Spring 2008

Taking a scalpel to the warmongers

Uncertified Documents

By Peter Kennard, including new work with Cat Picton Phillipps. 30 January–30 March 2008. Pump House Gallery, Battersea Park, London.

For the politically engaged, Peter Kennard’s photomontages have always been an inspiration. Not only are they strong and visually relevant, they also speak the unspeakable and deal with issues that are being ignored. From the beginning, his black and white juxtapositions, inspired by John Heartfield’s photomontages, managed to create an imprint in the reader’s mind long after the article it accompanied, affecting the way we relate to current affairs.

The exhibition at the Pump House brings back all those memories and exposes them, by showing the processes that went into these artworks, with photography, ink, white paint, scalpel and mark-up measurements alongside the final editorial image. The range of commissioned work shown here, from socialist newspapers to magazines such as The Face, New Scientist, New Statesman and Bella, shows how Kennard’s photomontage can work for very diverse editorial briefs.

Sand Glass, an image many readers would recognise, of a skeleton slipping through an hour glass, suggesting time running out for diplomacy, is as relevant today as it was in The Guardian in 1991 at the start of George Bush Sr’s Gulf War.

The exhibition leads us through Kennard’s work over the next decade as it developed into more gallery-based installations. The News Truck, with giant screens holding gnawed Financial Times, was intended to be leant against the London Stock Exchange, encouraging debate. The video installation Stop Posters, a collaboration with Cat Picton Phillipps, shows protesters outside the US air base at RAF Lakenheath, venting their frustration with Tony Blair’s march to war; it is fascinating to relate this work to Kennard’s Haywain with Cruise Missiles (1980), which is etched on my memory.

Although small, the exhibition shows the importance of one of our unseen imagemakers over the past 30 years. However I would have liked to have seen more of the ‘Santa’s Ghetto’ exhibition in Bethlehem last Christmas, where Kennard worked alongside Banksy, Paul Insect, Blu, Suleiman Mansour and others, to draw world attention to the ‘Separation Wall’ – and raise million for local causes.

Tony Credland, designer and lecturer, LCC, London

First published in Eye no. 67 vol. 17 2008

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