Peter KENNEDY, A language of the dead Enlarge 1 /1


Brisbane, Queensland, Australia born 1945

A language of the dead 1997-98 Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, neon light installed on a black wall, electrical component

Dimensions: 312.0 h x 646.0 w x 30.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2012
Accession No: NGA 2012.937.1-44

Peter Kennedy brings a depth of experience to his experimental works. He has long been interested in the interplay between the collective and the individual, between personal and public concerns.

Kennedy was a founding member, with Mike Parr and Tim Johnson, of the Inhibodress artists’ space in Sydney, which became a venue for experimental art in the early 1970s. He was also one of Australia’s first neon artists with early innovative exhibitions of his neon works at Gallery A in Sydney in 1970 and 1971 activating the architectural spaces of the gallery. In the same decade, his banners, films and installations related directly to the political and social context of the times.

Kennedy’s blue neon work Language of the dead is a major acquisition that relates to the death of ideologies and the way that language shapes and reshapes our thinking over time; eventually, some concepts become obsolete, although their afterglow continues to haunt us.

Across the globe, ideologies have contributed to many conflicts in the twentieth century. In this work, words such as ‘communism’, ‘bourgeoisie’, and ‘socialism’ glow against a black ground; they are outlines, shapes appearing on the edge of disappearance. As Juliana Engberg remarked in her catalogue essay for the 1998 exhibition Peter Kennedy: requiem for ghosts, Kennedy’s neon words are like ‘fading moments of modern political consciousness; yet still legible, still sending out their auras, perhaps awaiting refocusing’.

This powerful work is not didactic but open-ended and poetic. It reminds us that how we use words as individuals and communities has far-reaching consequences and that, ultimately, language is not static but continually evolving.

Deborah Hart Senior Curator, Australian Painting and Sculpture post 1920

in artonview, issue 73, Autumn 2013