Whitehot Magazine

Interview with Kennedy Yanko by Noah Becker

 Artist Kennedy Yanko. Photo by Noemad.

, June 2019

Kennedy Yanko is a Brooklyn based sculptor, I went to her studio and we had a long conversation about her work. It was great to get a first-hand tour of the studio and some insights into Yanko's personality and how she manages to thrive in the New York art world.  

Noah Becker: Do you make drawings or plans before making a sculpture?

Kennedy Yanko: I collect images, textures and sensations that move me. When I embark on a a new project I draw from this archive. From there, I’ll introduce color and determine possible palettes. Putting the storyboard together is a vital step in making the idea tangible. Recently I’ve been submitting proposals for public projects--which is a completely different beast. These plans are more surgical. You’re not philosophizing about possibilities, but rather digging into the minutiae. 

Becker: How do you think about using color? 

Yanko: I think of color in the same way that I think of abstraction. I believe teaching and using abstraction as an intuitive tool creates opportunity for people to reach parts of themselves that aren’t always easy to access, and that we aren’t encouraged to access. When we reteach people to feel things--how to feel more connected--they have a better understanding of the world around them. How can we ask children to care about the planet if they have no connection to it? Color, thus, is a tool that evokes sensorium. It draws us in and engages us, stimulating a bond in the present moment. It’s there, in that present moment, that we have the opportunity to evolve. I view color, and the formal traits of abstraction, to be conduits to this greater cause and often overlooked discourse. 

Becker: Who’s your favorite artist?

Yanko: I’m attracted to the rebels--the ones challenging limitations within the realm of art and furthering its impact on society: Olafur Eliasson, Ann Hamilton, Theaster Gates. I have a deep appreciation for creators who integrate the development of society into their conversations. My friends Jon Gray (Ghetto Gastro), Kerby Jean-Raymond  (Pyer Moss) Craig Dykers (Snoetta) are social sculptors, pushing the boundaries within their industries and writing new narratives using food, fashion, and architecture as conduits. But if we’re talking classic makers... This past year I have been loving Anne Truitt, Angel Otero, Leonardo Drew, Doreen Garner, Sam Moyer, Hugo Mccloud, Firelei Beaz, Jessica Stockholder, and Tara Donovan. These are mostly living artists, the last couple years I’ve become captivated by art that is happening now, and enjoy learning from my peers and contemporary artists.  

Becker: Mark Bradford and Theaster Gates are some of my favorite artists. Would you ever consider practicing the kind of social change that Mark and Theaster (among others), are engaging with? 

Yanko: I was raised to go “figure it out.” Self awareness and conscious acts are the beginning to the end product. 

In 2010, I dug into this idea of “figuring it out” while doing a civil engagement residency with Rick Lowe at Atlantic Center for the Arts. At the time, I was living and working at The Living Theatre and was painting abstractly on canvas. I hadn’t encountered the concept of “social practice” in art before then. I learned to address the needs of the community by looking to the community for answers. It’s a responsive conversation similar to what takes place in the studio with my sculptures. It’s funny, you know, We’ve created all of these structures to supposedly support people, and we think they are truth.  

At the moment, I’m focused on building my practice and my community. I think everything starts small; I work with my friends, we share and grow together...and will hopefully be in positions to facilitate what those around us need for expansion. 

I’ve never considered legacy before, but in talking about community, I do have a vision of what that might look like. When I first started making work it was just about making and getting that out of my body. But as time has gone on, the work has turned into something bigger than my own private cathartic act. A responsibility comes along with having your work in a public arena. I feel more so now than ever a desire to show up for people, specifically women, and to make a point to be archived in history. As a woman of color I have to protect my work and my story in order to preserve the inches in progress we’ve made up until this point, and as a salute of respect for those who paved the way for us to be where we are today. 

I think that if we focus on gestures of human solidarity and make small everyday changes, it wouldn’t be as overwhelming to figure out beginning steps for how to adjust our trajectory. Regardless, activation is essential and it begins with your relationship with yourself and the choices you make on a daily basis. 

Becker: Explain how you stay physically, mentally and socially sane and healthy in the New York art world?

Yanko: I am painstakingly organized. I’ve found a lot of liberation in discipline and learned stamina can always be built. Not only in my practice, but my life in general. When things are moving like a well-oiled machine, there’s more space and time for me to create. I try to move my body in the morning and meditate, and I’m careful with my energy - if I’m heavy in the studio, I disappear from everyone. My group text will often get an alert that I’ll be MIA for a month or two while I shift focus entirely to my work. Ultimately though, the support systems I have--my friends, family, and connection with source --are what keep me above water. I get intensely focused and they’ll be like, let’s go have dinner, or go to a party or something, and it actually helps my work by taking space from it and coming back. I try to do most things in a balanced fashion while keeping this thing that I’ve been doing at the forefront of my mind. You know, art life. WM


Noah Becker

Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023. 


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