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Dean Kenning

Evolutionary Love

Mark Tanner Sculpture Award 2020/21

Exhibition: 17 September - 30 October 2021

Click here to download accompanying essay by Martha Barratt.

Standpoint Gallery presented a solo exhibition of new work by Dean Kenning, winner of the Mark Tanner Sculpture Award 2020/21.

Kenning (b.1972 Hounslow, UK) makes kinetic and sound sculptures, as well as videos and diagrams. His work is engaged with political, philosophical and scientific questions, and is produced through hands-on material and process-based experimentation, and in the spirit of DIY problem solving.

This exhibition was developed over 2021 by the London-based artist, the 18th recipient of the Mark Tanner Sculpture Award (MTSA). Kenning used this time to extend the possibilities for his kinetic sculptural practice to instigate affective, pathetic and uncanny encounters whilst speaking to a vital ‘life force’.

For ‘Evolutionary Love’, Kenning produced a series of semi-autonomous, interactive creatures, which crawled and dragged themselves continuously around the gallery, avoiding obstacles and interacting with visitors and each other. Point of view footage was live-streamed on screens, viscerally giving the audience a close-to-the-ground creaturely perspective.

This new work was more technically sophisticated than Kenning’s previous kinetic artworks, but the effect was more ‘animalistic’ than ‘robotic’ as the focus remained on the aesthetics of movement, particularly nervous or compulsive movement. The artist’s ambition was to induce pathos and alertness in the viewer, as the mechanical behaviours of the moving sculptures suggest creaturely states, such as fear, curiosity and physical struggle towards a goal.

The works evolved in close collaboration with creative computing educator and coder Llewelyn Fernandes and maintained a determinedly analogue aspect as new forms, functions and materials were developed in a continuous feedback process of trial and error production. In line with Kenning’s previous work, the necessity of getting kinetic sculptures to ‘work’ (and work consistently) forces and enables the artist to subordinate formal-compositional judgement, relinquish absolute authorial control and open the work up to contingency.

‘Evolutionary Love’ took its title from an 1893 essay by the pragmatist philosopher and logician C.S. Peirce, whose ‘synechistic’ system regards everything in the universe as continuous. Synechism denies binary distinctions such as mind–matter, self–other, and life–non-life, and understands differences as a matter of degrees of complexity. Evolution itself occurs at a first level by fortuitous variation, at a second, by mechanical necessity, and at a third, by creative love.

The MTSA is one of the most significant awards for emerging UK artists working in the field of sculpture. It seeks to reward outstanding and innovative practice, with a particular interest in work that demonstrates a commitment to process, or sensitivity to material.

Kenning was selected from 220 applicants from across the UK by a panel comprising: Anne Hardy, artist; Sam Thorne, Director, Nottingham Contemporary; Rebecca Scott, artist and Mark Tanner Trust; and Olivia Bax, winner of the MTSA 2019-20.

The exhibition is touring to Bury Sculpture Centre 13 November 2021 –19 February 2022 and Cross Lane Projects, Kendal in Spring 2022 as part of the MTSA’s National Touring Programme.

Dean Kenning (b.1972 Hounslow, UK) lives and works in London. Kenning completed a PhD ‘The Political Nature of Art Today’ at the London Consortium, University of London (awarded 2008); MA in European Literature, Culture and Thought at QMC, University of London (1999–2001); and BA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College (1994–1997). He is post-doctoral Researcher at Kingston School of Art and a visiting lecturer in Fine Art at CSM.
Solo exhibitions include: Psychobotanical, Matts Gallery, London (2019), The Origin of Life, Beaconsfield, London (2019), Where It Was, Piper Keys, London (2018), Commonism, Five Years, London (2010), The Dulwich Horror: HP Lovecraft and the Crisis in British Housing, Space Station Sixty-Five, London (2007). Recent group exhibitions and collaborative projects include Delta Research Placement (Diagram Research Group), Flat Time House, London (2020); The Soft Display, Paradise Works, Salford (2020); Bergen Assembly(Capital Drawing Group) (2019); Sick Monday, Horse Hospital, Genesis Cinema, Deptford Cinema, London and CCA, Glasgow (2018-19); Morphologies of Invisible Agents (Social Morphologies Research Unit), Space Studios, London (2019); P is for Portrait, Art House, University of Worcester (2019); Faust Fest, Turin (2018).