Catalogue essay Kb + Kb: a Dialogue of Colour & Catharsis written for the exhibition KB / KB - Kieran Bryant & Kieran Butler shown at Kudos Gallery (31 March - 11 April 2015).

About the exhibition:  Kb / Kb presents two artists examining the dialogue available between their individual practices and collaborative process. By situating themselves in a dual environment within a gallery the artists hope to achieve a binary system in which the audience is left to question what connects these two together? Will the collaborative whole be greater than the sum of its parts?

Kieran Bryant (b. 1988) is an emerging Sydney based performance installation artist with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Honours [First Class] from UNSW | Art & Design.

Kieran Butler (b. 1992) is an emerging photographic artist with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Honours (First Class) from UNSW | Art and Design. 

Kb + Kb: a Dialogue of Colour & Catharsis by Vanessa Low

For several years, I have followed the works of Kieran Bryant and Kieran Butler, observing performances evolve and fields of colour expand and distort. At first, the idea of putting their disparate practices side-by-side struck me with uncertainty, however upon further consideration, it seems totally obvious. Both Bryant and Butler approach their practices teetering on the edge of knowledge and abstraction.  For Bryant, his performances expose and manipulate autobiographical experiences into repetitious actions, whereas Butler’s images and installations take the medium of photography itself and re-imagine the nature of its materiality. For both artists, it is the processes involved in making their work, and the resulting expansion of ideas, that is the defining crux of their practices.

Both Bryant and Butler’s works make us self-conscious of the act of viewing. Watching Bryant perform, often nude, we are forced to think of ourselves as voyeurs. Analysing the digital and physical planes dissolved together in Butler’s works, we grow a distrust in our eye to distinguish the real from the manipulated.  Both artists explore a sense of incompletion and uncertainty; what better way to fling the door of discussion open than to juxtapose their works beside one another.

On the artists

I first met Bryant as a DJ in 2012 and since then have been keeping a close eye on his artistic experiments and penchant for Mariah Carey. From carving dozens of corncobs to enveloping himself in large snakes of string, Bryant’s works have often been driven by an unfolding process. He is methodical with his performances – often enacting repetitive motions with an object – however they lack a sense of resolution or accomplishment. This is typified by Bryant’s concept of frustrated catharsis, of unpacking emotional baggage to attain an interaction with the frustration itself, rather than achieving a payoff of relief. This leaves us to speculate about his relationship with the objects and space, and about the objects as metonyms for larger ideas or anxieties. 

It was Butler’s thoughts that first caught my attention before I ever saw his work in person. Hearing him speculate on the photographic medium – of its unstable nature in the face of rapid development – it was clear that he was dedicated to pushing the understanding of images and objects to the nth degree. Manipulating the boundaries of digital and physical media, Butler’s works can seem like tricks to the eye; objects appear to float in vibrant fields of colour. Although we exist in a visually saturated culture, Butler’s works remain abstract. In their ambiguity, they burst apart at the seams our viewing habits and cause us to consider alternate possibilities of thinking about and processing what we see, and visualising what we think. 

Kb + Kb  

In science, the symbol Kb is used to refer to an equilibrium constant, a base that neutralises an acid. It is hard to resist the application of this metaphor here. Like scientists in a laboratory, both Bryant and Butler’s practices rely heavily on process, experimentation and in-depth observation. Their works can be read like equations, as means of navigating new areas of artistic thought. Bryant’s frustrated catharsis and Butler’s confrontation of the value of a medium itself demonstrate a similar interest in abstracting knowledge and certainty.

In this way, a theoretical binary emerges when we view their works in tandem. Bryant’s performances are an enacted process of opening up negative emotions and confronting the frustrations that they yield. Butler’s works, on the other hand, open up ideas of perception and non-linear ways of viewing objects, images and colour. Could this latter practice of speculation not be extended further to Bryant’s performances? We are caused to speculate on what it means to view recognisable objects – such as plastic tubes and dough – and to have their meanings abstracted. And vice versa, an element of frustrated catharsis can be identified in the expansive colour planes that Butler has made. There is a sense of play in the bright splashes of colour, but also a more frustrating interaction in pinning down an interpretation or focusing on what is photographic or digital, representational or obscured.

The works of both Bryant and Butler are deliberately inconclusive. Looking at each of their works, we are left wondering about the symbolism of certain objects or the rationale behind certain actions. However, looking at them side-by-side, a more complex spectrum of interpretation is made possible: a dialogue of abstraction and frustration, of colour and catharsis. VL