“Beasts Sleeping Beneath the Surface”

We sat down with our newest board member and local artist, Gabe Michael Kenney to discuss his newest installation piece “State of the Nation” and the future of the Columbus arts scene.

1) Tell us about yourself!

My name’s Gabe. I’m a local artist here in Columbus. My academic background is rooted in traditional and contemporary printmaking. During my graduate studies, I was greatly influenced by character-based performance art and large scale, sculptural installation pieces. For the past six years, my practice has focused on the development of immersive and interactive installation & performance spaces and continues to do so today.
I consider them time machines, which you to explore more of over at gabemichaelkenney.com

Kool Aid Sacrament

I am currently living and working in the Old North/SoHud area of town, just north of campus. During the week, I specialize as an Occupancy Coordinator on the Campus Operations: Environments team at CoverMyMeds. My title reflects a major aspect of my position, which concerns our response to rapid growth and the implementation of appropriate amenities and resources to accommodate our employees. Aside from occupancy work, my duties stretch far and wide into more creative aspects of the workplace environment. I play a major role in the interior design aspect of the building, specifically how it relates to unconventional methods of employee and community engagement. Some of the fun projects I get to work on in this avenue include mural commissioning, local art curation in our interior office space, and the development of our new Community Art Gallery which will be located in the first building of our new Franklinton Campus location, right beside Orange Barrel Media. I am also a new board member at Wild Goose Creative and currently focusing on the development and launch of their new location at 188 McDowell St. in Franklinton.

2) You’ve got an installation piece on view at the Vanderelli Room right now. Tell us about that.

Correct, my interactive “State of the Union Address’’ installation is currently on display at Vanderelli Room for the new show titled “An American Sunrise.” To provide a little bit of context, it’s a bit of a throwback piece that nods to work I was making several years ago. Back in January of 2017, I hosted a solo exhibition at the Vanderelli Room titled “A Wholley Moment.” During this exhibition, I transformed the space into my own personal occultist pseudo-church circus ripe with hyper merry Americana prankster vibes. We blessed the water that binds us, worshipped plastic New York Strip steaks and drank Kool-Aid sacraments. AJ invited me back for a new show and after hearing her vision of “An American Sunrise” and what it inspired it, I sensed the spirit of the show was conceptually focused on responding to and rebounding from the insane events that took place during Trump’s presidency, particularly in the year 2020. The show opened 11 days after December’s grand conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn and not to get too witchy, but this particular celestial event ushered in the first new air cycle within a new Aquarian Age. The impact is significant and one I suspect we have all felt approaching throughout each of our lifetimes. Look at all the events that have transpired worldwide in this past year that beckon us all to re-evaluate “We Vs. I” mentalities, the importance of ethical humanitarian efforts, and the reformation of outdated power structures.

“State of the Nation”

So, taking into consideration both, the spirit of the show and how it cosmically syncs with current social-political affairs, my vision for what to showcase seemed fitting. I felt the need to address the state of the nation as the character of mine called “The Prophet” behind an occult looking pulpit. Over the duration of the exhibition, I will post several video recordings to the Vanderelli Rooms Facebook page of short “hybrid-homily” performance videos where I combine popular music lyrics recontextualized with off the cuff ranting. In my absence, the pulpit is available for visitors to interact with on their own, addressing the “State of the Nation” anyway they see fit. It is my hope that my cathartic emotional purge blended with somewhat of a motivational speech will peak the public’s interest in the show and encourage them to come participate themselves. I encourage everyone to pop on over to Vanderelli’s Facebook page, sign up for a visitation, prepare some words to share and let your voice be heard. Recordings are only taking upon consent and all footage captured will be compiled for archival purposes, most likely to be used in another piece sometime in the future. That part is open ended….

3) What brought you to Columbus?

In late 2014, my partner Dana Lynn Harper and I were traveling about the country installing work at various music and arts festivals. During an CWAL (Cleveland West Arts League) exhibition Dana participated in up at 78th St Studios in Cleveland, we met Mona Gazala who invited us to be resident artists at her then newer creative space in Franklinton, Second Sight Project on Bellows Ave. We lived and made work there for six months. During this short period of time, we quickly recognized how great the Columbus Arts community really is. It’s an extremely diverse scene found in pockets across the whole city with a very supportive and engaging community surrounding each. Within our first year in Cbus, we each landed several exhibitions which encouraged us to stick around. Over the past few years, I’ve shown at some very beautiful exhibitions spaces in Columbus like Wild Goose, 934 Gallery, Roy G Biv, Skylab, 400 W. Rich, Second Sight, Sign House, EASE Gallery, Columbus Cultural Arts Center, and Columbus Museum of Art. As years go by, it seems like every time I turn around I discover new creative pocket in town. In contrast to many other cities I’ve traveled to, Columbus is booming and the arts community across the whole city demonstrates how much potential there is here for creatives and entrepreneurs to flourish as cultural innovators.

4) How would you describe the creative scene here?

I would attempt to describe as accurately as I could from my point of view, which of course, is quite biased. Although I really talk up the potential that the city and its community culture provides in my previous statement regarding opportunity, I would describe it as I would almost any art scene, a constant wrestling match between positive and negative aspects of novel growth. Artists are initiators of cultural vibrancy and expressions. Unfortunately, artists who don’t have the luxury to make work purely as a hobby and have to strive to make a living off their work have always embodied a position mirroring the jesters for the King’s court. There are a lot of angles to the conception and development of any one piece of art. The pressure for Artists to sell and live off their work inherently changes their priorities. I sense this is why the fine arts scene seems very saturated with 2-D work, like paintings or murals. They are very accessible and flexible to implement into a variety of different environments, so they seem favored. By default, all these aspects make any opportunity regarding the monetization of creative work competitive, political, and sticky. All in all, despite the apparent lack in material diversity, I still feel it’s a very robust scene compared to many cities I’ve been to but would always like to see more events, grants, commissions and other well-paid opportunities be presented by the city and local institutions.

5) How do you see the future of the arts in Columbus?

I see it blooming in both scale and diversity. There’s a lot of what I regard as “Beasts sleeping beneath the surface.” A ton of eclectic avenues of expression are just waiting to sprout out the ground and take flight. Particularly young creators interested in Art & Technology, Immersive/Interactive/Experiential work, and the Performing arts like Theater, Music & Dance. I feel these categories certainly exist at a very high plane, but community audiences are craving their representations at a more accessible grass roots level. There appears to be an Underground and a High Commercial level. Not much in between. I hope to see that gap shrink in the future.

Wild Goose Creative is a non-profit, arts organization whose mission is to build a creative community at the intersection of art, risk and meaning. To learn more, visit wildgoosecreative.org/support.

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