By Michelle Lacombe
Like many of the other performances, before Kevin McKenzie enters the space, a stage (for lack of a better word) is set. Most prominent is a freestanding wall that has been there all night. On it, three metal frames have been added and the installation materials, which include tools and a few piles of additional metal pieces of varying lengths, have been left behind. To set the mood, a clip light fitted with a blue filter illuminates the wall and Bauhaus plays through the sound system.
When McKenzie comes out, he has a glass of wine in his hand and is wearing a black suit paired with running shoes. He reads more as an adolescent than as the businessman archetype and, as if to confirm my reading, his first action is to ask that the music be louder. Teenagers. I await his rebellion before he even really begins.
Pockets full of screws, McKenzie takes the hand drill and adds more metal pieces to the frames, which become windows, then barred windows, then cages. But really they are sculptural paintings, symbolic artworks constructed through manual labor rather than through artistic craft. He pauses punctually throughout the action to take a drink, to refill his pockets or to dance a bit to his soundtrack, a catchy playlist of industrial goth music’s greatest hits. As his objects find form, he is slowly breaking down. Pauses become longer, sloppier. He stumbles a bit and crouches on the ground. At one point he accidentally steps on his glass of wine and I can tell the rebellion is approaching.
I’ll interject here to explain that I appreciate work that touches, in any way, on the typically invisible labour around art (shout out to the amazing 7a*11d technicians who poke projectors with brooms, cue music and calmly fix fragile video connections). This is probably because I worked as a gallery technician for years. During this time, all my colleagues were men about 15-20 years older than me. They taught me a lot, including how to build a wall just like the one in front of me and, while we worked, we often listened to this same kind of music. The character that McKenzie presents us with is therefore familiar and pleasant to me, a socially-rebellious-working-class-arty-alternative type I know well and have a soft spot for.
As predicted, McKenzie eventually drops the tools, puts on sparring gloves and proceeds to punch the objects he has created. However, the work avoids any real violence or aggression because, while the objects shift in shape and lightly buckle, no major damage is achieved. Even when he takes off the gloves and uses some of the remaining metal pieces to attack their formally arranged brothers, the work is void of any real anger. Instead, the whole thing is characterized by an angst-y and casual fuck-the-man type of attitude that is ironic because McKenzie, as the creator of the metal frames, is also the man. It is cliché, but also totally coherent.
Eventually one of the three frames comes crashing down and the performance ends. McKenzie has not succeeded in destroying much yet it is precisely this gestural impotence that I enjoy most in the work. His is not a demonstration of masculine force but rather a playfully dramatized display of the contradictory position of the male artist rebel, the nihilist.