By Regina Connell.
All artists are mavericks in their own way: you have to be when your job is to challenge, make people think, make people uncomfortable. But Kathryn Kenworth, quieter than many, is also more of a maverick than most. Whether it’s the materials she works with, the way in which she works, or the way she thinks, she most decidedly does not follow the crowd.
This thoughtful sculptor’s drawn to the detritus of modern society, whether it’s cardboard or space or communities that have been discarded. And from that detritus she creates new value, new meaning, new life, new opportunities.
She comes from an old LA family (yes those exist) and grew up in Hollywood, though not in The Industry. One of those people who always knew she’d be an artist, she pursued an Art History degree at Boulder, thinking she’d be an art restorer.
Her epiphany came when a professor told her to work on what she loved and to focus on that. So, she abandoned art history, and went back to what most inspired and motivated her.
Almost a decade after she graduated from college, she headed back to grad school at Mills, gained an MFA in sculpture and has worked in sculpture ever since. She also works at University of San Francisco, teaching art and design.
What first drew me to Kathryn’s work was her imaginative, skillful, and unexpected use of cardboard as a medium for her sculpture. What drew her to it? “I started working with it when I was broke and it was something I had on hand. But then the more I worked with it, the more it revealed itself to me. What’s really interesting about it is that it’s part of this underground economy: people use and discard it; other people recycle, and it comes back into the system, only to be used and discarded and recycled again. It’s a perfect lifecycle. Ironically, most people can’t wait to get rid of it. It’s in such abundance and while it’s considered to be valueless, it’s central to our consumer culture.”
But cardboard is emblematic of her focus and passion: social practice, and within that, her abiding interest in anti-consumerism, or perhaps put more positively: post-consumerism.
“It’s so easy to lose sight of what’s meaningful in this highly consumer-driven culture. It’s about relationships, not what comes out of the commercial world. What’s important are local communities and the DIY movement.”
In her work, she explores alternative forms of economy: bartering, trading, and alternative communities, particularly in the art world.
A couple of great examples of her work in this area: a storefront installation called Lowest Prices in Town in Napa, CA, whose downtown has lost much of its business (while the area around it thrives).
Then, there’s her brilliant Trade-O-Mat, a new form of vending. It’s a vintage style vending machine / art exchange opportunity. The Trade-O-Mat provides an antidote to mechanized retail experiences, by promoting community engagement between makers of objects and those who value them.
Another perfect example of Kathryn bringing her ideas to life is Your Store Project, which she’s undertaking with artist and curator Sarah Klein. Your Store Project moves beyond traditional retailing to stock empty storefront windows in neighborhoods with hand-made objects, animations, drawings, and things inspired by the people in the community.
Compelling storytelling, social vision, deep talent. What more could you want?
All images courtesy of Kathryn Kenworth