Peter Kennedy

Peter Kennedy

Light Years 1970–1

07 May–25 June 201107 May–25 Jun 2011

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

Kennedy presented Neon-Light Installations at Gallery A Sydney in February 1970. At the time, he was employed as a sign designer at Claude Neon, Sydney. The pieces featured straight lengths of coloured neon housed in reflective channels that concentrated their light. The channels were treated as compositional building blocks. Installed on the floor, the walls, and along the ceiling line, Kennedy’s neon pieces responded to the gallery architecture. In subsequent light works, neon and fluorescent light would be modulated using wood wool and expanded mesh.

Kennedy’s second and final show at Gallery A Sydney, 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 activated by timers, spot-lights, and slide projections. (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.) In their theatrical interplay, these light sources generated a sequence of effects.

Kennedy staged a concurrent exhibition at Sydney’s Inhibodress, the alternative space he ran with Mike Parr. Inspired by 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 phrase live through the PA. He described the work as a study in ‘interference variables’.

The Institute of Modern Art acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land upon which the IMA now stands, the Jagera, Yuggera, Yugarapul, and Turrbal people. We offer our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the first artists of this country. In the spirit of allyship, the IMA will continue to work with First Nations people to celebrate, support, and present their immense past, present, and future contribution to artistic practice and cultural expression.