No hay nada más turbador que los retratos de Richard Kern. Hasta los desnudos de las chicas más bellas son insolentemente provocadores, pero no a la manera Playboy, repleta de cuerpos artificiales, sino como metáforas de una llamada animal a ser consoladas, o escuchadas en sus desgarros internos. Está también en esos otros posados ligeros de ropa, el arrebato, la chulería, el desafío, los más sucios deseos…Por toda esta introspección psicológica desfila el objetivo de Richard Kern que marca a su bestiario de una manera única, distinguible, auténtica.
No en vano, Richard Kern (Carolina del Norte, EE. UU., 1954) es un cazador de esa escena íntima y poco convencional del mundo de las celebridades estadounidenses. Tan barroco y tan bizarro en algunos casos. Y es, ante todo, un retratista de los que captan el alma de tigre de esos ángeles caídos de los altares de la moda, la música y la gran pantalla. Veáse algunos de los que están: Marilyn Manson, Bruce La Bruce, Nick Cave o Marina Abramovich. Todos interesantes en sus singularísimos perfiles artísticos y en sus más orondos o escuálidos retazos de sí mismos.
Kern hace del objeto de su fotografía el espacio psicológico entre el modelo, el fotógrafo y el público. Con su sobriedad y su enfoque, subraya lo absurdo de la verdad y la objetividad en la fotografía mientras juega con nuestra confianza sobre las taxonomías que rodean la representación sexual».
Habría que recordar más, para subrayar el relieve del personaje convocado ya que Kern es un colaborador habitual de las revistas Vice y Purple y ha publicado 11 libros, algunos de ellos con la editorial Taschen. Sus películas y fotografías han sido exhibidas en el MOMA, el Museo Whitney y se han podido ver en más de 30 exposiciones individuales en todo el mundo.
ENG: Richard Kern is known these days for his images of nude or lightly clad images of nymphettes in various stages of undress or postured sexual congress. However, Kern’s major contribution to the annals of late twentieth-century art are indebted to the cinematic, notably as one of the main agents of the Cinema of Transgression. The COT was a small, nearly secularized movement in New York City during the 1980’s and 1990’s. The active members were film-makers, musicians and artists who wanted to explore the themes of taboo and rebellion against the often stifling morality of God Fearing Christian America. Termed “The Cinema of Transgression” by film-maker Nick Zedd, its loose affiliation of artists included Sonic Youth, Lydia Lunch, Tommy Turner, Lung Leg, Zedd, Kern and David Wojnarowicz. The Cinema of Transgression is characterized by a very specific time and place in New York when the lower east side, hells kitchen, and the long walk home from a night out was perhaps different than its overly sanitized and capital induced version of today. This time and place had a seething potential of danger, which bred infinite possibilities and a chokehold moral discourse for which to rebel against. The aids epidemic, Reganism, Tele-evangelical America and the rank tides of conformity created a maelstorm in which Kern and the others would find their voices against the sea of homegeniety.
Fortnight Institute in New York will be hosting a selection of Kern’s Polaroid work from the time succinctly entitled “Polarized” in September. The works on display are akin to musical notes from the period of the Cinema of Transgression and could be likened to a opening biographical Film score of the era if one existed. The works are different from the images that Kern currently produces and have a particular sense of nostalgia about them, even if the images depict people covered in blood, some sexualized gun play and the odds and ends of cultural detritus swept up into glorified and transformed innuendos of rebellion and youthful anger. The archival impulse and visionary agenda of showing these works at Fortnight Institute is a graceful salutation to Kern’s important career. Looking into the history of the artist, Fortnight have grasped the uncanny and the arcane within and have again proven themselves trailblazers at looking past the trends of current and over-hyped art world currency by producing a show of considering the historical paradigm of an important auteur.
On a personal note, I had found Kern’s “New York Girls” very early in my own development. I remember having to order a copy of the book at a Barnes and Noble in Wisconsin, the land of Dahmer and Ed Gein. Upon arriving to pick that and “Body and Soul” up by Andres Serrano in 1996, I remember both books were behind the counter and their covers wrapped in white printing paper. It was as if the covers alone could contaminate the other orders on the shelf. There was a moment of prideful reflection of my burgeoning taste.
BF: A Lot has changed since the 80’s and 90’s, the moral panic that infiltrated American society, in particular within the arts with responses to grants and the NEA being nearly destroyed overnight had led to what is still considered the “culture wars” in America. Your work in those days was focused not only on the body as conduit for implicit terror, but there was also an adage perhaps to Antonin Artaud or the Vienna Aktionists- an abject theater of the absurd. Have things changed considerably within the discourse of American morality since?
RK: I think the policing of American morality has now shifted from the government to social media. It seems that we are entering a new era in which everyone will be afraid to speak freely because they will face heavy attacks from often misinformed social media trolls.
I’ve heard some amazing stories from 20 year olds in which they made a random remark on a platform that stirs up a firestorm among their “friends” or followers. It’s happened to me and I’m 61.
I never applied for the NEA or anything like that so the disappearance of those institutions has no effect on me.
“If anything the entire movement (my films at least) was anti-sex or about how sexual desire and relationships fuck up everything.”
BF: Do you think the cinema of transgression still has a current and contemporary platform outside of nostalgia or can we consider it predominantly of a very specific time and place, notably New York in the 80s and early 90s? My own inclination is with the advance of pornography’s distribution via the Internet, that most of what was taboo is now becoming something more streamlined or commonplace…
RK: For me the COT happened at a very specific time and place and that would be around 1983-1990 in NYC.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the COT had anything to do with pornography. If anything the entire movement (my films at least) was anti-sex or about how sexual desire and relationships fuck up everything.
BF: That was not my intent, but rather to speak about some of the obvious contemporary taboos being transgressed via Internet saturation and the common rabbit holes thereof.
I’ve been reading quite a bit about the “Satanic Panic” epidemic in America…the West Memphis Three, Ricky Kasso, and Richard Ramirez…I know Wojnarowicz had played with these ideas in his film with Tommy Turner “Where evil Dwells”, and when I look at some of your polaroids and some of the early imagery associated with the “scene” you were involved in…I see links to fighting against spirituality, the body, sex, voyeurism, orthodox religion and the moral crusading of Reganism in America, followed up by Tipper Gore’s PMRC in music…did any of this affect you personally? Did you find any inspiration in the insipid transference of American fundamentalism at the time as it related to your work?
RK: The Satan headlines era and the PMRC were both amusing in that people took all that stuff so seriously at the time. I didn’t deal with those topics so much and neither did David Wojnarowitz -” Where Evil Dwells” and “Simonland” (a film inspired by the PMRC) came from the brain of Tommy Turner. He also put out a fanzine called REDRUM that focused on all that stuff.
My scene was so small that no one in the government really paid attention to anything we were doing. The only police encounter I had was with Canadian Customs. Around 1991 they seized one of my tapes at the border because they thought it contained kiddie porn (the woman in question was 30 years old). Some friends of mine in Europe told me they had been picked up by the police and questioned about my activities. I guess my mail was being monitored etc. Of course this scared the hell out of me and prompted me to get proof of age and model releases from everyone I had ever worked with. I still get releases and proof of age from everyone I work with.
I also had a lot of trouble with screenings of FINGERED on one tour (1986) through Europe. Male feminists shut down several screenings in Germany based on their advance perception of a movie that no one had seen. And the first film I made, “Goodbye 42nd Street” wasn’t allowed to be shown in an open screening at an alternative arts organization here in 1983 (ABC No RIO) because it “promoted the wrong values”. There were lots of these kinds of incidents. (By Brad Feuerhelm)