If the latest zombie craze has taught me anything, it’s that you have to be ready. I myself have a pretty great zombie attack plan, one that uses the local geography to keep me and my friends alive mostly by hiding. But Coby Kennedy isn’t content with hiding, he wants to take the fight to the streets, using part of the street.
The Brooklyn-based artist has taken to fashioning street signs into weapons for any post-apocalyptic world. Part Mad-Max, part found object art, and part political commentary, Kennedy’s work is dangerous in more ways than one. Like the greatest of apocalyptic art, Kennedy’s pieces speak to the present more than they do to any specific future. “It’s based on a narrative which reflects contemporary situations,” Kennedy said recently in an interview with Complex, “A lot of the street signs are from places in Brooklyn that have history and weight, places that are losing that particular culture.” The threat, a common concern all over the Five Boroughs, is homogenization and gentrification, the swapping of low-income housing for trend and coffee shops. While his art looks part of a desperate future, Kennedy insists it’s part of a desperate present. After all, how many times have we seen Brooklyn and New York destroyed in TV, movies, and books? And in how many ways? Preparing for the future is perhaps impossible. Kennedy’s project shows the present is perhaps more frightening than anything Hollywood can concoct.
Unlike those swords you find in stores, be they katanas or replicas of movie props, Kennedy’s street sign weapons are legitimately dangerous. The machetes will actually saw through another human. The shields will hurt if you get smacked in the head. These pieces, however, are part of a larger narrative Kennedy is creating though various media, not relying on a single method or means to tell his story to anyone willing to look, hear, or participate. All of them are instead part of a weird narrative that spreads into many different places. Many artists have a similar theme, look, or feel, but Kennedy is building the same story with each of his projects, be it his hyper-realistic post-apocalyptic paintings, gun vending machines, and now his dangerous weapons made from scrap are all part of that same vision, that same universe of Apocalypse.
Many of Kennedy’s fellow New York artists have taken their trades from the street to the gallery. In fact, many of New York’s successful artists rely on the fine art world now to make their living, but Kennedy’s post-apocalypse narrative project is the first I’ve seen to actually look at and interrogate that movement from street to gallery. After all, his story is told in disconnected parts: a machete in someone’s living room here, a gun vending machine there, a painting hanging in a gallery elsewhere. They are all part of the story and it requires the “readers” to traverse different spaces and times.
But while Kennedy’s art does look at the present through a vision of the future. He’s quick to remind us that the Apocalypse is fluid and may mean different things for different people: “When is the Apocalypse? Ask a Native American, he’ll say, ‘It already happened. All my friends are dead,’” He said in a recent interview with Animal New York, “Ask a black man 150 years ago, he’ll say, ‘That was Tuesday. The end of the world is my life right now.’ And what about the Bubonic Plague?”