ARTSY: Ra, Ra, Ra Your Boat

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buskirkbyline.jpgBY DAN “ARTSY” BUSKIRK A truly successful artist wisely figures out how to incorporate their art organically into his life. If Irish installation artist Brian Kennedy is going to keep his insane schedule, traveling the five continents to mount his installations, why shouldn’t his subject be travel itself? Most recently his travels have brought him to Philadelphia, where his piece “Passage” had its unveiling tonight at the Icebox Gallery at the Crane Art Building. Kennedy is known for his large-scale installations specifically designed for their presentation spaces, but with The Icebox’s massive size — we’re talking 5,000 square ft. — Kennedy is working with his grandest canvas yet.

The centerpiece will be three ceiling mounted curraches, the ancient canoe-like boat that originated centuries ago along the west coast of Ireland. It’s an object full of metaphorical weight, as the god Ra was said to bring the sun from the east in the currach and St. Brendan was said to have first sailed to America in one during the 6th Century. Kennedy’s work plays on these meanings, yet his experience with the boats is more than just academic: He spent two summers after college fishing for lobsters from a currach amongst the Cliffs of Moher.

With the support of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Kennedy arrived in Philadelphia weeks before the exhibition and (as is often his modus operandi) engaged local craftsmen to collaborate on building a brand new currach. Approximately 25 ft. long, the fresh currach will be joined by two older boats which Kennedy used his ample charm to wrangle from a couple of different stateside institutions. All three will be lit to glow from within, allowing their skinned skeletons the carve out the light.

When I met with Kennedy, a few days before the opening, he was still in the midst of transforming the gargantuan Icebox into his dreamscape, however he seemed light as air, undistracted by his latest obstacle: where to scare up the ton of salt he desires in order to cover the floor and give the attendees the opportunity to carve out their own trail? Maybe this is Zen state of the installation artist, a person who devotes so much of life building objects designed to exist for only a very fleeting time. I do know it is exactly the kind of laissez-faire attitude one needs to be a good traveler.


The Crane Arts Building

1400 American St.
Brian Kennedy – “Passage”
Nov. 8 – Dec. 16

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