The Timothy P. Kerr Memorial Show | Tim Walsh
Tim Kerr was a selfless man. Many people met him and came away from their encounter to utter variations on a similar sentence; “he never really had a presence”, “it is as if he wasn’t there”, “it was like I was talking to myself.” If such a thing is possible, I would go as far as to say he was so selfless, so disconnected from any comprehension of himself or himself as an artist, that we were the only things truly present. That in a funny way, we were him. To be frank, his death was a good thing, because what his audience thought of him was always more important to him than his depth and integrity as an artist. In his art we can see an artist not really functioning, not making anything. It is as if, in the end, we are painting the picture for him. He was lazy, but because of that he was infinitely lovable. Friends would often complain that they felt they had to fill in the gaps in stories and pictures he spoke of or made art about. Sometimes to be his friend was an infinitely lacklustre experience.
Kerr made pop art, but importantly a pop art that has changed irrevocably from the past, one that is particularly pertinent and aware of this change. Interesting, his work was not based in pop’s traditions of unlimited material consumption, but more rightly in its other genre characteristics, namely a distinct lack of pictorial content, a focus on popular imagery (interestingly here derived from the internet, not a conventional pop ‘source’), in essence a lack of substance in general. All these assisted in creating a remarkable sense of flatness in his work, a characteristic that is normally disassociated with video art. Thus the question that begs to be answered here when considering his work was ‘What am I consuming?’ It was not a material consumption but rather an immaterial one, a sort of virtual consumption.
This is confirmed in the body of work that Kerr has left behind, now conveniently brought together in this exhibition to celebrate posthumously his artistic legacy. Clips such as You know how I feel about money (1998) and Little bunny FU FU (2005) depict entirely nonsensical subject matter. Both barely last ten seconds in length. You know how I feel about money is a short clip of Kerr’s face nearly fully covered with pegs clipped to his face, a random audio clip of dialogue plays over the top. Little bunny FU FU has a still image of a homeless man with a bulging beer gut with an audio recording from a nature documentary playing in accompaniment. The elements that construct these works feel alienated from each other, disconnected from any relevance. Often the clips presented feel as if they were a hastily made video that could be discovered on You Tube. Kerr’s work feels similar to these fads, the production of an empty ‘product’ whose true nature is hidden behind a nonsensical sense of humour, as if to distract us from the realisation that what we are watching is giving us nothing in return. One can never escape the feeling when watching Kerr’s work that they were the intentional beginnings of a ‘meme’, an Internet fad almost always powered by a random, twisted sense of humour that becomes a language in the sense that it cuts out the ‘uneducated’ viewer who is not in on the joke. To be popular on the Internet you must be in possession of a sense of humour.
It was always tempting to fill the space of these works with intellectual justifications, to read the images and their accompanying audio as suggestive of some sort of deep intertextuality. Yet this amounts to a disservice towards what were, and still are, simple yet effective works. Kerr’s talent lay in realising the utter absurdity of his work, the humour of it, and importantly coupling it with an understanding of the shifting grounds of where popular culture now exists and the defacement of the visual arts through this process. The feeling that surely something is gained by looking at these works compels the viewer to attempt to construct some meaning without considering that the message itself lay in the reliance of the viewer to begin this very process.
As viewers it is only necessary and right for us to attempt to bring some concept of redemptive ‘worth’ to these works. But there is none. Luckily however, with Kerr’s recent and tragic death, we can now claim the delusions we attach to his works as the truth more easily, convinced emphatically that our opinions and wild, deluded connections were right. It appears finally that just as the virtual corridors of the Internet are increasingly user-generated, so to is the work of Tim Kerr
by Tim Walsh
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