In Between Ideation & Definition: Kennedy Yanko

By Joel De La Rosa

In Between Ideation & Definition: Kennedy Yanko

We found it very exciting to experience Kennedy's work in person and meet her, after months of digital interactions with the other artists. We had the chance to actually be in her studio, and during our conversation we went over different topics to get a sense of how Kennedy's physical and intellectual process is.

Usually journalists who interview artists, tend to morph the artist's thoughts into their point of view, instead of showcasing the artist's intention. This was something we discussed with Kennedy Yanko. We want to make sure that in our interviews, we don't take away from the artist's point of view. Interviews for us are meant to be constructive dialogues where the audience is pushed to reflect. In her studio, Kennedy showed us unfinished works and talked more about the process to complete a sculpture. 

JOEL DE LA ROSA: We read on your website that definition is the way of pacifying the self. You speak about the gratification one gets through a label, phrase or term and how the abstract expressionists were very aware of this human tendency. Can we go a bit deeper into this space between ideation and definition? Is this where your work sits? Is it art of the in between in a sense?

KENNEDY YANKO: The space between ideation and definition is an opportunity for expansion and a deeper understanding of something--an object or person, a moment in time. When we define something and make it finite, we eliminate the opportunity to see something in a different light or in a different way.

In my practice and in my work, I’m actively trying to create space to reimagine worlds--to reimagine things in ways that I’ve never seen them before. I primarily let the responses from within my body guide that intuitive exploration; answers will come up for me when I’m looking at a certain composition or color or form. Had I already defined the object based on an immediate visual perception, I would inevitably miss something that it could be.

Black, 2019

I think we need to get comfortable with ambiguity, appreciate what it has to offer, and what it allows us to do. Ambiguity lets us explore, imagine, and allows for possibility. It lets us get creative. I emphasize it so much because it's been a fundamental part of how I’ve moved through the world--and it's allowed me to choose how I see what I see. We’re constantly confronted with supposedly rigid lines that are actually quite flexible.

To bluntly answer your question though: our need to define and provide ourselves structure serves a purpose, but so too does allowing that critical structure to dissolve into other possibilities.

JD: You also mention the importance of understanding your presence within the piece. Does your art symbolize your process in an abstract manner? Could you please talk to us about this or give us an example of your presence in the work?

KY: I think it’s essential to understand my relationship with metal to understand how these forms can have the presence that they do--and my relationship with metal and paint is precious. I view it as something made from atoms, from the periodic table of elements, and something that I can imbue with life. I can shift this material from one situation to another, and it can adapt and shift and create a new existence. Knowing that I feel that way about metal--that I have such a close relationship to it--does it not further animate my sculptures for you?

Salient Queens emphasizes the importance of recognizing my presence and intention in the work in a way that I haven’t before. The sculptures are all nonrepresentational portraiture; each sculpture is named after an important influence in my life, and captures their essence.

Sojourn (detail), 2020

JD: Could you tell us more about the importance of meditation in your life? Do you practice Transcendental Meditation?

KY: I could if I did it more, but the last couple of years I’ve been shit about practicing. Lately I’ve been focusing on being present in whatever I’m doing. I’ve been walking in nature a lot lately. Moving slowly. My mother studied TM and a bunch of other things. My family is very spiritual, all in our own ways...with different gods, different practices, but we’re all working for light. I know there’s nothing that can replace the power and clarity that sitting in silence offers me but….maybe tomorrow I’ll sit.

JD: What’s your process when looking for the materials needed for your sculptures?

KY: It’s become more of a hunt than anything at this point, and it’s become one of my favorite parts of my work. The hunt generally involves me and my best friend Faith packing up the truck, putting on our dungarees and scouring different metal yards in various cities. I spend about a week out of the month going through different piles of scrap at different yards, talking to demolition teams and guys at the yard just searching for material and new resources. I’ve become more specific about what I’m looking for--which means it takes longer to find the right stuff. But once I find what I’m looking for, I work with the yard crew; they help me roll over and crush/bend pieces before we do a deep clean and powerwash them, and then I take them back to the studio to play with.

 Emanate, 2020

JD: We love the combination and contrast of textures in your work. How do you know when a piece is done? Do you have initial sketches of what you want it to look like or do you make decisions along the way?

KY: Thank you so much! I’m extremely dependent on what material is available to me, but I also usually have an idea floating around in my mind. As I said before, I try not to lock myself into an idea and keep an open yet discerning eye when I head to the yard. The magic happens back in the studio once I’ve had a chance to sit in formal dialogue with the work, and once I have a hunch on how to complete it. The colors of metal I find in the yard largely inform the colors I use for my paint skins, which results in that textural interaction that you’re talking about. Between the dust, rust, paint, and texture, the dynamic between the materials is a joy to watch reveal itself. They just start to work together and talk together.

Split Form (detail), 2019

JD: You shared that Elon Musk and Dave Chapelle are your favorite artists. We totally understand your view on Chapelle, but can you tell us more on why Elon Musk is one of your favorite artists?

KY: I have a lot of different artists and makers whom I love for different reasons. Regarding Elon Musk, I admire his audacity. He embraces his visions--the larger and more expansive the better--and believes in them. When they told him he couldn’t build above ground in LA, he went underground. His mindset is what makes great art. That kind of relentless push to see what you imagine come to life is what I believe to be the core of human evolution.

JD: How does your work address the conflict of human perception and societal expectations?

KY: The materiality of my work thwarts all expectations, and in doing so, comments on our immediate perceptions--and perhaps how we could revise them. I enjoy confusing the eye. It stimulates an unexpected introspection on the part of the viewer where they really have to ask themselves: why do I want to see this thing in this way? That kind of mental and sensory negotiation is what I’m after. I love that people aren’t really sure what they’re looking at when looking at my work--how it was made, how it was put together, or what’s happening. So it’s less societal expectations that I’m addressing, and more the predetermined constructs that impede our full spectrum of vision.



Image credits: Joel De La Rosa & Martin Parsekian


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