In a Bushwick warehouse, surrounded by table saws and welding equipment, Coby Kennedy transforms street signs into large blades.
The artists cuts, sharpens, attaches the blades to staffs wrapped in cloth and distresses the surfaces. In the end, they look like weathered weapons from an alternate future: a Bedford Ave machete; a STOP sign shield; a long, curved warrior’s blade from various No Parking signs.
“I get them where I get them,” Kennedy says about the source of his appropriated street signs. A long time resident of Brooklyn, Kennedy created his series “In Service of a Villain” as an artistic response to the rapid gentrification around him.
“It’s based on a narrative which reflects contemporary situations,” Kennedy explains. “A lot of street signs are from places in Brooklyn that have history and weight, places that are losing that particular culture.”
Kennedy’s narrative is complex and imaginative. His sculptures double as props. The artist is making a film about Brooklyn 400 years into the future, a film influenced by post-Apocalyptic science fiction and colonial history. In this dystopian reality, native Brooklyn residents are forced to defend their remaining territories. The weaponized street signs reflect the heritage and origins of his characters.
“I see the world in camera pans and zoom shots,” Kennedy says. He’s always been a little different. After several years working in Japan as a car designer for Honda and a stint with industrial design in Italy, Kennedy returned home to Brooklyn, unsatisfied with his creative output. He decided to make art. He taught himself to weld using instructional videos from the Internet. “I graduated from the University of YouTube,” he laughs.
Kennedy also makes video works and striking, hyperreal paintings. Once, he put realistic-looking gun vending machines in the street. The installation made from resin, plastic, fiberglass and a video monitor was a metaphor for “the role of corporate business in the perpetuation of urban violence and the practice of social genocide.”
Another Kennedy sculpture titled “Reckoning of the Baller” is a set of explosive Molotov cocktails, poured into gilded bottles of the Ace of Spades Champagne, popularized by rap superstar Jay Z. They are riot weapons but they stand on a regal Catholic-like altar, draped in shimmering fabric. In this piece, the artist asks if it’s possible to be both a pop culture celebrity and a symbol of rebellion. He is fond of paradoxes.
“I'm inspired by everything that I see,” Kennedy says. “The good and the bad.” Unlike most representational objects found in galleries and museums, his art is relevant to the current state of New York City, its flux of gentrification and the personality complexes of its residents, or what the artist refers to as “self-entitlement, self-image, and self-genocide.” His art has a very unique element of realness. And in the case of his street sign sculptures, they are literally, real weapons.
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