Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

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All Articles
I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more dialogue

Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

Between a Lowe’s and Home Depot on a stretch of highway littered with drive-thrus and big-box behemoths in Ann Arbor, Michigan’s outskirts, artist Matt Kenyon’s warehouse studio couldn’t be more poetically positioned. He’s spent his career exploring the effects of large conglomerate culture. In his workspace, which he describes as a “land of misfit toys,” the multi-disciplinarian employs sculpture and software to design pieces he hopes transform the everyday so that viewers see things with new eyes. That has meant everything from living in Wal-Mart for 24 continuous hours for “Walmartathon,” a piece made entirely using items purchased that day, to micro-printing names of Iraqi civilians killed as a result of the US invasion to make up lines on legal paper in “The Notepad.”

“I smuggle these tablets of paper into the stationery supplies of the US and coalition governments, where it goes under the noses of politicians who authorized the use of force, and I give it out freely to individual civilians so they can use the paper to write letters to Congress, to kind of smuggle it in through the front door,” says the University of Michigan professor. At the STAMP School of Art and Design, where he teaches game design and app development, his students have recently been creating apps for adolescent diabetes, as ways of gamifying and building positive culture around health problems. “What that has in common with my work is novel and creative uses of technology to reframe problems in ways that allow for small groups or individuals to make a difference,” says Kenyon, whose pieces strive to do more than simply raise awareness. “I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more [dialogue].”

Growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Kenyon, 38, was equally inspired by the DIY punk aesthetic of the Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra and his seminal quote “Don’t hate the media—become the media” and Mark Pauline of Survival Research Laboratories, who “talked about…using technology in non-utilitarian and creative ways, wrestling it away from specific industry intent.”

A perfect synthesis of those influences courses through his latest series “Giant Pool of Money,” inspired by the recent financial collapse and bailout. One piece, a large champagne glass pyramid evoking Marie Antoinette-levels of opulence provides an “interesting diagram for the theory of trickledown economics”—but with a twist. The coin-operated project replaces viewers’ real currency with specially minted tokens that melt at body temperature. “They’re transported to the top of this pyramid where they’re selectively warmed and then right before your eyes the familiar form of money melts and trickles down, forming a kind of liquid metal monster from science fiction.”

Illustration by Jason Ratliff, images courtesy of Matt Kenyon

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