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The Art of the Ordinary

To Clare Kenny, nothing is more inspiring than ordinary life. Petrol slicks become glass sculptures, and rope found in the fabric her grandmother used to work at becomes a neon installation series. Kenny's art is always authentically hers and never aspires to be art for art's sake. Her upbringing and her value system have formed Clare Kenny's view on the world as well as her artistic language, which she brings to life in the form of sculptures, photographs, and mixed media works. In conversation with Nora Partl, Head of Content & Communication, Clare Kenny explains her fascination for ordinary life and multidisciplinary art, the cultural feminist dialogue, and her wishes for the art market of the future.

Balloon-shaped sculptures, ceramic fountains, or old panties cast in plaster: Clare Kenny plays with banalities and familiarities that irritate and disturb at second glance. Her multidisciplinary work plays with the opposites of joy and sorrow, grief and euphoria, love and fear, and associates these contraries with one another in a humorous way. By challenging us to investigate the neglected and to reevaluate firmly held beliefs, the artist helps us recognize that an apparently routine life is anything but.

Nora Partl: Clare Kenny, what is your first memory of being creative?

Clare Kenny: As far as I can remember I was always creating stories in my mind, as an internal narrative, keeping myself amused.

NP: When was the moment you realized you wanted to be an artist?

CK: I don't remember choosing to be an artist, it was just always there. Since childhood it was pretty clear to me that is what I have always been – an artist.

NP: Your background and upbringing, your family, and the objects of everyday life are ever-present themes in your work. What makes ordinary life interesting for you?

CK: Everyday life is so rich and inspiring. To me it’s a never-ending source of inspiration – from oil in puddles to deflated balloons hanging from trees. These everyday occurrences are the things that connect all of us and our life events, like a shared universal experience.

Enough rope to hang ‘emselves (blue), 2016 and Pastel dream on a midsummers morn, 2017.

NP: Therefore, your personal experiences are a big part of your practice. Is creating art always, to a certain degree, a way of self-reflection? How does that apply to you?

CK: Art is a springboard to further investigation- if something affected me in a meaningful way, it is more than possible that others would feel the same or have had a similar experience. So, I'm often thinking of my experiences as shared experiences.

NP: Your artworks are raw and authentic and visualize your view of the world. How do you manage to stay true to yourself and your artistic approach?

CK: I try not to get caught up in art world trends and spend my time reflecting on the wider world thinking beyond the white cube.

NP: Balloon-like sculptures titled "Party’s Over," briefs turned into a ceramic sculpture, or installations created out of ropes from your grandmother’s factory named "Enough rope to hang ´emselves"—a subtle irony accompanies your works. What role does humor play in your practice?

CK: Without humor I would be lost. There has to be a balance between a certain amount of humor, melancholy and authenticity and British self-deprecation.

All hot air (pink), 2021.

NP: A wide range of materials, such as found objects, building materials, neon, and photography, are the foundation of your work. How did you develop your multidisciplinary approach?

CK: A lot of the materials I use are everyday things from the DIY store to the cheap pound store there is no hierarchy of materials in my practice.

NP: What do you aim to achieve by working with and combining various materials?

CK: I spend many hours in my studio taking materials and pushing and pulling them to their limits, creating new constellations and presenting them anew.

NP: As a multidisciplinary artist working with various materials and media, how would you describe your characteristic visual language?

CK: Aspirational Aesthetics is a term I coined to describe my practice everything has the potential to be remade anew this potential an aspiration to transform the humble and mundane to something extraordinary.

NP: As a female artist, how have your experiences been like finding your voice in the art world?

CK: Of course, it is difficult for women there is no denying it. I've had many moments being the token female in a show. I feel, however, the largest stumbling block has been more of a class issue. Being working class is an anathema in the art industry.

NP: Where does your work fit in the cultural feminist dialogue?

CK: As mentioned above the lack of diverse backgrounds creates a flat homogenous art world and whilst the market might dictate a certain amount of this we should try and make space for more voices, especially female voices from different socio economic backgrounds like mine.

MG Montego and Toyota Corrola, 2014.

NP: Is there something you would like to change about the art market? Why would you change it?

CK: To be less elitist.

Clare Kenny is a British / Swiss artist. The rare punctuations of so-called ordinary life – weddings, birthdays, parties, the memory makers – are represented in Kenny’s work especially in pieces such as the partially deflated balloons of Party’s Over. Kenny’s work is aesthetically and materially seductive. It is borne out of a great work ethic and commitment to understanding processes and materials, to pushing at what they are capable of. Through drawing attention to the profound in the everyday she reveals its dignity and value. She asks that we look at the overlooked and in so doing reconsider deeply embedded assumptions – to appreciate that an apparently ordinary life is anything but.

Kenny has exhibited internationally at galleries and institutions, including: Kunsthaus Zürich, CH; Kunsthalle Basel, CH; Kunsthaus Baselland, Muttenz, CH; Kunstmuseum Luzern, CH; Contemporary Forward, Rochdale, UK; Aargauer Kunsthaus, CH; Kunsthaus Langenthal, CH; AKKU Emmenbrücke, CH; DOLL espace d’art contemporain, Lausanne, CH; Contemporary Arts Society UK ; La Kunsthalle, Mulhouse, FR; commercial galleries such as Von Bartha Gallery, Basel; Wilde Gallery, Basel; VITRINE Gallery, London and Giséle Linder Galerie, Basel, with whom she shows regularly at ARTBASEL. She has also been presented at Artissima, Turin, IT; Artgenève, Geneve, CH; Artforum Berlin, DE; The Manchester Contemporary, UK; and Marfa Invitational, Texas, US.