“I am obsessed with the theatricality of liveness as a means of communicating across borders of all kinds,” is how California-born, Berlin-based artist Richard Kennedy describes themself in order to present their new exhibition, Libretto Accidentale. Where and when? At the Peres Projects gallery in Milan, until December 16, 2022. This is their first solo exhibition in this space, and they have been preparing for this show since last year. Starting from the question “how do I make La Scala my boo?” the artist began to shape an exhibition that we can now enjoy. Their ultimate goal? People have fun and get excited.
Having shifted to oil paint for this exhibition, Kennedy refers to their new project, Libretto Accidentale, as an absolute liberation over self-obliteration. In this exhibition, they examine how opera travels through time and space, how it engages and is influenced by different cultures. An interesting trip that now they tell us about. We also talk about their upcoming projects with which they to be feeling extremely alive. “And a new continent next winter,” they tell us.
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Richard, could you please briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
She is us. We are him. They are we. All is one. I am so thankful to be beyond survival, they thrive. To fully be alive. We are existing at the same time, which is miraculous. I am obsessed with the theatricality of liveness as a means of communicating across borders of all kinds.
Before we get into Libretto Accidentale, your first solo exhibition with Peres Projects in Milan, I would like to know how you are and where you are answering us from. How are the last few months of 2022 going for you?
It's 10:34 am in Milan. I arrived yesterday from Berlin, exhausted but inspired. 2022 has been the most polarising year of my life, but luckily I thrive in extreme conditions. In the midst of really intense and incredible career acceleration, the world has gone through a collective transformation. The return to my own centre has sharpened the focus of my work, and that return to self has opened an infinite portal of creative possibility.
What balance do you make of this year? Has it been especially important in your professional career? What have been the most outstanding moments?
Professionally, this year has been amazing and overwhelming. Bringing my dreams into reality has been one of the most rewarding and humbling experiences. With a new season of blessings comes new challenges, and I have learned to balance work and integrate healing into all. I spent about 2 weeks in Brazil this summer and that was life-changing. I participated in a workshop Dancing at the Source and was so lucky to study with Vera Pasos in Bahia – in one class she shook the core of my performance practice. I also curated a queer performance festival on Fire Island with some of the world's most incredible performance artists, and presented a new opera, Reverencé, with Kyle Kidd, Fernando Casablancas, Jonah Almost, Haajia Soori, Maxi Hawke Canyon and Reed Rushes, as part of the festival. It was hands-down my favourite performance experience ever. I flew back to Sao Paolo for my opening at Mendes Wood, and it was a lot but looking back. I'm like, go off!
Do you feel that the global health crisis, or the isolation as a result of the pandemic, has somehow affected your way of seeing and interpreting the world, and therefore your art?
I moved to Berlin 3 months before the pandemic with very little notice. I rushed to get out of New York before the lockdown, arrived at my flat in Berlin and finally had a moment to pause after working nonstop for 20 plus years. I still remember the feeling of being low-key happy that we would all finally be able to process and reflect on a former reality. Moving to Berlin to imagine an opera without an audience initially; I was both thankful for the time to rest and worried about the future of live theatre. The pandemic levelled the hierarchies of seeing, giving us all front-row seats to shows all around the world. Often for free or for symbolic fees. The nosebleed section disappeared and reinvented itself in a global sickness that has since made me incredibly grateful for the power of liveness each time I perform.
From eight shows a week to eight shows a year is a big shock, but it finally gave me space to actually interpret the world, think about art on a much deeper level, and ask myself much bigger and more interesting questions while also growing as a person.
You were born in Long Beach, California, but currently live in Berlin. When did your first approach to the art world take place?
The world is art, and art is the world. I was born on April 18, 1985, and from the moment my spirit re-entered the matrix, creativity was born.
Do you remember the first artwork you made? What comes to mind when you think about it?
The first artwork I made was a song I wrote in my first computer lab class that was inspired by a song from music class. “There’s a little drum a beating in my heart.” I transcribed the lyrics as I heard them, and writing this I realise that was my first libretto. My older siblings Monae and De’Ante still make fun of me, but now I'm like, “look at me noooooow sis.”
Your recent solo exhibitions include Kunsthalle Winterthur, Cfhill, Patricia Low Gallery and Peres Projects Berlin, among others. What do you enjoy more, solo or collective exhibitions? Is the way of working very different between them?
I like them both for very different reasons. A group show allows me to be in conversation with other artists and meet interesting people from around the world and gives a wider perspective which as a person I deeply appreciate. As I get more confident and let go of fear, I love the solo show. With the opportunity to take over a space and focus on a single idea of my choice, it pushes me to dig deeper and look further which as an artist is the most valuable type of creating. I am a bit of a contrarian and within a solo show I can ask questions directly and in secret, engaging with the audience, but also at times sending them on a wild goose chase.
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You now debut at the Peres Projects gallery in Milan with your solo exhibition Libretto Accidentalle, in which you examine how opera travels through time and space, and how it engages, influences, and is in turn influenced by different cultures. When did you start working on this project?
I’ve been preparing for this show since last year. When the Milan space opened, I was so hyped and waiting for my turn to turn into another fashion capital. I'm mixy in life and medium, and I worked as a casting assistant for Massimo Cuviello, who is from Milan and taught me so much. The opportunity to present an opera and flip the form on its head here excited and terrified me... I’m obsessed with the complex layers of American decay symbolised by Renee Flemming getting boo’d at La Scala, so I was like: “How do I make La Scala my boo?”
If you had to define this exhibition in a single sentence, what would it be?
Cinderella is on the steps of the palace, she doesn’t need a prince, and she made it home safe with her custom Miss Claire Sullivan gown and air force ones.
It includes painted works as well as a staged contemporary opera, doesn't it? What can those who come to visit the gallery expect?
I hope people have fun and get excited. Art can be so stiff. We snapped with the new video work and you enter a blood-red room. Universally red means stop… but I'm like never stop, keep going, keep growing, keep weaving, keep connecting… in a place built to exclude me, on the backs of my ancestors.
You also articulate your experiences as a Black queer performer in the exhibition, right? Could you tell us more about this?
I'm an artist, black queer performer is the least interesting thing at this point. I’m a human and a creative. I’m less interested in talking about clickbait articles that talk about my asexual life.
And what about the technique, how has the development process of this new solo exhibition been?
I shifted to oil paint for this exhibition. It has been a wild and bumpy ride, but I have found my way and discovered a new way of painting in the maze which is the slippery patience required to work with oil paint.
What has Libretto Accidentalle meant for you?
Freedom. Not free doom. Liberation over self-obliteration, period.
Is there anything you can tell us about your next projects? Any other exhibition you are already working on?
Zeferina, zeferina, zeferina! LA December 17 and a new continent next winter. I am incredibly blessed and learning to manage stress which is the biggest project of all. I am running out to my first opening of two in Milan feeling, overwhelmed and nervous, but all of these feelings let me know I am alive, and you are too. Viva liveness.
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