In the Studio with Jean-Paul Kelly

Jean-Paul Kelly chatting with Georgina Jackson (left), and guest (right).

February 27, 2014
Organized by Mercer Union

In affiliation with Mercer Union, artist and curator Jean-Paul Kelly welcomed guests into his home and studio for an intimate look at a handful of his past works, and his current practice. The guests enjoyed a glimpse into his process and thoughtful methodology which, usually, begins with Kelly selecting found images from search engines, like Google, according to his attraction to the image. His studio reflected the aftermath of his selection process; some are pinned on his bulletin board, indexed/categorized, and archived in boxes/folders labeled as, for example, “Things I Meant to do” and “Then & Possibly Soon”. Kelly then transforms photojournalism by isolating details, and intuitively manipulating the images via superimposition, compositing, and reconfiguration.

Detail of Jean-Paul Kelly’s bulletin board

Process work with Bridget Riley catalogue in the top left corner

Inspired by the likes of British op-art pioneer Bridget Riley, Jacques Lacan, and Frederick Wiseman’s documentary work, Kelly challenges his viewer to question the power of journalistic or documentary representation. For instance in his video piece Figure–ground (2013) restages a collection of images of sites of death/murder/suicide related (directly, or obliquely) with the global financial crisis of 2009 into a series of hand-painted cells filmed with a multi-plane camera, superimposed with colorful squares and shrill anxiety-inciting audio tones. Although Kelly’s use of movement and sound in the video promote the affect of anxiety and uneasiness, there is nothing explicitly informing the audience of death, or financial crisis. ‘The real’ is increasingly deformed and manipulated as he transforms images that embody Eros and Thanatos, that he is both attracted to (ex: a sexually explicit photo of Rick Donovan) and repulsed by (ex: the burial of traumatized Srebrenica massacre victims),  into beautiful op-art pieces. Although Kelly is admittedly concerned about offending his viewers with the pairing of images of pleasure/desire with the traumatic, it does not ultimately deter him. Moreover, it leaves us, the viewer, to question how these events/feelings/moments are documented and their implications as they are manipulated and imbued with new meaning.

Kelly showing his work while discussing his process

Photo of Rick Donovan

Guest, Alice Mao, photographing Kelly’s desk

Needless to say, Kelly was graciously in providing his guests with hospitality, and a mentally/visually engaging discussion that shed light on the gap between a material relation to the world and lived experience.

Text and photo by Leanne Simaan and Alice Mao

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