The artist David Kemp lives and works on the far western coast of Cornwall, among the old mine workings near Botallack. He finds material for his work in rich seams of junk, appearing here and there at boot fairs, but adding up, in the imagination, to something like that mysterious productive heap of dust in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend. In fact there is an almost Dickensian breadth of vision, richness of character and sharpness of observation in Kemp’s work.
David Kemp’s work is serious fun: serious, because his intention is to tackle our folly and or materialist excesses and fun because he is a master of life-enhancing humour.
Driven by his own apocalyptic and subversive vision, he makes sculpture from the disregarded bits and pieces left by successive consumer boom. These remains point out the awful truth – that we value trash and are seduced again and again by the trumped-up new. Technology that is phoney, or only half understood, is grasped at for answers to our needs. In pursuit of the largest thing, it becomes impossible to tell real technological advances from the dead-ends.
This point is made for this exhibition particularly by reference to electricity. The rush to harness the power of frog’s legs, to make hair stand on end or capture lightning were all so far beside the point – of course we know now, but in Kemp’s alternative world they have a different and more telling relevance. By making what might have been, or should have been, invented he mirrors universal human weaknes.