Peter Kennard at the Iiruitmarket Gallery. Edinburgh.


Agit-prop and Esperanto

l’eter Kennard is one ol‘the tinest exponents ol‘photo—montage working today. But is he trying to be too uniy‘ersal'.’ l’atrick Vidaud pi‘ey'iews an exhibition of his work.

l’etei‘ lseniiard is concerned lor tis all as well he might be. He turned his back on painting early on. as the iitediuiii‘s sensuality detracted too much l'rom the message he wanted to carry. Since then he has used phitto~montage. working with the ( 'NI). the now alelunct ( ireatei‘ l.ondon (‘ouncil and the ( iuardian. He is best known l'oi' his textless images denouncing the military—industrial complex and its relation to world poy erty and city ii‘onmental degradation. 'l‘echnically and in his inspirations. his likes and dislikes. he is a lineardescendant ol photo-miintage‘s grand old man .lohit Ileartl'ield.

'l‘he ( ierman l learttield changed his name during

the I‘ilt'sl World War lrom .lohannncs l Ierzleld as a protest against his home country‘s xenophobia. and later dey oted hiiiisell and his work to attacking lascisni. Both I leartlield and Kennard present seamless junctions between the dit't‘ercnt photographs used in montage. I Ieartlield causing his assistants to swoon with latigtie as he insisted on attaining the tinest gradations ol' nuance. and Kennard no doubt spending a lot ot' time w ith his airbrush. Both of them go lor the jugular ol the war lords or their respectiy'c times.

A signilicant dilterence is that I lcartlicld iny'ariably used words with his pictures and Kennard does not. I leartlield‘s lamous image of Hitler being back—handed loadsa money by an industrialist is excellent; it is made brilliant by the caption ot llitler‘s own words: "l'here are millions behind us.‘ 'I o Kerinard. this approach is all yery well in the home market where the words are understood and the quote remembered. llowey'ei‘ it is not so good ilyou want to communicate to a non-( ierman speaking (‘hinese docker or l’eruy'ian taxi driy'er.

Kennard sets out to reaclt a uniy‘ersal visual language which does not therelore need to be augmented w ith words Iliis is a tall and worthy order. with which. by and large. he succeeds. 'l'he images are pared down. brutal and simple. with

desolation w ell stitched tip. \Vhei'e ltc tails perhaps is on more complex issues 7 as. tor example. (ierman re-unil‘ication. In View oltheir loss olgood social laws relating to such things as ample creches tor working lamilies. liberal abortion laws and employment protection. Iiast (iermans might well find lx'ennai‘d's image ol‘ a sturdy handshake across a crumbled Berlin wall a mite rHer—optimistic.

(‘oncerning Kennard‘s pursuit otia y'isual lisperanto there are other problems. notably with humour. (iranted. it is Very difficult to find much that would make both a 'l‘ibetan and a cockney laugh: and again ls'ennard's subject matter is not exactly hilarious -r only the bad guys make jokes about nuclear weapons and stary'ing children. It. l‘urther. you exclude (as Kennard does in his quest lor uniy ersality) recognisable personalities. to deal. instead. only with anonymous Victims and demons. you are also

depriy ol the boon ol caricatui‘ing. 'I'here‘s not

much room left tor a joke. But where some humour might be injected as. tor example. in making the bad guys look ridiculous it is not exploited. ij'en his images otthe goggles and helmeted soldier with a tttissilc—stulled mouth is made to look more threatening than it is ridiculous and pathetic.

I suspect that interesting and uselul as it otten is. Kennard‘s uniy'ersalist approach w ill not achieve as much as the home-directed brand ol agit—prop photo—montage. (ath 'l'ate here. DAAR in Holland and Klaus Stack in ( iei‘many are using unrestricted Venom and humour. words and pictures. against specilic institutions and personalities. They are lighting with good el tect here in the 'First World. In the end. that ls w here the battle for a better planet will be w on or lost. l’t'ler Keri/turd: Images for [lie [and of I/Zt’ ( 't’iilin'i can besewz at [he l’l'uitniurket (Ml/en m lir/t)iburg/ifrom 1.? ()t‘lo/u'r. 'I/n' tII‘llyl n i// be m Illegal/err [(2 (/ryt‘uys /Il\ H ork on Stilttl‘t/ity /.i ()(to/wrutjpm.

. 7 . . _J ’Iilte l.tst l: :5 October I‘l‘lll53