VAN Critique July/August 2014: Kennedy Browne at Crawford Art Gallery, Cork

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Kennedy Browne The Myth of the Many in the One. Image © Kennedy Browne, photo © Jed Niezgoda, installation at Crawford Art Gallery, Cork

‘The Myth of the Many and the One’
Kennedy Browne
The Myth of the Many in the One
The Crawford Art Gallery
11 April – 7 June 2014

Titles can be abstracted, distanced, tenuously connected, and even arbitrary, but The Myth of the Many in the One is exactly what it describes, an exploration of the modern day mythic figures synonymous with Silicon Valley, such as Bob Noyce, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs. Kennedy Browne (the collaborative practice of Gareth Kennedy and Sarah Browne) extensively researched the bibliographies of these men and their relationship to Silicon Valley, weaving facts, anecdotes, inferences and biblical quotes in a unique process of redaction to form a single narrative.

The work is split into five ‘acts’: I Origin, II Early Signs, III Conflict, IV The Eleventh Year, and V Faith and Future. The Roman numerals, dividing pages and font used echo religious texts, while the narrative moves between quasi-documentary, intimate anecdotes and prophetic declarations. Yet it consistently constructs the figure of a child on the edge – isolated, troubled, psychologically unstable, yet with potential beyond our comprehension.

The work is shot in two locations, a pre-Silicon Valley peach orchard and a green-screen studio set. These spaces form the backdrop to the central performances played by a precocious child actor and a voice-over artist. The ‘acts’ are filmed in the orchard. The idyllic trees and green fields are interrupted as the scenes progress with discarded farming equipment and debris. Only biblical quotes are shot against the green-screen. 

After the “post-war exodus”, in a world without personal computers or the Internet, a child is born “under the sign of Scorpio”. A hyperkinetic toddler who, we are told, jams bobby pins into electrical sockets just to see what will happen. At six he is accosted by a neighbourhood girl who tells him his real parents rejected him; his parents reveal his adoption, and emphasise how they specially picked him. This embeds in the child an inner narrative of “abandoned, chosen, and special”. 

The child is wilful and disobedient, repeatedly expelled from elementary school; a psychologist tells his parents that it is useless to get him to conform and after sixth grade he doesn’t go back to school. The protagonist is on the verge of becoming a delinquent but a near fatal brush with explosives changes his life, and as the narrator declares, changes the life of the world. 

In the eleventh hour the child is redeemed as he finds solace or perhaps salvation in the family’s move to silicon family. Electronics become the child’s sole focus – “clean, predictable, with unlimited potential”. He flourishes in this environment under the guidance of an engineer neighbour. 

The last ‘act’, ‘Faith and Future’, describes how the young boy memorised Mathew 5 – 7, the Sermon on the Mount, to win a competition that his pastor had set and to eat at the Space Needle restaurant. This passage is famously difficult to memorise and internalise; it doesn’t rhyme, there is no internal pattern, it is incongruent and grammatically random, yet, with little to no attachment to the meaning, the boy is able to learn it by heart simply to meet the challenge. 

Biblical quotes, recited against a green-screen, are dispersed throughout the acts. In an obvious sense the biblical quotes tie into the messiah-like qualities of the child but they come across as an overused trope. These quotations: “Blessed are those who hunger…”, “No one can serve two masters…”, “Seek and you will find”, are now such a part of Western rhetoric that they have lost their original meaning, and perhaps that is the point: they have evolved into conversation filler. 

The contradictions of myth and science, vision and technology are brought together in the disclaimer at the end. The child is an “avatar”, an “incarnation of a paradigm”. Myth implies stories and legends, it pulls from the past and evokes heroism; it is unproven. Its value is not factual but inspirational. A paradigm is a model, a standard, an ideal, a set of forms that all contain a particular element: the common denominator that makes it true. Myth and paradigm represent two very different sources of knowledge, yet they are both generalisations. 

The Myth of the Many in the One is exactly this paradigm: the model of the modern visionary technologist. The avatar, or stand-in, illuminates that the cultural shift from the religion to science is marked by the same archetypes. It is universal and easy to understand, the works plays upon a common vocabulary of themes, ideas and insights. The work does not add to the research conducted on these men nor illuminate new concepts about how myth is constructed; the strength of the work is the unique process of redaction that seamlessly knits together the many and the one. 

Gemma Carroll is an art writer from Cork. 

 

 

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