About this interview
This is one of two interviews by different writers that Peter Kennedy has given on the subject of his early video work – a medium he first worked with in 1971 – making these works the earliest examples of video art in Australia. Recorded on Akai ¼” black and white magnetic video recording tape in July 1971 they were digitally restored by Stephen Jones* in late 2011.
This interview with Stephen Jones was recorded before he had restored the tapes and relies entirely on Peter Kennedy’s memory of the work from the time they were last screened in 1971.
* Stephen Jones is author of Synthetics: Aspects of Art and Technology in Australia, 1956-1975, The MIT Press; Cambridge, Mass., London, 2011.
Stephen Jones: I’m here with Peter Kennedy. It’s 16 September 2010, and we’re talking about Peter’s early video work and the processes that got him into it and followed on from it.
Peter, you were living and working in Brisbane, and you were painting at that stage primarily?
Peter Kennedy: Painting, primarily, I think, in 1965. Although I was predominantly interested in painting, I had an epiphany, I suppose, for want of a better term, as a result of moving from Brisbane to Sydney to attend East Sydney Technical College. And although the courses there seemed a little dull or prosaic, a little too conventional for my taste, the great discovery and source of excitement for me was the library, where, for the first time, at the age of 19 – this would’ve been early in 1964 – I discovered art magazines. I had never seen them in Brisbane. And the magazines I discovered were Art Forum – I think that was coming out then – but certainly Studio International and Art International.
What particularly attracted me were images of Robert Rauschenberg’s screen printed canvases from the early 1960s, where he used mass media imagery, and the work of Jasper Johns, who, like Rauschenberg, had moved away from abstract expressionism, then the hegemonic visual expressive form, and both artists were, I guess, doing what became regarded sometime later in the 1980s as post modernism, given that it was about sourcing and referencing popular media.
Encountering Rauschenberg in this way, led to an interest in his performance pieces and I began to read about them in connection with John Cage and Merce Cunningham’s ideas on that same subject.
Stephen Jones: Experiments in Art and Technology, and so on?
Peter Kennedy: Yes, EAT and before that Black Mountain College, where Cage’s journey into chance and indeterminacy begins, and music, the aural and visual, and movement are synthesised in various ways.
All of this, and much else as well, alerted me to a mode of expression which didn’t exist in Australia. It was either painting or sculpture on a pedestal. So that started me thinking about what expressive alternatives there were. And so I kind of sat on this as something with which my thoughts would tentatively engage from time to time. That would be the period from ’64 through to ’68-’69, when I became much more aware of what was going on overseas in terms of conceptual art, performance art and so on.
And it was in that context, around ’68 that my reading of developments elsewhere, particularly in Europe and North America, made me aware of artists working in film and video, notably Gene Youngblood’s Expanded Cinema, which had a strong connection to a psychedelic visual aesthetic. But I was less interested in that. I suppose I became more interested in less sensual and more intellectual video works, and that would likely be the early Vito Acconci, Dennis Oppenheim, Terry Fox – from San Francisco, performance video, and various others who don’t immediately leap to mind.
Also, I followed my interest in John Cage in engaging with David Ahern as a lay musician within AZ Music and Teletopa – which was his electronic performance ensemble. I think that it was through David Ahern that I became aware of Terry Riley and, crucially, Steve Reich and his sound loops. It was the influence of these composers, particularly Reich, who was a primary influence leading to my doing But the Fierce Blackman (1971), a predominantly aural piece, but also the first example of body art because the vocal interventions on my part were constructed out of impositions of physical stresses of varying kinds on my body. And every now and then, if you listen to the soundtrack, which I still have, there is the repetitive phrase “But the fierce black man” which varies in length of time relative to my capacity to endure whatever self-imposed stress I had subjected myself to. I did a different performance in this manner every half hour over the three weeks of the exhibition. The application of physical stress of one sort or another was designed to change the tone or formation of the articulation of the phrase.
Stephen Jones: Okay. Now previously you’ve mentioned Steve Reich’s Come Out To Show Them and, in your talking about physical stress, that’s the same kind of story in a sense.
Peter Kennedy: Yes. So in a way, But the Fierce Blackman was my first attempt at a synthesis of less conventional expressive modes, I think. And my interest at that time, ’68, ’69-’70, ’71, would have helped sustain the way my work evolved in the deployment of movement and sound. The integration of movement and sound was most suited to, and efficiently done by video, which was why I began to write those video pieces in late 1970, certainly 1971, when they were performed and videotape recorded for presentation over two evenings in late 1971.
Stephen Jones: So they would’ve been written during the same period as But the Fierce Blackman, while you were thinking about its performative aspects, and presumably coming up with other ideas?
Peter Kennedy: I think so, yes. There was some concurrence there.
Stephen Jones: So do you recall seeing any other video works here before then?
Peter Kennedy: There was no video work.
Stephen Jones: There was no video work?
Peter Kennedy: There was no video work.
Stephen Jones: Okay. There was in fact, but very little.
Peter Kennedy: Yeah, but not – well, there may have been Bush Video and …
Stephen Jones: Well not yet, though Mick Glasheen did a fantastic piece, and David Perry was doing some video in London, but he didn’t get back till ’70, so …
Peter Kennedy: Yes, but these would’ve been the first videos that were made that you would place quite specifically into an art context as opposed to a cinema or some other context. And they were done without any prior knowledge. Neither Mike or myself having seen other examples before then.
Stephen Jones: Okay.
Peter Kennedy: So we stepped into it cold, in fact. If one were to regard them as being revelatory in any way, which may be a moot point, they were certainly a revelation to us. Having made them and presented them, we had produced a completely new visual experience. In technical terms there’s two aspects to them, now that I think about it. The first that comes to mind is the nature of time in the exposition of those performances. I learned a lot from discovering how stretching time or concentrating time is experienced when seen on a television screen. But back then the art world and the avant-garde had a different sense of time as it was constructed and expressed in cinema.
Stephen Jones: Yeah. So there’s a kind of subjective time in the actual process of performing the works which are being recorded. There’s no editing in any of this period.
Peter Kennedy: No, we couldn’t edit. The means to do so were not technically available.
Stephen Jones: No, that’s right. And then there’s an objective time when it’s actually displayed, and you realise that what you experienced was in fact nothing like what was actually seen.
Peter Kennedy: That’s right, very much so. The other aspect that occurred to me was that one of the performances that I did for those 1971 quarter-inch black and white Akai tapes was a work titled Tension. I ended up with two tapes, and Mike ended up with two. When I look at the documentation now, as I’ve done recently, there’s four pieces on one tape, and four on the other. In Tension, I put clips onto my shirt, then I pull at the shirt and the clips pop off. The shirt’s removed, and the clips are placed onto my skin, the skin’s pulled apart like the shirt, and the clips fall off not quite so easily and a little more painfully. That would be the first example of performance body art, although it was not dissimilar to what I did in But the Fierce Blackman, which was …
Stephen Jones: No, it sounds like it was directly related.
Peter Kennedy: Yes, there’s a direct correlation there.
Stephen Jones: So if the making of the work But The Fierce Blackman is done under pressure, under stress, then this is another mode of producing that stress.
Peter Kennedy: That’s right. This was another application of stress to achieve a particular result, although I wasn’t too sure when I doing it what that result might be. On reflection I came to appreciate, the impact it had on the audience. It generated a sense of empathy or similar feeling. What was striking was that this was a completely different, if not opposite, experience to what the abstract expressionists and hard-edge painters were all about at that time, which was to produce work that, in the face of that work, a viewer would give up their sense of self, their identity and be lost in the work itself. This was a transcendent, or seemingly spiritual experience that might be had through painting.
Conversely, with Tension, for example, there was a reinforcement of the sense of self within the viewer, by way of this empathetic process that I’ve just mentioned. This led me to a more socially directed way of thinking and working with art from that point. From then on, the social impulse behind the construction of work feeds into, in various ways, the sequences I did in Idea Demonstrations, which were about action and dialogue, with the dialogue or language affecting subsequent action.
Stephen Jones: So, can you outline some of the works that were actually yours in Idea Demonstrations?
Peter Kennedy: Yes. [looking at Donald Brook’s article in Studio International, June 1973 ] Well, the first piece, I think in – I assume this is the order in which the sequences appear – the first piece is where I remove clear tape from the lens of the camera.
[This is not actually the first piece. The first piece has Mike Parr peeling the tape off the camera lens to reveal his clearly defined image. The piece with Peter Kennedy placing strps of sticky tape onto the camera lens is sequence 13]
Stephen Jones: This is Indefinition Transference?
Peter Kennedy: Yes. The camera is foggy, seemingly out of focus, and gradually my image is revealed, although exactly what the hands are doing so close up to the lens, which is where the tape is, is perhaps somewhat difficult to determine. But there was that sense of revelation of something, a face being revealed. The next piece is where my feet move around the frame of the camera, and I think the camera, which was being operated by Aggie Reid, was up near the ceiling. The camera operator was on a ladder looking straight down on the floor. The content, central to the meaning of the work was about the verbal instructions I was receiving from the cameraman to keep my toes, as they edged around the frame, just within the picture.
Stephen Jones: And you work your way around the four sides of the screen?
Peter Kennedy: Yes. Then there is a sequence which, again, is about dialogue and communication, and might be likened to a metaphor for human society predicated on language. Aggie Reid stood on a platform, where he was videotaped. We were using half-inch video equipment, borrowed from Sydney University. Mike draws an outline of Aggie, who adopted a pose – hands on hips, one leg slightly crooked. Mike draws his outline on the glass of the video monitor. Then following instructions, which are verbal – you hear the directions on the soundtrack, I move in to Aggie’s outline and assume the same posture.
Another sequence, a sound piece, involved a number of people lying on the floor, which introduces an element of vulnerability. I saw Tim Johnson’s exhibition at the Ian Potter Museum of Art at Melbourne University in November 2009. Tim would’ve shown me the photographs at the time he made the work where he got girls to – it might have been done at Queensland University – and …
Stephen Jones Was it Disclosures?
Peter Kennedy: Yes, Disclosures, that’s right. And when I saw that work again after 40 years, I thought how much it reminded me of this piece where various people, including Terry Smith, lie on the floor and I run adhesive tape across their mouths, not dissimilar to something I’d done earlier in the 1971 videos with David Ahern in a piece called For Silence Do Not Take Chances, which referenced John Cage’s idea of silence and chance, via the I Ching, two of Cage’s big ideas. But the way that I had the participants lie on the floor, and their consequent vulnerability, reminded me very much of Tim’s work. And it occurred to me that I may well have been influenced by Tim’s work when I set that piece up.
However I was aiming at something that was intended to be completely meaningless, and incorporating a sound component that aspired to a similar status. Once positioned on the floor, the participant’s shoes were removed, tied to a long piece of string, and the string with shoes attached held above their feet and dropped, with a bang, on the floor. My recollection is that it was an attempt to do something that was as remote from meaning as could possibly be achieved at that time. That was the challenge, the idea of the impossibility of the meaningless. How hard might it be to push beyond interpretation?
Stephen Jones: That’s an interesting problem, because we do, we put meaning to everything as much as we possibly can.
Peter Kennedy: That’s true, yes. It’s a natural human response, isn’t it?
Stephen Jones: Seems to be, yeah. So what do you do to make something utterly meaningless?
Peter Kennedy: That’s right. That’s the challenge.
Stephen Jones Indefinition Transference also plays with that same kind of problem, because you’re removing any … well, indefinition, or lack of definition.
Peter Kennedy: That’s right. There’s another piece here (still looking at the Brook article in Studio International) where I interact with my after-image, and one of the characteristics of early video was the fact that if you positioned a still object long enough it would burn into the tube – the retina of the camera – and leave a ghostly after-image. In this piece in Idea Demonstrations we were filming the monitor, and I move outside of my ghosted image and back into it in either decreasing or increasing intervals of time. I can’t remember which way it went. This piece was a bit like where I fit into the image of Aggie Reid being drawn on the screen of the video monitor.
Then, because what I would describe as Idea Demonstrations‘ embedded heuristic, I worked on the sequential arrangement of my pieces, I can see, looking at this layout that directly after that action I stand directly facing the camera with my arms crossed, like that (PK demonstrates), and open and close my eyes. What I try to induce is a retinal ghosting of Aggie Reid and the camera, who are the subjects of my gaze. But you’d have to be paying a lot of attention or thinking very deeply about all of this to see the logic, the connections or the relationships. But that, in a sense, didn’t really matter.
One of the curious aspects of being so far removed from the original sources of all of this work – the metropolitan centres of the Northern Hemisphere, principally at that time New York – was that distorted understandings of what could only be experienced at a distance, and in the most mediated of ways, were factors intrinsic to how art was constructed here. I think a lot of that work did seem at the time to be outside of one’s own experience of what might be considered meaningfully comprehensible. What might have been behind a particular image or idea was, I think often elusive. When I travelled to America in 1973, I became aware that the so-called hard-edge painters in North America – say Ellsworth Kelly or Kenneth Noland, and perhaps others – didn’t use masking tape to paint their lines or shapes. Theirs weren’t clean sharp lines. The clean sharp lines characteristic of our Antipodean manifestation tells us concentrated mediation (reproduction) can lead to misreadings..
So there was some of that in this work too. However, all of that notwithstanding, in a sense, if it was difficult to understand, then maybe it didn’t matter too much because it was avant-garde, it was art, and it followed that interpretation might be fugitive. I guess one of my projects ever since has been to infuse my work with a combination of avant-garde expressive ideas, while incorporating meanings that allow for understanding at the same time. That’s been part of the journey, I guess, over the last forty years.
Stephen Jones: Okay.
Peter Kennedy: But one has to start somewhere.
Stephen Jones: So pieces like Parrot?
Peter Kennedy: Well, that’s a mystery to me. That’s why I’d like to actually see what’s on those video tapes from 1971. I haven’t read the instructions for those video performance pieces, probably since they were written and performed from tape in 1971, so I’m a little mystified as to what Parrot is about. On reflection, and there’s some essence to this, I believe, in the original concept, is the notion of parrot as idea, of its having an iconic presence, even in the absence of the real thing. Then there’s the repetition … “to parrot” … the repeated loop, and finally the absurdity – again the resistance to interpretation.
Stephen Jones: What’s that work with you and Barbara together? Is that a body music piece, or something like that?
Peter Kennedy: (Reading 1971 Video tapes programme) It’s Two Body Concerts, Part 1 and Part 2, performed by Peter Kennedy and Barbara Hall, contact mics and amplification by David Ahern, 10 minutes. So each part was approximately five minutes long. And then there was For Silence Do Not Take Chances, which is where I tape over the microphone that David Ahern is sitting behind, then tape up David’s mouth, which at the time would have been regarded humorously, David being a talker and proselytiser. And again there was the Cagean idea of silence – his experience of the anechoic chamber and so on and of course the infamy of “4’33” ”.
The Two Body Concerts were where we had the microphone between our clothed bodies, Part 1, then our naked bodies, Part 2. In some respects it was like Tension, Nos. 1 & 2, the shirt with the clips, and then the clips on bare skin being popped off.
Stephen Jones: So the stuff you were doing with David Ahern, was that a separate pathway, or a separate set of works? Or were they all – you had basically got the video equipment and you were using it with the various people that you were engaged with through Inhibodress?
Peter Kennedy: Yes, well it was only with Mike really.
Stephen Jones: But then you talk about the David Ahern pieces?
Peter Kennedy: Well, David was using Inhibodress as a base for concerts and rehearsals. Because he had the electronic music ensemble, Teletopa, which included Peter Evans, Geoffrey Barnard, the flautist Geoffrey Collins, and the saxophonist Roger Frampton, and Philip Ryan.
Stephen Jones: Okay.
Peter Kennedy: And they were doing concerts of electronic music. David had state-of-the-art amplifiers. He’d only recently returned from Darmstadt, having studied under Stockhausen for two years at that point, I think. He was a proselytiser for Stockhausen and the electronic music movement. But he was also something of an acolyte, although that might not be the right word, but he was clearly impressed by, if not influenced by Cornelius Cardew, who’d worked a lot with lay musicians like myself; people who had no musical experience or knowledge, but who were interested enough to be able to make music under certain conditions, if those conditions were instructed or described.
So there were those two aspects to David’s musical activity in Sydney at that time, and I fitted into the AZ part, the lay component, rather than Teletopa. He needed a sufficient number of people to perform these works that depended on instructions for their public presentation.
Stephen Jones: The Great Learning, and works like that.
Peter Kennedy: That’s right, The Great Learning, and Tiger’s Mind I think was another one. Cornelius Cardew died about four years ago, did you know that?
Stephen Jones: No.
Peter Kennedy: His body was found on the side of a road.
Stephen Jones: You’re joking.
Peter Kennedy: His death, I recall, was something of a mystery. A biography came out about three years ago.
Stephen Jones: He went for a long walk…
Peter Kennedy: I guess what I was trying to do in my own way was to synthesise or integrate those various interests, and with video, given that it was both visual and aural, combine my interest in sound, my interest in performance, an interest in text, in a sense, given that these were instruction pieces, and that these elements would in combination channel down to this one point which was the camera and ultimately the screen.
Stephen Jones: And it would give you the documentation to prove the thing actually had occurred.
Given the video documentation of Bruce Copping’s installation process at Inhibodress in July of ’71, with Albie Thoms and Aggie and the Yellow House people doing the video recording, is that where the video is introduced or the recorder is introduced, do you think? Or is it that you …
Peter Kennedy: I think that Mike and I and maybe Tim – because Tim wasn’t really estranged at that point –
Stephen Jones: No, of course not.
Peter Kennedy: The Akai 1/4” video equipment left a lot to be desired, technically speaking. We were constantly frustrated. Tim was scheduled in to do his things on the Sunday, and by the time we got to Sunday evening, having struggled to get what we’d managed to get on tape, there wasn’t a lot of energy left to assist Tim. I’ve always regretted that. But genuinely the whole experience was quite draining and of course Tim, understandably, was disappointed and put out by that.
Stephen Jones: Yes, working together can be a fraught process.
Peter Kennedy: It certainly can. I think Mike and I were thinking about all of this, if not attempting to do something about it, at the same time that Bruce Copping did his work.
Stephen Jones: Okay. Albie has said in an interview I conducted with him that you contacted him at the Yellow House saying that Bruce Copping wanted to record his installation process and would Albie be interested?
Peter Kennedy: Really? I don’t recall.
Peter Kennedy: We didn’t finish the … let’s just complete this while we’re at it (again referring to the Brook article in Studio International). Then there was another performance piece a bit like the – it must’ve followed on from the sequence of my feet moving around the edge of the camera – that described, using a piece of black tape, a diagonal line running from the top left hand corner of the frame of the camera, down to its bottom right hand corner, making the necessary perspectival compensation at the junction of the wall and the floor, so visually you see only a straight line. Again, my idea there was about this was metaphorical, in the sense that it posited dialogue as being integral to construction and production. That is, the dialogue resulted in an outcome, which was this illusion of a straight diagonal line.
This one here goes back to – this is interesting in the sense that it’s a take-off of the preceding year’s 1/4”video performance – the Barbara Hall-Peter Kennedy Body Concert, with the microphone. What was behind that was the visual imagery that resulted in the two bodies being in such close proximity so as to be able, without resorting to the use of our hands, to support the microphone as it was moved between our bodies. In the unclothed performance, there was a certain erotic aspect to it. It’s 40 years since I’ve seen it. I have some still photographs, which I come across occasionally, and I can imagine how it could work in that way.
But with this piece here, “the vision of the camera lens should be substantially reduced with masking tape [thereby reducing the aperture]. Using a handheld camera, the cameraman should systematically travel around the edge of the performer’s body so that only the extreme edges of the body are recorded.” So the camera lens was taped up, leaving a small aperture; and it’s that pin-holed aperture that traces the outline of the body. And that goes back to the drawing of the outline here, the edge of some section of clothing, wherever it is, it goes straight back to that. But it is also an introduction to the idea which follows this drawing of the body by camera, where the activity is repeated – again it’s a drawing of the outline of the body, but in this instance it’s the microphone that’s lightly moved all the way up around the body.
Stephen Jones: Okay.
Stephen Jones: So that’s a black screen?
Peter Kennedy: I think it is.
Stephen Jones: A black video, is it?
Peter Kennedy: And then in the next sequence we move to this sonic barrage, which is derived from the Snare installation, and resembles my taking on of the meaningless, as with the shoes suspended and dropped at the feet of those from whom the shoes had been removed. This is simply noise, and defies interpretation; another exercise in creating something meaningless. It’s also a meaninglessness which is less than pleasant. It’s titled Drummed, D-r-u-m-m-e-d, Sticks, and it was drawn from the sound installation SNARE. I’m holding the drumsticks, and the sticks, because of the volume of sound that’s put through the drums via the speaker, actually vibrate my hands. So I’m the drummed, rather than the drummer, I guess, so there’s a reversal of expectation. A lot of the work I was concerned with at this time was about this – there’s been occasions since then, and even recently – where normal expectations are reversed in some way, that what one might normally expect is turned around so that another kind of understanding is introduced. The original idea is the medium that delivers us to a different construction of our original expectation. I think this is …
Stephen Jones: Tension.
Peter Kennedy: … so this is the Tension piece, originally recorded on 1/4” videotape the year before but done for black and white 16mm film. So I went from the black and white video to 16mm film, and that seemed to have a direct relationship to …
Stephen Jones: To what was going to on
Peter Kennedy: But we see this in “technicolour”. We can see the …
Stephen Jones: The weals.
Peter Kennedy: … the fluid, the moisture seeping out of the skin after the clips were popped off and we see the weals as they get redder. So this is the piece that leads me to consider an alternative approach. This idea of reinforcing the viewer’s self identity or self-awareness. An art that facilitates action in the context of political change or social transformation.
Stephen Jones: So that leads you out of Inhibodress and somewhat later, into Introductions, and work like that?
Peter Kennedy: Well, Other Than Art’s Sake, the 16mm black & white film that precedes but also influences the Introductions project
Stephen Jones: Yeah, which I don’t know a lot about at all. I’ve not seen it.
Peter Kennedy: I have copies. Other Than Art’s Sake was made in ’73-’74, and I was looking specifically at artists who were working outside the gallery system. One of the impulses behind Inhibodress, a reactive impulse, was to undermine the commercial aspects of art production and art exhibition. And as my thinking about this becomes a bit more sophisticated, I become interested in art that steps outside the gallery system and works with or addresses people who were not necessarily that interested in art, or have no prior knowledge of art, but with whom one might actually work to construct artworks that have some connection with their lives. This leads to the film looking at the work of David Medalla, Stephen Willats and Ian Breakwell in England, and Hans Haacke, Adrian Piper and Charles Simonds in New York, and Judy Chicago and the art historian Allan Raven in LA.
Stephen Jones: So they’re the content of Other Than Art’s Sake?
Peter Kennedy: Yes. They’re the subjects as are their ideas and practice, and the variety of options informing practice outside of the art world.
Stephen Jones: That would be a fascinating thing to see.
Peter Kennedy: And a point that I make some time later, when I become aware of the ‘post modern’ as an idea that goes beyond modernism, is that a lot of this social practice from the 1970s, before we’d even heard of post modernism within a visual art context – but the idea of post modernism when I encountered it, in the mid-‘80s I think, seemed to come from early 1970s oppositions to the modernist mainstream. Ideas that address early artistic engagement with progressive social movements, social and political issues, collaborate with social activism of different types and address our culture to an early pro-genetive moment where we might begin to discern the contours of what came to be defined as post modernism.
I’ve come to see post modernism as being defined by those social shifts, attitudes and behaviours – the way in which social change has come about. This is where we move from – we start to see a strong shift from abstraction back into figuration. But I think we can leap over minimalism, hard edge and colour-field painting, however you want to describe it, back to Rauschenberg, for instance and see that engagement with social content in that imagery, you know. Jasper Johns and Rauschenberg …
Stephen Jones: And Richard Hamilton and so on, Whitechapel, yes.
Peter Kennedy: Yes, exactly. And also the Fluxus people, because there you have a humanistic modernism. It’s not a non-figurative intellectual formalist modernism, it’s that aspect of modernism which is about play, and about people. It’s about humour and people. They are early proto-post-modernists, in a sense. I think that trajectory feeds into a direct engagement with the audience, rather than, like the painting of the period having an independent relationship to the viewer or audience.
Stephen Jones: I just want to come back to… with the videos that were shown in November-December ’71, the technical problems, the visual quality problems that arose …
Peter Kennedy: Lack of stability, really.
Stephen Jones: … was that a problem realised or recognised at that time, and so the new versions of a number of these pieces were made the next year?
Peter Kennedy: Yes, it was.
Stephen Jones: So the version that was released as Idea Demonstrations, which is made on film, it doesn’t include all of these works, does it?
Peter Kennedy: It doesn’t include all, but some of them. Yes.
Stephen Jones: And then there are some other works that are added, like the blood dripping onto the lens, and pieces like that?
Peter Kennedy: Yes. Not the transparent adhesive tape across the lens, because that was done the previous year on video, I’m referring to the taped diagonal line, the feet edging around the frame of the camera, the… There’s a couple of others. There were extrapolations that have migrated into Idea Demonstrations – I’m talking about my particular pieces – from the quarter inch black and white Akai tapes; but on the other hand, there were some newer pieces as well, which had evolved …
Stephen Jones: That’s right, as far as I’ve seen it, yeah. So that in a sense, the stuff that we’ve subsequently had view of, have been privy to, is just the film material. We haven’t seen the Akai quarter inch for some time.
Peter Kennedy: Not since … November 1971. Yes. And nor have I. But I would be interested to…
Stephen Jones: And then, a little after that Inhibodress then falls apart?
Peter Kennedy: In ’72, yes.
Stephen Jones: You go overseas, you make Other Than Art’s Sake for the reasons that you’ve outlined?
Peter Kennedy: Yes.
Stephen Jones: And that’s available; you’ve got tapes of that?
Peter Kennedy: Mmm.
Stephen Jones: So that’s ’73?
Peter Kennedy: ’73-’74.
Stephen Jones: ’74, okay. And then so really the next work is Introductions. Or is there other classes of work between the two?
Peter Kennedy: Introductions was the next thing. And that was all done on film, other than the initial stage of it, which is where I was in the process of involving myself in the four different social groups, recreational clubs that then become the subject and content of the artwork. At this point, I’m working out of the Paddington Video Access Centre, using their equipment and in Parramatta, the equipment at the Video Access Centre there.
Stephen Jones: So your initial introductions to those people is done on video, half inch?
Peter Kennedy: It was on half inch black and white video.
Stephen Jones: But then when you actually were putting together the final versions of the works they were producing… or you and they were producing …
Peter Kennedy: It was done in 16mm colour film.
Stephen Jones: It was 16mm, right, okay. Because of course there wasn’t colour video until a year or two later anyway, for us.
Peter Kennedy: Yes, that’s right. And I worked on the film with a filmmaker named David Lourie.
Stephen Jones: Really? Okay.
Peter Kennedy: He did the camerawork and the editing. And I knew of him through Aleks Danko and Joan Grounds, because …
Stephen Jones: Because he did the work We should call it a living room, yeah. And he did a very nice thing with Marr Grounds as well on that lead pyramid, and then the work in the ’76 Biennale.
Peter Kennedy: I’m not sure I ever saw it, but I think he moved on to Marr from me.
Stephen Jones: Right, okay.
Peter Kennedy: He was highly sought after because he had that kind of expertise that people in the art world didn’t have.
Stephen Jones: That’s right.
Peter Kennedy: He was a professional filmmaker.
Stephen Jones: And he made good work, and that piece is quite good. I’ve seen that. I haven’t seen Introductions, by the sound of it, so I’d like to see that at some stage.
Peter Kennedy: Sure.
Stephen Jones: But then, after Introductions, you get into the work with John Hughes. You moved to Melbourne?
Peter Kennedy: Yes. At the end of 1976, for the beginning of the academic year in 1977, I moved to Melbourne. I had just completed Introductions at that point. Introductions was ’74 to ’76 and was first shown along with a series of watercolours, which foreshadowed the video/banner format that we saw in the November Eleven series beginning in 1978-79. The watercolour portraits were of various people with whom I’d worked and who were also the subjects of Introductions. These portraits were displayed before the television monitor. That exhibition was at Central Street, the ICA as it was then called.
The November 11 series was begun at the end of 1978. I received funding from the Visual Arts Board having been invited by Nick Waterlow to be part of the ’79 Biennale, which I think opened in April of 1979. We started work on the November Eleven tape number 1, at the end of 1978, this funding came through. I’d conceived the Trade Union banner as an expressive form to connect with the events of 1975 and the sacking – or coup, as it was also described – of the Whitlam Government.
Stephen Jones: So that was an installation in the Biennale?
Peter Kennedy: That’s right.
Stephen Jones: Actually I think I was the person who …
Peter Kennedy: You probably plugged it in and stuck the tape in and tweaked it and maintained it.
Stephen Jones: Yeah, and then the banner was up behind the monitor screen?
Peter Kennedy: Yes, which was similar to the display of the watercolour portraits of the participants in Introductions. They were arranged around the back of …
Stephen Jones: Yeah, and then the screen was in the middle or something like that, yes. So Introductions, though it was actually made on film, was then transferred to video for distribution and exhibition?
Peter Kennedy: It was, yes. I think those people who were working with moving image at the time – and that would apply to Mike as well as myself, and certainly Aleks Danko and Joan Grounds – I think became aware of the vicissitudes, vagaries, unpredictability or unreliability of videotape at that time and therefore one hankered for the stability and predictability of film. And particularly the ability to edit it in a way that you couldn’t …
Stephen Jones: I think the editing problem was incredibly important, and the colour problem was important. But I do think that with the Biennales – because I was in a sense being the auto-rewind mechanism – video became a bit more stable for most people. But of course, We should call it a living room I only ever saw on film. I don’t know that it was ever transferred to video.
Peter Kennedy: I saw it in film. I don’t think it was formatted as video initially.
Stephen Jones: But the very act of presenting November Eleven on a television was an incredibly important move, in the sense that because we received our knowledge of the world, by this stage, our political knowledge particularly, through television, this was really the way it should have been done.
Peter Kennedy: That’s right. The point that I didn’t make before, which is important, is that John Hughes and I had tried, I think, from about 1977, which was when I first met John, through to ’78, we tried for a couple of years – or maybe it was a couple of years thereafter – but there was a period when we tried to get funding to make a documentary film about the events of 1975, and we just couldn’t get it. The AFI or the Film and TV Board of the Australia Council weren’t prepared to support it. We always suspected there were strong political reasons. It was the Fraser Government at that point. No one wanted to be seen to be tainted by association with the Whitlam era in any public funding way whatsoever.
So John and I failed to get funding. When I received the invitation from Nick Waterlow to be in the ’79 Biennale, it occurred to me that this was an opportunity, having done all the research, having sought out and acquired a lot of news footage, which I still have, to do a kind of a rock clip, an MTV-style clip – we’d call it scratch video today – which was truncated, short and sharp.
Stephen Jones: Lots of fast cutting?
Peter Kennedy: Yes. It looks slow by today’s standards, when you look at it now. But it was pretty pacey at the time, thirty years ago.
Stephen Jones: It was good.
Peter Kennedy: There is a semblance of narrative, but it wasn’t spelt out, and some creative sound work.
Stephen Jones: Yeah. Who, in a sense, authored it? Was it between the two of you or was it …?
Peter Kennedy: Well, John and I were just having this discussion yesterday morning, because the Art Gallery of New South Wales are digitising this material which is in their collection. The way it went was that Nick Waterlow approached me, I thought here was an opportunity to do something with all the work we’d done but couldn’t get the money to realise the project in the way we’d conceived the film version; “let’s do a short, sharp concentrated version for the Sydney Biennale, and I’ll pursue the banner idea.” – I’d become interested in the Labor movement, the constitution, the constitutional crisis in 1975, and trade union banners – “and the banners will be a backdrop for the video component” of the installation. It would be a little bit like what I’d done with Introductions. So there seemed to be a logic and development that made sense.
I put it to John that if we could get the money from the Australia Council, we could do a sharp, concentrated program with a really interesting sound track, and use a lot of the vision I’d acquired, and had edited by Jill Stevenson (now Jill Bilcock), who’s very highly regarded. She edited a short version of this material, and it was from that version that the images were extracted for the November Eleven tape.
I recall drafting a schematic version of how I saw the Biennale tape, and suggested that it be a sound piece in line with my interest in avant-garde sound works going back to Cage and Terry Riley and so on. I set about painting the banner having handed the 16mm news footage and mag.sound over to John, who worked with a mutual friend, Andrew Scollo, on constructing the program.
Andrew and John cut the visual stuff. John was also in contact with two Melbourne sound artists – I didn’t know them that well – John Scott and Robert Moore, who had done a radio sound piece for the ABC on the same subject. He brought them in on the project as well, so it was quite a collaborative piece. Everyone who was associated with it was credited for what they brought to the project at the end of the film. When John and I were talking about it yesterday, I asked John, “Given that you were more hands-on than I was, should the Art Gallery of New South Wales have you credited as the director and have me as the producer?” In any event we thought this was probably a bit out of context, you know, it’s more appropriate for film than video art. We agreed to credit November Eleven No. 1, as Peter Kennedy, John Hughes and Andrew Scollo, recognising that at the end of the tape, the others who’d been associated with it are also credited. November Eleven No. 2 is credited John Hughes and Peter Kennedy – John being the primary creative force for the production of that work without any doubt. I had very little to do with it.
With On Sacred Land, our creative relationship in that instance was similar to that in November Eleven No. 1. I drafted an outline, identified and collected footage, with certain images in mind that were consistent with the basic concept. John’s contribution was not dissimilar although he, unlike me, went on to construct the whole thing, shooting some additional new material prior to editing.
Stephen Jones: Yeah.
Peter Kennedy: But [interview interrupted by a phone call] … That was a young percussionist I’m in conversation with about doing a percussion piece with heartbeats, breathing, for my current project Small Tales and True – a DVD scheduled for completion late March 2011. My son, Alistair, who’s a drummer has just recently done a course at the Winter Jazz School at Trinity College, Melbourne University, learning from members of the jazz faculty of the Julliard School who came out. I’m thinking of having him do the drumming for the sound track. I’m also considering multi-screen presentations in galleries. I was talking to you earlier about this – and incorporating live drumming, percussion and reading as an electronically augmented, live, multi-performer piece.
So John and I have worked towards as succinct and definitive a way of encapsulating the authorship of these works as circumstances allow. John’s contribution is major, there’s no doubt about that.
Stephen Jones: As far as I’m concerned, it’s always been Peter Kennedy and John Hughes.
Peter Kennedy: Yes, but I think in terms of creative input, the practicalities of production, the hands on, the putting together, John’s contribution is paramount.
Stephen Jones: Okay. Let’s stop there. Thank you for all that.