce blackman’ played over a PA accompanied by a whirring electric fan and a television tuned to static (which intercepted radio signals from passing taxis). For the duration of the three-week show, Kennedy reappeared every half hour to repeat the title into the microphone. He described the work as a study in ‘interference variables’. At the IMA, we are showing a work based on the original installation, with the original audio recording and a photo of Kennedy performing the piece with a black shirt pulled over up his face like a mask.

As the final work in this exhibition, But the Fierce Blackman represents Kennedy’s leap from object-based art to sound and performance, a turning point in both his practice and Australian art.

Peter Kennedy is represented by Milani Gallery, Brisbane.