Brian Kennedy’s Irish sea at the Ice Box

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Brian Kennedy
Brian Kennedy, Passage, detail, installation at the Ice Box, boats, salt

Thanks be to the National Lottery for helping Belfast artist Brian Kennedy to bring his installation, Passage, to the Ice Box.

Kennedy and the lovely catalog for Passage was also supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (which gets part of its funding from the lottery) and Kennedy’s gallery, the Golden Thread Gallery, I’m not quite sure how Kennedy came to the Ice Box, but he approached them, and they said sure, and no one here believed it would ever happen, said Chris Davison, who works at the Crane Art Center, home of the Ice Box.

This is news that highlights the amazing international art world and Philadelphia’s growing presence there. That someone in Belfast would find the perfect space all the way in Philadelphia for his installation seems rather amazing to me. And truly, it is the perfect space!!!

Brian Kennedy
Brian Kennedy, Passage, detail

Kennedy’s installation looks great, transforming the Ice Box from a chilly white box into a romantic landscape of shadows cast by the floating skeletons of boats, hanging from the ceiling. The shadows suggest spirits and impart a sense of how insubstantial is the corporeal world.

The boats, currachs, are a kind that Irish fishermen use and that Kennedy himself had used during a stint as a lobster fisherman in the west of Ireland after finishing college, according to the Passage catalog essay by Declan Long. Long also wrote that the boat has some relevant cultural background as well–St. Brendan in the sixth century reputedly crossed the Atlantic in a currach. In a sense, so has Kennedy.

Brian Kennedy
Brian Kennedy, Passage, detail

Kennedy covered the floor of the space with salt, thereby softening and variegating the battleship gray concrete surface and providing some sand-like crunch underfoot.

Boats are such a loaded choice for an object, metaphors for human beings, their passage through life and their passage from life to the underworld in Egyptian and Greek mythology. What makes this exhibit rise above cliche is not the boats themselves but the use of the space, the shadowy lighting, the sense of sacredness and expansiveness.

I somehow don’t think Kennedy was intending to discuss the death of the environment with this piece, but the skeletal boats, the shadows, the salt as dried up sea water, all made me think those thoughts. On the other hand, salt is also a necessity for life and survival.

Kennedy manages to create a limitlessness that brings us down to size, and turns us into intrepid explorers on the sea of life.

Brian Kennedy, Passage, detail
Brian Kennedy, Passage, detail

While Robert Stackhouse’s boat-like structures came to mind the moment that I saw this piece, Kennedy’s boat structures are more literal. In fact, the boats themselves are not really the art. The art is the installation, the transformation of the space. It’s a 3-D sister to Winslow Homer’s boat as it travels across an endless, inhospitable sea.

The boats, by the way, were crafted by Irish boat-builders. And there’s a video of the boat-building process, which will probably interest boat builders and wood craftsmen.

Tags

brian kennedy, Icebox, northern ireland

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