The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.
Sable Elyse Smith: Much of your practice thinks through commodity and distribution as it relates to music and the internet; fissures in intimacy; and systems of control both physical and invisible. In a deft performance work from 2013, Untitled-Clefa, you lay face down on the ground, a bag of Skittles in hand, a few scattered about, beside an Arizona Iced Tea. The image of course is that of the body of Trayvon Martin after his murder at the hands of George Zimmerman.
The duration of the performance is tied to Migos’s “Versace Versace” looped four times, once more than the trinity. I understand that this work was performed in Mexico City. Can you talk a bit about how the work may have shifted or resonated performed in that context?
Devin Kenny: It was in Mexico City at a great space called Biquini Wax right after the miscarriage of justice in the US. I knew that there would be a range of ways to interpret it there, and I knew that the Trayvon Martin case didn't have as much weight there as it did in the U.S. but I did it, one because I refused to feel helpless and upset just because I was isolated as a Black American, and two, because of an experience in Mexico City where I was on the train during rush hour[s] and there was a little boy, no more than twelve who was splayed out on the floor of the train car. People walked around him, stepped over him for multiple stops (I was headed to Preteen Gallery with two friends), and as rush hour closed in, it became more and more crowded, and I noticed he hadn't moved and I was freaking out, asking my friend who had lived in DF for a few years what I should do, thinking I should get off the train, pick up the boy and take him to one of the several police officers in the train station and talk to them (despite their rifles et cetera). His fingers were blackened with something, and I assumed maybe he was a shoe shine boy or something, when my friend said that he was probably passed out from huffing some drug. Finally two tall businessmen walked onto the train and one, needing the standing room, lightly kicked the boy a few times with his wingtip, and he immediately got up, as though from a nap, though with black stains on his nose and lips and groggy eyes. So I felt that even if the Trayvoning meme component wouldn't read there, this prostrate body on the ground would have other kinds of resonances, perhaps more specific to the place. The American audience members talked to me afterwards very teary-eyed, and those unfamiliar with Trayvon Martin afterwards just seemed perturbed that I was blocking the door to get to the roof so long. I sensed many bodies stepping over me for the course of the performance, though my eyes were closed, I could sense the light change and hear the footfalls, some conscientious, others more matter of fact.
SES: And what is the significance of that juxtaposition: Migos and Trayvoning?