Digging Deeper with Gavin Kenyon

Archeo, an outdoor group exhibition about technology and obsolescence, brings together the work of artists who employ outmoded technologies and outdated machinery as a reflection on humanity's continuous fascination and frustration with technology.

The following Q&A with artist Gavin Kenyon (b. 1980, United States) is part of a new High Line Art series, Digging Deeper. Organized in conjunction with Archeo, Digging Deeper will offer a closer look at the exhibition's artists and work.

High Line Art: How did you develop your method of wrapping and pouring your cast concrete sculptures? How did you first discover this process?

Gavin Kenyon: I was looking for a fast and uncontrolled process of generating forms, and I happened to have a supply of fake fur and other fabrics recovered from the attic of my step-grandmother's house. I wanted a surface that was too natural-looking and complicated to sculpt directly, and forms that were body-like.

HLA: Your works are both slumping and structural – as if they're formed of rigid architectural elements that are simultaneously melting into the ground – is this an effect you seek out in your work, or a natural result of your choice of materials?

GK: It's a result of the casting process that I use. The tension between the architectural form of larger works, like the one on the High Line, and the distorted nature of the form as realized through my process is something that I seek out.

HLA: To what extent are you interested in a bodily metaphor in your works, both in the process of their construction and in their final appearance?

GK: I think a lot about how we relate to the world and the objects in it, in relation to ourselves. When it comes to these works, scale has a lot to do with how the person approaching an object relates to it.

Something that is more or less the same size as you are is often naturally appreciated as relating one-to-one with the body. As I make larger work, it naturally starts relating more to architecture, because those are the forms that we see every day that are of a similar scale. The piece on the High Line is based on the form of a statue of a figure on a plinth, so it does contain an element that is meant to be figurative.

HLA: Why do you use fur in your work?

GK: Because it creates a very complicated texture on the surface of the castings that is also natural-looking and impossible for me to reproduce in another way. The residual fur is nice, too.

HLA: Can you talk about how color enters your work – whether it comes from the textiles in which the cast in enclosed, or is added afterward? What is your inspiration or source material for these colors?

GK: The fur and other fiber that sticks to the casting imparts a color, and occasionally a dye transfers as well. I never know until I unwrap a piece what it will look like. Other color is added afterward. There are three main steps in this process: the first is the sewing of the mold, the second is casting the form, and the third is painting it. Each step is distinct and a unique set of decisions are made during each.

I try to approach each group of castings a little differently in terms of color; it keeps the process more interesting. The color for the piece on the High Line is loosely copied from a quilt that I made by cutting up paintings and sewing them back together in the same pattern that's on the column section of the piece. The design is a traditional quilt block called Gentleman's Fancy.

HLA: Did you have a specific image in mind when you were making your piece for the High Line?

GK: It's modeled after the form of a bronze statue on a plinth. It is not taken from any specific monument, but is a generalization of the category.

HLA: What do you think is the effect of placing a crumbling equestrian sculpture on a footpath that was formerly a railroad? Are you interested in these transformation in modes of transportation?

GK: I love the long view that you get on the High Line. It is something that few parts of New York City have. This piece is more of a marching figure than an equestrian statue because of the proportions. The two types are similar and both are well represented in many cities around the world.

I guess I am not so interested in the changing modes of transportation. I am interested in the placement of a monument along a pedestrian thoroughfare.

Photographs by Timothy Schenck

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