Extract from 'Chance Finds Us', 2014.
Writing by Iris Aspinall Priest
Saturday 19th March, 2011
“Fallor ergo sum”
(“I err therefore I am”)
Augustine, Saint (354 – 430)
In his Gateshead studio – with the soporific hum of an industrial heater reverberating round the space – Nick Kennedy begins the studio visit by showing me a new Dice Drawing he was working on. He explained that it was part of an ongoing series that he’s been engaged with for the last two to three years which follows a general, predefined mode of production. He illustrated this process by demonstrating the repeated action involved in the drawing’s generation; he sits centrally in front of a piece of paper and rolls a die at a cross marked at the centre of the paper with the aim of landing it on this cross. With each successive roll he clicked a counter and then noted the number displayed on the counter (which corresponded to the roll number) down at the point where the die landed on the paper. By rolling the die many times the drawing evolves from what looks initially like quite a loose, scatological drawing (when the rolls number around one hundred) to a denser, more nebulous accumulation of handwritten numbers (as the rolls reach the thousands). He compared this process and systematic way of working at a desk, to being “…very business-like” and this continuous, mechanical mode of production seemed to me faintly reminiscent of a mathematical research experiment or of data collation; the parameters of the research experiment being set, this process was simply the “following through” of those instructions.
Kennedy explained that he was using this technique precisely because “you can’t control it…”. This means of surrendering control in the production of work is explored throughout the different aspects of his practice either through creating the rules of engagement and then letting it play out, by allowing the influence of chance and accident to dictate the course of the work or by unmanning the process and handing it over to other makers (be they artists, viewers or machines). Like all of the artists in the Chance Finds Us group I had spoken to, he was not didactic or prescriptive about the intent or meaning of his work but suggested that this process was a means of “…questioning control and failure through setting up a system and following it through…”. I also wondered whether it was perhaps a means or critique of artistic intent, motivation or decision-making also? By handing over the process to forces and influences beyond the artist’s control it may begin to take on a life – or to communicate with something – beyond the life of the artist himself…
With each successful roll of the die he changes the hand with which he throws the die and the colour of the pencil used for marking the die's landing position. This ‘rule of the game’ he explained, promotes
“…An urgent feeling of wanting to be successful in the task, so that I can both move the work forwards (towards the target for successful rolls) and regain a feeling of control over the use of colour...”
For throws from his right hand he noted the number down in blue pencil, and for throws from his left hand he noted the roll number in red. The overall effect of this polarized mark making was a little dizzying; the overlaid coloured numbers invoked a feeling akin to that of looking at a 3D film still without wearing the glasses. I wondered whether this process was building up an abstract visualization of the operations of the right and left sides of the brain, of the neural processes involved in coordinating the artists’ observations and movements. Or perhaps he had created an algorithm, which, over enough throws, could generate a series of random numbers (i.e. the numbers of the throws which actually landed on the centre cross)? Perhaps if we, as viewers, were able to take a long perspective of the work, it might actually present us with a pattern? What would happen if this process were repeated an infinite number of times? Perhaps, at some point, the die would begin to land on the same spots (thus making the current drawing a blue print or microcosm for further or microcosmic activity)? He described these pieces as being an “idiosyncratic trace” of the act of making and “an accumulation of all the imperfections of person and die” as he alternated between left and right, endeavouring to balance the drawing.