Published October 14, 2022
For over two decades, UB multimedia artist Matt Kenyon has found innovative ways to represent issues of economy, social justice, environment, climate and violence in compelling and creative ways.
Through his work, Kenyon harvests multiple aspects of complex issues and presents them through thought-provoking and enterprising creations.
He recently was invited to install a solo exhibition at the Baton Rouge Gallery in his hometown of Baton Rouge, La. The exhibition, “Cloudburst,” represents his largest and most comprehensive solo exhibition to date. One of the works presented, “TIDE,” was inspired in part by the 2016 flood in Baton Rouge, where lives were lost and 146,000 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. “TIDE” consists of champagne glasses stacked to create a 15-foot glass tower, with each glass containing a tiny house constructed by Kenyon. The installation, he explains, is meant to provoke conversation about the growing housing crisis and the loss of property value due to rising water and climate change around the world, but particularly in Baton Rouge.
Kenyon’s collection of work addresses a wide array of subjects. Three micro-text projects represent acts of protest and commemoration. In “Alternative Rule,” the lines on the paper are made up of names and dates of children who have been victims of gun violence since the Columbine High School shooting; in “Notepad,” each ruled line is revealed to be microprinted text enumerating the full names, dates and locations of each Iraqi civilian death on record over the first three years of the Iraq War; in “Log Rule,” the names, dates and locations of those who have died from COVID-19 are preserved in the micro-printed text of the lines themselves. Kenyon offers sheets of the paper to anyone who would like to remember, in hopes that the tragic scale of loss we have faced from COVID-19 might allow us to move toward a more equitable future.
“Art and design are part of that national conversation to help inform policy on things like housing insecurity, climate change and gun violence,” Kenyon says.
He worked with the gallery to organize a series of panel discussions with members of the Baton Rouge community and different leaders from the city. At a panel titled Unhoused #19, which refers to Baton Rouge’s having the 19th-highest eviction rate of any American city, visitors heard from individuals on the front line of the housing affordability, quality and resiliency issue locally. A panel on gun violence discussed the findings of a Southern University professor’s study on mass shootings, as well as perspectives from local nonprofit leaders and an EBR Parish school board member. Another panel discussion explored what climate change means for Louisiana as a whole — from wildlife to indigenous communities, to urban planning.
“I think that’s a good example of how the idea of art and design gets people together to approach these big, wicked problems,” Kenyon says.
The exhibit in Baton Rouge was featured in The Advocate before it closed and was shipped back to Kenyon’s studio in Buffalo. “TIDE” was produced as part of Kenyon’s Humanities Institute fellowship.
Currently, Kenyon and artist Jason J. Ferguson have a joint exhibition in the Buffalo Arts Studio in the Tri-Main Center, “Homing,” that includes a variety of artwork that encourages visitors to reconsider the notion of domesticity through a combination of ideas, metaphors and objects that take as a starting point aspects and images of the home.
Kenyon and Ferguson had worked together around this theme in 2013 with the exhibition “(in)Habitation at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit. Kenyon says revisiting the theme is an opportunity to refine it.
“The world has undergone a social and political unraveling, forcing many to turn inward to reflect and re-evaluate what is truly meaningful in their lives,” he says. “‘Homing’ addresses the heightened intimacy of home, while challenging the invisible systems that govern day-to-day existence.”
“Homing” includes Kenyon’s latest version of “TIDE,” which he has changed in the few weeks since Baton Rouge.
“Right now, I’m showing a variation on the project ‘TIDE,’ where the top segment of the glasses will be dislocated and be upside down,” he says.
The ability to create is something, Kenyon says, is a benefit of being at a university like UB.
“A lot of research goes into my artworks, and so a great thing about being at a big research school is that faculty and graduate students have the resources and expertise to make ambitious projects,” he says.
Kenyon, associate professor of art, directs the graduate program. He is part of PLATFORM, UB’s socially engaged design studio, and the university’s Center for Information Integrity.
His works have employed robotics, living organisms, custom software and more to create dynamic and elegant metaphors aimed at shedding light on the discussions surrounding some of the most urgent issues of our time. He was named a TED fellow in 2015, and his work is part of the permanent collection at The Museum of Modern Art and has been exhibited across the globe.
“Homing” at the Buffalo Arts Studio runs through Nov. 4. Kenyon is also preparing for an exhibition in Portland, Oregon.
“It’s a group exhibition called, ‘Probably Just the Wind,’ and features a multitude of artists like Dread Scott and Hans Haacke,” Kenyon says. “In this exhibit, we challenge visitors to stare death in the face.”