Using repurposed metal and paint skin the multimedia artist Kennedy Yanko explores the limitations of materials in their solo-show HANNAH at Kavi Gupta Gallery in Chicago. To create their sculptures they integrate found abandoned raw materials, like metals, from various junkyards and uses a torch to attach the pieces to sheet metal. Influenced by their own body movements, the large-scale sculptural works expose the relationships between representation and identity while providing succinct commentary on gender.
Yanko creates a physical connection with the found objects that they integrate into their practice by reshaping the found industrial materials into striking painted sculptures. Each found object is crushed and pounded with a sledgehammer until Yanko is satisfied with the piece. Through this deconstructing process, Yanko creates a method of transforming masculine materials like metal and marble into organic visual sculptures.
The exhibition’s title, HANNAH, is Yanko’s name given at birth. Changing her name from Hannah to Kennedy was an attempt to detach herself from gender associations. The works included in HANNAH highlight the ambiguity of perception and how abstraction can serve as an intuitive tool. The evocation of gender neutrality while harnessing the physicality of her materials allows her to play with the conclusions spectators draw from her sculptures.
“Agate” (2019) oscillates between “masculine” and “feminine” the thin interlacing pieces of metal convey roughness and gentle movement all in the same sculpture. Rather than reinforcing the gendered categorization of materials Yanko’s sculptures cleverly dispel them. with heavy metals and paints requires hard labor on both a mental and physical level. More often than not the steel industry has been characterized by being a male-dominated industry. The masculinity that accompanies the steel and construction industry often deem women as less valuable, sexual distractions, or are not physically fit for the job. Through her work, Yanko proves that there is a place for women to wield the powerful material.
Yanko, originally from St. Louis, MO is a Brooklyn based artist. Before diving into her sculptural practice Yanko was a competitive bodybuilder, personal trainer, and yoga teacher. At first, she worked only in painting but slowly moved on to integrating sheet metals into her practice. Now she identifies as a sculptor. But, similar to her mission of forcing the viewer to question her materials she poses the question: must the title of sculptor or painter be separate? As a child, she often visited building sites with her father who was an architect. Being familiar with the dirt, grit, and construction materials as well as the reinforced gender norms at these sites she has the background knowledge needed to distort and pick apart modes of material and societal constructions.
Yanko sees herself as a “sensory artist” as her work, in her own words, “is conceptual, but also experiential.” She mixes paints with ultraviolet ray protection to create new colors with a sheen that serve as veils to the dried auto body paints of the scrap metal. As her work combines metal and paints in a form of collage they appear multi-dimensional and layered, as a viewer, I am drawn to feel a physical reaction responding to the hard labor required to shape the steel.
“Steeled” (2019) has both characteristics of softness in the slick finish and hardness in the harsh angular shapes. The movement of the sheet metal is sleek and soft, simply just flowing yet each corner of “Steeled” is sharp, and direct. Ridgid, yet abstract. The characteristics of softness, often associated with feminine attributes are juxtaposed with harsh corners, an opposing attribute that is associated with masculinity. Imbuing these multiplicities, “Steeled” cannot so easily be categorized, which we as a society often like to do.
We understand through both “Steeled” and “Agate” that the characteristics of the paint and sheet metal are on opposite sides of the spectrum in terms of touch, smell, and flexibility. Characteristics like weight, flexibility, texture all come into question. To look at Yanko’s work and not say it is not a product of nature would contradict all the elements that she implements into her craft. Through the juxtaposition and merging of her paint skins and more earthly elements like metal Yanko challenges how we view materials.
ach work is a product but her whole process from start to finish shows the evolution in nature, the change in physical appearance and how objects shift. Like playing with pronouns, the vibrant sculptures challenge the viewer to understand themselves in the presence of manipulated elements of nature and created identities. Manipulating our appearance through plastic surgery or simply the way we present ourselves to the world using various filters on social media affects how others view our purpose and utility. Through its ambiguous physicality, Yanko’s work challenges the viewer to question the balance between constructed identities and perception.
HANNAH reveals that similar to humans, materials have untapped power and are ever-changing, yet at the same time the works question the limitations of materialism, and where representation and identity are fused, or separated.