Media Critique: The Impact of Peter Kennard's Artistic Research into the Respresantion of War and Conflict
Submitting InstitutionRoyal College of Art
Unit of AssessmentArt and Design: History, Practice and Theory
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media, Journalism and Professional Writing
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
Summary of the impact
Peter Kennard at the Royal College of Art (RCA) is a leading exponent of
the art of photomontage. An avowedly political artist, his research since
the 1970s has explored and critiqued the circulation of mass-media images,
particularly those produced in relation to war and conflict. This case
study shows that Kennard's research has achieved significant impact on
public opinion and sustained impact on the operations of the media in
representing war and conflict.
Kennard's research takes the form of a deep engagement with the way that
`the news' is constructed. His work as a leading political artist has
explored a number of themes over a 40-year career, but it has had a
particular focus on present-day conflict at home and abroad. His research
is realised as artworks using the technique of photomontage. These can
take the form of single works, series of works and narrative forms, such
as his five books published by academic and non-academic presses [e.g.
s3.1 and s3.2]. Recently, Kennard has extended his practice as an
image-maker to explore the effects of online animations, video works and
installations in public spaces. The question of how to achieve the precise
concentration of meaning offered by the now-historic technique of
photomontage in the context of the restless media environment has been
addressed in works such as Irhal, a film commissioned by Amnesty
International (2012) [s3.3].
Kennard's work is unabashedly political art which responds to events and,
in particular, to war and conflict. His works deconstruct the operations
of the media in the reporting of these events, and in particular what Noam
Chomsky calls `the management of consent', by using images that have
circulated previously in press and television news. Kennard has been
invited to research in various picture archives, such as The Guardian News
and Media Archive, London (2004-06) and the National Photographic Archive,
Dublin (2010), to examine and use photographic images that were made to
record particular events but not published. The Dublin work, for instance,
resulted in an in-situ installation in Dublin (2010) [s3.4]. In this way,
Kennard's research critically examines the currency of particular media
images. Moreover, Kennard's approach to the publication of his images is
to create what has been called `image-events', i.e. moments when images
themselves become the subject of public or media attention.
Kennard's images often move between different media or can be reworked by
others. Photo-op, an image combining a news photograph of then Prime
Minister Tony Blair taking his own portrait with a camera-phone with
another image of a billowing cloud of flames, first made in 2006 - has
been widely reproduced in the print and broadcast media, as well as being
the subject of a ban by JCDecaux and CBS Outdoor, the largest billboard
advertising agencies in the UK, in 2013, an event which itself became a
news story in 2013 [s3.5]. This constitutes not just a method of
dissemination but a critical strategy for testing matters of public
interest such as image rights and news management.
Kennard has a strong commitment to forms of collaborative practice. Since
2002, he has collaborated with Cat Picton Phillipps, who provides the
technical support that allows Kennard's research to be realised in
different formats. In recent years, Kennard has realised opportunities to
work with different social groups at home and abroad. Opportunities to
make work at sites of conflict such as Israel/Palestine have extended his
research method. A visit to produce work in Palestine in 2007 extended to
Kennard's studying in photographic collections and his exchange with
political activists and scholars in the region [s3.6]. This resulted in a
major work, exhibited in London in 2011, that explored the history of the
Palestinian people in the 20th century through public and private
photographic images [s3.6].
References to the research
All Kennard's books — two of five are listed here — have been through
rigorous commissioning and editorial processes operated by the publishers
that commissioned them. Kennard's installations are usually commissioned
by publicly funded bodies, whose boards of trustees typically have
oversight of the commissioning process. Arts Council and local authority
funding of the galleries and museums in the UK and similar mechanisms
abroad require an equally rigorous approach to the commission of artworks.
All URLs last accessed: 22/11/13.
3.1) @Earth (Tate Publishing, 2011) - a single-author book written with
technical assistance from Tarek Salhany. The works that appear in the book
were also exhibited as `At Earth', Raven Row Gallery, London (2011).
3.2) Dispatches of an Unofficial War Artist (Lund Humphries, 2000).
3.3) Irhal, a 4 minute 35 second film made with Leah Borromeo for Amnesty
International to announce the Global Day of Action, 11/02/12, calling for
human rights across the Middle East and North Africa. The film can be
viewed at <https://vimeo.com/36612678>.
3.4) `We Hope to Be Finished by Lunchtime...', National Photographic
Archive, Dublin (2010). Work in the National Photographic Archive in
Dublin resulted in an installation as part of the `PhotoIreland' festival
(July 2010); Kennard's research was also published in the form of a 16pp.
large-format newspaper, Fragments From a Broken World, edited by Anthony
Haughey, published by Photoireland (2010).
3.6) Palestine Gallery Commission, `Palestine', Commissioned by the
Palestine Gallery, London (2008). Print and paint on a mix of canvas
fragments and paper on canvas, 18 x 2 to 4metres.
Details of the impact
Kennard has made numerous works in the period covered by this impact
statement but the focus here is on those identified in Section 2. His work
has also featured in many exhibitions (19 solo and in 41 group shows in
Europe, the Middle East, North and Latin America between 2004-13). Kennard
is the author of five major books combining his images and writing. The
most recent, @Earth (Tate Publishing, 2011) was the first artist's book
commissioned by Tate (3,688 copies sold by summer 2013). The Tate
Publishing Director `commissioned this title...in the belief that art has
an impact on everyone's lives and that Peter Kennard's art has a
particular message that is important to communicate in contemporary
Kennard's artworks are not solely produced for the art market. They seek
out the widest social and political impact, often drawing attention from
and through the news media and those engaged in conflict resolution. In
2007-8, a former political affairs officer for the UN in Kabul, Robert
Kluijver, was invited to curate the inaugural exhibition for Gemak, The
Hague, a public gallery focusing on the political and social potential of
art. Entitled `Red Zone/Green Zone', the exhibition featured diverse
exhibits including the remains of a car destroyed in a suicide bombing in
Kabul. Kennard (with Picton Phillipps) was commissioned to create a 6 x
18m installation entitled Control Room, exploring the convergence of
interests between politicians and the media during the war in Iraq [s5.2].
In the curator's opinion, Kennard's work `drew the most attention from
both visitors and the media' [s5.3]. In his critical analysis of the
impact of Kennard's work in the exhibition, Dr Alan Ingram, a specialist
in geopolitics and security, confirms this impact, outlining how Kennard's
work `involve(s) the viewer' by forging connections between the setting
(the Hague) and violence in the Middle East [s5.4]. Kennard was
subsequently commissioned to remake `Control Room' for the exhibition
`Embedded Art' at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin (2009). Its curator
describes this artwork as being `vital' to the conception of this landmark
and experimental exhibition exploring the threats to public life since
9/11: Kennard's `artistic language...has an immediate, accessible and
intelligible impact on the general public. His ability to work with
complex politically controversial topics and incorporate findings from
contemporary news and factual reports, in order to make them
understandable to audiences both within and beyond the artworld, was
Impact 1: Public Opinion
The impact of Kennard's research on public opinion is recognised by the
political groups, charities and NGOs that regularly commission images for
campaigns. They include Amnesty International (2008), the Greater London
Authority for City Hall (2004), Greenpeace (2009), Interface (a cultural
regeneration project in Northern Ireland) and Nakba 60 (2008). The
Campaigns Manager for Amnesty International confirms the work's wide
impact and international reach [s5.5]. Kennard's research in the Middle
East has led to further commissions by agencies and charities that seek to
promote public understanding of the role of the media in transmitting the
effects of conflict. The A.M. Qattan Foundation, a charity promoting
education in Palestine and the Arab world, commissioned Kennard (with
Picton Phillipps) to make work — in situ — for an exhibition entitled
`Iraq-How, Where, For Whom?' at its gallery, The Mosaic Rooms, London
(2012). This was reviewed in the UK and the Middle East [s5.6].
Exhibitions are used by Kennard as opportunities for direct forms of
social impact. Since 2005, when Kennard (with Picton Phillipps) was artist
in residence at the `EastInternational' exhibition (Norwich), he has
created `War on War' rooms giving the public access to different resources
to create their own responses to the media representation of war. In 2013,
the Arts Council funded one such residency at the Herbert Art Gallery and
Museum (Coventry), which coincided with the group exhibition `Caught in
the Crossfire: Artistic Responses to Conflict, Peace and Reconciliation'.
Here, the `War on War Room' operated as a photomontage workshop over a
two-week period, achieving direct impact by working with different groups
in workshops, including disenfranchised people such as young people
excluded from school and refugee communities. The resulting mass of
digital and manual assemblage, signage and placards was exhibited in the
museum's transitory spaces and entrance to the exhibition `Caught in the
Crossfire'. The Herbert Art Gallery Exhibitions and Events Officer wrote:
`In our view, these were highly successful events which impacted directly
on local communities' understanding of the ways in which the media reports
conflict. The feedback which was taken after these events demonstrated to
us the importance of artists working directly with groups of young people
and adults utilising our temporary exhibitions and permanent collections.
We are actively pursuing other residency opportunities as a result of
Kennard's works have been acquired by many galleries and museums of
international standing, including the Scottish National Gallery (2007),
V&A Museum (2004/11) and Tate (2007). In 2010 and 2011, the Art Fund
(AF) and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) supported acquisitions of
Kennard's work for the Imperial War Museum, London and the Herbert Art
Gallery and Museum, Coventry. In making the case for acquiring a set of
montage works dating back to the beginning of his care for the Herbert,
with public money, the Director of the AF stated: `It's important these
works go on public display to help provoke thought, debate and dialogue.
The Herbert's Peace and Reconciliation collection is an ideal home for
Impact 2: Operations of Media
The reproduction of Kennard's work in the press and other media contexts
is evidence of its sustained and long-lasting impact on the operations of
the media. To take one example of many, Photo-Op (2005) has been described
by The Guardian as `the definitive work of art about the war that started
with the invasion of Iraq in 2003' [s5.9]. It has taken the form of an
`original' artwork in galleries and museums including Tate Britain (`Rude
Britannia', 2010; 59,821 visitors) and Imperial War Museum (`Catalyst:
Contemporary Art and War', 2013-14); a much-reproduced image in diverse
branches of the press (British Medical Journal, 2006; British Journal of
Photography, 2008 and many others); the cover of a book (Art & Agenda
- Political Art and Activism by R. Klanten et al., Gestalten 2011); an
animated public projection close to the site of the Iraq Enquiry (Chilcot
Enquiry) in London, organised by Stop the War Coalition (January 2011) and
widely reported in the press. Esteemed campaigning journalist John Pilger
employed Photo-op in his documentary, `The War You Don't See' (cinema
release/ITV broadcast, 2010), writing `This piece occupies a vital place
in the film, shortly before its end, and has been remarked upon
enthusiastically across the world' [s5.10]. The image was adapted by the
National Theatre, London to promote a 2009 production of Brecht's `Mother
Courage'. Guardian art critic, Jonathan Jones's assessment of this
multifaceted process of remediation is that this image has had a
remarkable `influence on the way how that war is remembered' [s5.9].
Sources to corroborate the impact
Copies of all sources to corroborate the impact are available from the
HEI upon request. All URLs last accessed: 22/11/13.
5.1) Letter from Publishing Director, Tate (dated 13/09/13).
5.2) Letter from former Political Affairs Officer for the United Nations
5.3) Letter from Curator of `Embedded Art' at the Akademie der Künste,
Berlin in 2009 (dated 26/08/13).
5.4) Alan Ingram `Art and the geopolitical: Remapping security at green
zone/red zone' in Alan Ingram, Klaus Dodds, eds., Spaces of Security and
Insecurity. Geographies of the War on Terror (Ashgate, 2011), 257-78.
5.5) Letter from the Campaigns Manager for Amnesty International (dated
5.6) International press for exhibition at The Mosaic Rooms, London
(2012), including CNN: <http://edition.cnn.com/2012/04/20/world/meast/iraq-artist-george-bush-shoe-thrower/>;
The Tripoli Post: <http://www.tripolipost.com/articledetail.asp?c=4&i=8530>;
5.7) Letter from Herbert Art Gallery Exhibitions and Events Officer
5.8) Dr Stephen Deuchar, Director of Art Fund, announcement on the Art
Fund website (31/04/11), <http://www.artfund.org/news/2011/03/31/new-works-for-herberts-peace-and-reconciliation-collection>.
5.9) Jonathan Jones, `The Tony Blair 'selfie' Photo Op will have a place
in history', in The Guardian (15/10/13).
5.10) Letter from Journalist and Filmmaker (dated 18/09/13).