Kerry Downey

A Tree Falls

Opening Saturday, Nov 2nd 5-9 pm, 2019



During our initial conversations with Kerry about GERTRUDE, they spoke about wanting to make a project about exposure. It is a complicated word. It conjures rarefied photographic processes, bad sunburns, the victims of chemical spills, celebrities, online professional networking platforms and various types of contact, quotidian and intimate. 


The reality of making a project in a shack in the woods, apart from one's community, a conceivable audience, or the art world at all, is a strange one. It calls into question the invisibility of labor, a notion many artists are intimate with. What is an exhibition without an audience? What is a location except a photograph? And what is a photograph except something that assists the rapid circulation of content through spheres of influence?


When Kerry came to visit, a tree had fallen and taken out the power lines to our property. Kerry’s title “A Tree Falls” had coincidentally already reflected the age-old aphorism about unperceived and unseen occurrences when, for three days, we took water from the stream to flush our toilets—we boiled that same water to make coffee, we filled the house with candles and sat by the fire to stay warm. The fallen tree, in this case, had observable outcomes and affected what Kerry was able to work on in our space.


When our power lines were repaired we woke up and consulted our news feed. During our little blackout protests against the kleptocratic government in Haiti continued to cause road blockages, oil shortages, and power outages. Hospitals were (and are) shutting down. People were (and are) struggling to find food, and dying. Simultaneously sprawling fires in California lead to massive electricity shut-offs and evacuations, and we were reminded of the extreme luxury of our situation (our clean stream water and our firewood). And of a future in which our hic et nunc is recognized as a time of constant ecological disasters and rampant infrastructural breakdown. In this current and near future, the privileged will all need to reckon with the fallout caused by greed and racism. Power will need to be surrendered or taken. Hegemonies aren’t dismantled easily; as the first two stories in our news feed tell us. A state built with unsustainable infrastructure wrestles with constant disaster and years of criminally botched aid distribution perpetuates poverty in Haiti. Exposure, here, to that which needs to be seen and understood, requires an urgent suspension of disbelief.  

 

Kerry decided to stretch silkscreen over the windows and coat them with photo emulsion. This gesture, reminiscent of Michael Asher’s subtle environmental interventions, addresses the most central aspect of GERTRUDE’s identity, its relationship with the outside. What could such a site-specific gesture mean when the institution is removed from discourse, when its context is an old shack in the woods, couched within the wealthy Berkshire hills? There is a way that A Tree Falls has a more celebratory tenor rather than a critical one—it sings the song of institutional critique—but by activating the windows as thresholds, it embraces the conditions of the site rather than rejects them.  

 

Still, though, Kerry’s window pieces evoke a feeling of being just barely held. The screens, like many of Kerry’s works (especially on paper), are abject bodies. Their wet, drippy emulsions are GERTRUDE’s epidermis, veiling its internal organs from the unpredictable weather of autumn. Like a staged re-enactment of their visit during the power outage, Kerry has filled the space with candles—and GERTRUDE becomes a sanctum. Their reading of imagined letters from Miriam to Gertrude, the original makers of this place, serves as a vigil for the unseen and a séance for the unseeable.


--Chris Domenick and Em Rooney