Kenneth McBride

Kenneth McBride is an artist, writer and educator as well as being the founder of agora8

In his durational performance installations he is interested in art as a form of memorial that can activate collective memory. His work has been presented in diverse locations and contexts internationally, often operating beyond the traditional gallery structures and in a wide variety of impermanent or public spaces. Works often engage the full range of senses.

Works: Meant Lament (2006-2009) | Past Now Present (Closer: Lament for Beslan) (2004-2006) | Requiem for the Line (2010) | Dialogue With Territory (2005) | Take My Breath Away (River Dart Action) (2001)

installation performance art | sculptural performance | collective memory | durational

"In answer to the world as it has been given me, artistic production is a manifestation of my humanity and a social action. Reverberation begins long before and continues long after the act."

Scottish-born Kenneth McBride has presented elaborate installation performances internationally since 2001. They operate durationally through cycles of 4 and 72 hours. The work, considered a lament or prayer, underscores the changing relations between the individual and the State as spaces of memory have been re-drawn and realigned. Nations have lost their assumed privilege to memorialise for us as we are inclined towards a deeper analysis of the past and the rules by which it is written. The works transgress official acts of memory and memorial to bring forth spaces of and for collective memory.

Meant Lament

Place: Singapore, Poland, Lithuania, France, Scotland

The first performance was close to the site of the first Nazi ghetto in Poland. I meditated on the loss of generations as a result of all conflicts and never to be present. Walking the earth at the same pace as my son who only recently had learned how to walk.

Past Now Present (Lament for Beslan)

Place: UK, Canada, USA.

Installation performance constructed around a photograph of a young schoolboy who stares from his apartment window over and onto School No.1 in Beslan where his schoolmates and teachers are held hostage, and where later 344 of them will be killed.

It’s been with me since I first the newsreels on 1st September 2004. School Number 1, Beslan, North Ossetia. 344 primary school children and their teachers held hostage for three days and murdered. It is with me because of its brutality but also because it all too easily becomes history. And history gets buried by the present.

A circle of fresh dark earth laid out around one table. The more I walk contra to the world of man, the more the smell of disturbed ground permeates this room. An earthy mound atop a table from which small twigs, roots, and ceramic shards are pulled and patiently cleaned and laid out in neat rows of remembrance. A child's underpants, soiled by earth. A photograph of a young boy captured by a journalist as he stares from his blockhouse window over and onto School Number 1 where his schoolmates are being killed.

Financial newspapers, the coordinates of our brutality, burned and reduced to ashes will sear the fruits that I smear on my face. This is the map.

Walk with me. Will you walk with me?

Because the only way to view the mediated world is not as a surface through which we manage a relationship to suffering but as a platform for action.

The more we walk, the more able we will be to confront our past. It is this that meditation is for. The hands of the missing break the surface of the earth and are gently cradled and displayed on the wall. Light is changing, the daylight flush replaced with uneven rows of evening dusk and then, a predictable darkness. And as dark as we become there also will come light. Two small torches in the earth strain towards the photographs, the hands, the underpants.

I need to rest for a moment. How can I say that not all light is good light? That these surfaces of suffering are overwhelming? Incapacitating. That in themselves they are not enough. That some things just don't belong in the ground? Pop. A breath, is gone. A light gone out. Wooden skewers pierced through forensic gloves. It is physically impossible to touch the images and remnants now. In a while they will be removed and nailed to the wall, shocked hands, their points protecting and preventing contact.

My will is to be closer. To offer all that I have. Yet the limits of my imagination, and the disconnect of empathy and privilege, can only toss spoons at the child at the window. It is futile nurture but it is also enough. He moves! Weak, but he moves. (He is stronger and more resolute than I will ever be.) A spoon hits a glove, it moves. It waves to me. They all wave to me. Spoon hits the scorched gutted shell of School Number 1, a strange site of memory littered not just with the usual flowers but with bottles of water. They weren't allowed water. The children had to drink their own piss.

1,000 spoons clatter against brick, against photograph, against gloves, against floor, against spoon. Everything reflected. Concave and convex.

And on...

Earth slides to floor. In this stillness a crashing down. I find a nail in the earth. I have problems letting go. The sound of rasping breath and panic in their tiny throats.

Footnote, August 2013.
Walk with me. Will you walk with me?

Requiem For The Line

Place: Switzerland

Stop walking. Sit on chair. Think of flies. Think of the "foreignness of the fly to any fixed order of things" (Groys, 1992). Ilya Kabakov noted that the Soviet Union was the "first modern society to disappear". Blow breath on these flies. Do not let them rot. A lament.

Dialogue With Territory (2005)

Place: Serbia

What is this earth we find ourselves on? What are these lines we draw in it?

Take My Breath Away (River Dart Action) (with Joseph Sallis)

Place: River Dart, UK

On 13th August 1961, the East German borders closed. Overnight, and in complete secrecy, the Berlin Wall was constructed. In the subsequent 28 years that the Berlin Wall divided a nation, east and west, over 200 people were murdered pursuing a fundamental human right of freedom of movement and to be with their loved ones as they attempted to navigate the death zones. 40 years after the Wall was raised we call out to those who died and release their names from the cold.

The names of the dead were placed inside 200 coloured plastic balls. These were then filled with water and frozen. At 1a.m. we met the audience as arranged in Totnes town square. We led them on a walk towards the River Dart, through areas that echoed those that the Berlin Wall had divided - industrial, residential, parkland, recreation, rivers. Standing in the river we cut open with knives the plastic skin then launched each ball of ice into the river as a blessing was called out for each one. Our belief was that in so doing we were able to return the frozen breath of the 200 dead back into a flow. The audience increasingly took part, using knives and contributing their own callings.

this one a raindrop
this one a tear
this one a territory
this one a place
this one a leap of faith
this one a passage
this one a word I never said
this one a name I never knew
this one a reason to believe in this one
this one a ball of water
this one a missile
this one a good old boy
this one a torn curtain
this one a searchlight
this one a perfect day
this one a memory
this one a way to remember
this one a stranger
this one a friend
this one a milk truck
this one a soothing word
this one a monument
this one a river
this one a lovesick feeling
this one a sense of humour
this one a way into that one
this one a way to fall in love
this one a place
this one a fear
this one a mountain walk
this one a moment
this one a sensation
this one a celebration
this one a message
this one a ball of confusion
this one a secret
this one a name you call me
this one a way to remember
this one a state of grace
this one a girl I loved
this one a cry in the dark
this one a piss
this one a map
this one a flow
this one a homesick feeling
this one a light in the darkness
this one a one
this one is for this one
this one is for peace
this one is for all the good night cowboys
this one is for all the things I never told you
this one is for helping you find your way home
this one is for walking on green grass
this one is for heroes
this one is for bringing down walls
this one is for trust
this one is for feeling
this one is for all the stories ever told
this one is for Hank Williams
this one is for all the new things that all the old things never saw
this one is for saying what you know
this one is for workers
this one is for Lola
this one is forever
this one is for Sunday mornings
this one is for commitment
this one is for journeying
this one is for the struggle
this one is for peace in the valley
this one is for the sailor's who sleep in the ocean
this one is for walking the line
this one is for conviction
this one is for the stateless
this one is for the good times
this one is for placing
this one is for throwing
this one is for catching
this one is for patience
this one is for leaving behind
this one is for chance
this one is for this one
this one is for taking to meetings
this one is for love
this one is for growing
this one is for the space in between
this one is for calling out
this one is for memory
this one is for naming
this one is for laughing long and loud
this one is for calming
this one is for walking
this one is for conversation
this one is for your eyes only
this one is for faith
this one is for holding on to what you′ve got
this one is for endurance
this one goes out to the ones I love


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