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INTERVIEW

kenly craighill

october 5, 2017

richmond, virginia



Ava: Do you consider yourself more of a cat or a dog?
Kenly: I would like to be more like a dog. I try to be more like a person that is like a dog, but I think I have some cat tendencies.
Adele: [laughing] You sound so guilty.
Kenly: I like cats! But you know, everyone wants to be a dog person. I like cats, I have a cat, but my cat is an ass. My cat’s the cat that sucks.
Ava: Everyone wants to be the super-friendly, extroverted, jumping on everyone--
Kenly: Yeah, exactly, like, I’m so fun! loyal! free! Man’s best friend!
Adele: Cats don’t give a fuck. It makes you more of a dog if you do give a fuck.
Kenly: Or does that make me more of a cat, because I give a fuck? I’m like the cat who’s really good friends with the dog in the house. The dog’s like, that cat’s not like the mean cat that i see on tv! that’s a cooler cat.
Adele: That’s like a Youtube cat.
Kenly: Yes! Exactly. I’m like a Youtube cat.
Ava: The cat that’s like, riding around on the dog’s back.
Kenly: Yes, that’s me. That’s perfect. Cat plays piano. I feel like I got somewhere with that.



Ava: What’s your studio beverage of choice?
Kenly: Honestly, I don’t drink when I’m here. Water? I’m so dehydrated all the time. I should choose a beverage so I have it here and I hydrate. I guess nothing. Dehydration is my studio beverage of choice.
Adele: The desert of the cosmic mothership.
Ava: I like that. Very minimalist.
Kenly: That’s how I live my life. I keep it clean. For my brand. [laughing]

Adele: If you could describe your studio practice as a party, what would you say about it?
Ava: What would the party be?
Kenly: The kind of party where it’s like, “what time are you going?”
“I don’t know, what time are you going?”
“I don’t know, so and so’s already there, they said we should come…”
“What are you wearing?”
“I don’t know…”
And everybody shows up. No one was really thinking they were going to the same party. But they’re all here at this party. And it’s like… not that fun! But people are there. Maybe it will get fun.
Ava: But you showed up.

Kenly: Yeah, you’re there. Maybe somebody is a DJ and they start playing really good songs, and everyone’s like, this is good! And you’re like, yeah, this is good. I don’t even care that I wore a costume and it wasn’t a costume party.
Adele: And someone’s like, look at that ladybug busting a move over there--
Kenly: Yeah, yeah! I’m in my ballgown, I thought this was formal. Someone else is like, “I came here from work. I’m drinking a Four Loco. I didn’t know!” Is there food here? There are some saltines in the fridge.
Adele: And there’s no water.
Kenly: But there’s a market down the street. And maybe someone will get to the market get more drinks. Yeah, it’s got room to grow as a party.
Ava: That reminds me of that feeling of getting home after work, and you know that there’s a party going on later, and you’re texting your friends, you don’t really want to go, but you feel like you have to text and ask, “are you going?”
Kenly: Yeah, it’s like, “well if we’re going, we need to go kinda now…”
Ava: It’s like, do I want to leave home?
Kenly: Do I have to change?
Ava: And then you get there, and it’s like, ok, this could be good.
Kenly: Or maybe, it’s like a three day party, where some nights are lame, but then there’s one prime night. You know in high school when someone’s parents would go out of town and you’d have a party the whole weekend? It’s got a lot of stagnant, awkward periods. You’re thinking, “am I going to kiss someone tonight?” and then you do. And it’s not good, but you write about it later in your diary.
Adele: Because it’s so thrilling.



Ava: What is your idea of romance? Or, what does romance mean to you?
Adele: And does it play into your work, or not?
Kenly: No. It does not play into my work. I see it as like, I romanticize this thing that’s happening, not like, oh my god! that’s so romantic that they both did that. Or it will be like, I’m in this place, and the sun’s perfect, and it seems like something out of a movie, and this song is playing, and it’s so romantic. I feel like this work is the opposite of that. Chopped up and not right. This is not romantic, at all. I don’t know.. a Christmas tree! It’s dark, and you’re home. You’re like, wow, that Christmas tree looks so good, it’s the perfect light in here, and things like that feel very romantic to me. Super nostalgic--
Ava: Kind of like a coziness?
Kenly: Yeah.
Adele: Or a rosiness?
Kenly: There’s a word that starts with an S that I can’t think of that’s the perfect word for what i’m thinking. That’s what it is. But yeah, rosy is a good description.
Ava: And then that becomes your own personal vision--
Kenly: Right. romance to me is very individual. I’m not like, wow, that date I had the other night was so romantic.
Ava: Right, like flowers and chocolate?
Kenly: Yeah, for me I’m like, “what?! That is so weird you just did that.” Like, “that’s so nice! I’m surprised! A nice gift that you gave me!” But I don’t equate it with romance. For me, I equate romance with ambient lighting. I go to the Christmas tree, or the candle, or the bath. You know, my mom listening to music in the bathtub with candles.
Adele: It seems like it’s saved for a different generation. There’s nostalgia there. Your parents are romantic.
Kenly: This could never be romantic, but in ten years I’ll look back and be like, wow, that was so romantic.
Adele: You said that you romanticize things…
Kenly: Yeah. I think the only way that I see romance is because I’m romanticizing these things. That hype of that Christmas tree and what that means and this low light of the Christmas tree and creeping around at night. All this stuff is very contextual and romanticized. I think that’s kind of sad.
Adele: No, that’s ok. Romance is flimsy but also--
Kenly: Right! It’s driving. That’s the perfect word. It’s always wanting something to be what you want it to be. People really differentiate romanticizing something versus something being romantic. People pretend like they don’t mean the same thing but they really have a lot to do with each other.





Adele: Our follow-up question to that is what is your vision of intimacy? How do you feel intimacy in your work?
Kenly: I don’t feel like this is intimate work, because of this idea that i have of intimacy, or what I want intimacy to be. I can look at these things and think to myself, this is not that. Because the lights aren’t low. You know? That’s how I really see it. For me, intimacy is not always romantic. I think everyone would agree. I’m thinking of just being by yourself. That, I think, is intimacy. That’s how I see it. Or, when you have that feeling that you’re by yourself with another person. Then it’s like, ok, this is intimate. But it’s really that feeling when you’re by yourself and you’re getting all like, up in your feelings. You know? I remember being a kid and laying in bed and thinking all of these things that could happen. That felt very intimate.
Ava: I love the idea of intimacy being a personal, private thing. Intimacy with yourself is so nice.
Adele: I also love the idea of intimacy as a divination. Thinking of all the things that could happen.
Kenly: Like a romanticized idea. I remember being little--not little, but like, sixth grade--and imagining, what if i played a sport? I never played a sport. What if I played a sport and I broke my back? And then somebody would come in and put ice on my leg. And it would literally be that thought: somebody could come and ask, are you ok? Do you need some ice? And I would build it up like, yeah, one day… someone will care about me…
Adele: There’s something so nice about this storytelling--
Kenly: --to yourself! Yeah. That’s what I think of when I think about intimacy. And you still do that in different ways.
Ava: Like fantasy, in a sense. Fantasizing.





Adele: Can you tell us a little bit about what you have been making?
Kenly: So these are body bags. Like, punch bags. I’m calling them body bags in my head, because they’re a little bit smaller than me but roughly around that size. I’m going to hang them from the ceiling the way a punching bag is hung. That’s what I’m working on here. I was really working on text for a recent zine for a while. Not just for that, but I had this chunk of text that I was figuring out how I could split up. I feel like these bags are kind of a physical manifestation of what’s happening in that zine, which is very much about the body, and hatred of body. Body being a high maintenance thing to have to have.

Ava: Can you talk more about that idea of a body being a high maintenance thing to have to have? And also about the body being a hated thing? Or how those two ideas might overlap?
Kenly: Yeah. Just having to think about having a body. Not everybody is this way. But for me, ever since I was a kid, it’s been a constant cycle of “what do I look like? how do I look right now? Is this how other people look? Is this how much i should weigh? Should I be this tall? Are my boobs too big?” If I had to make a pie chart of the thoughts that I’ve had in my life, what chunk would those thoughts take up? Probably a big chunk. And that’s a big weight to bear for something you walk around in. Your body works, if you’re lucky. I guess as a kid you’re like, well, I’ll grow up, and turn into this person. Or like, ooh, once I lose this baby fat… you know? You have these ideas. All of a sudden you’re 22 and you’re like, well, this is just what I look like. I’m not going to hit puberty and be really hot afterward. I hit puberty and now I look like this. And figuring out what that means and what to do with that. Where to put that.



Adele: How does your process transfer those thoughts when you’re making these?
Kenly: I’m clearly not very concerned about A+ craftsmanship. Maybe it should, or maybe it will later. I think that’s an interesting conversation when you can make something that can look really good--and I’m still too lazy to do that. In this format. Maybe laziness isn’t the right word, but for this conversation i’m trying to have, asking questions like, is it lazy to not be this person that I thought I would be post-adolescence? Like the way that they’re just kind of slapped together, and that not even being that intentional. These have the same feeling as looking in the mirror and being like, whaa-a-a-a-a-aaat? Is this?
Ava: That’s what I was going to say, it kind of reflects the inevitable imperfections of the body that everyone has to carry around.
Kenly: Yeah. It seems like people think that if you are progressive and somebody came up to you and was like, “yeah, I’m feeling this way about my body,” you’d be like, “what?! Welcome to the world! It doesn’t matter! You know? Haven’t you heard? No one cares! You can do whatever you want!” I want to say, that’s not it. I feel that way and I still look in the mirror and I feel this way. It’s not internalized at all.
Adele: It’s a practice to internalize it.
Kenly: Right. Real practice. Work. You have to work to do it.
Adele: Otherwise a week goes by and you’re like, oh wow, I’ve just thought about how ridiculous I look in this meat suit like a hundred times.
Kenly: That’s so real. It just feels like a burden. I feel like so many people have said that, like, the body is such a burden to hold, we’re all just souls! I don’t think that’s it. It feels more like a break-up that you can’t get over. That’s what it feels like to me. Why am I not moving past this? Why am I still not over this? This one thing?



Adele: How is this different from your collages?
Kenly: Yeah. The collages were super-fast, I was just whipping them out. I think the collages are a lot less subtle. I’m not using text in the bags and text was a big part of my practice. It’s something that resonates with me in other work.
Adele: Do you write a lot?
Kenly: I don’t write. Or, I always say I don’t. I have sentences that I like. I’ll write those sentences down. They’re just phrases and I’ll sit on them for a while. And then I’ll be like, I don’t even realize that I sometimes write! And then I’ll make [a zine] and it’s like, I guess I have a lot of writing. I would like to write more. I read a lot.

Ava: What have you been reading lately?
Kenly: I was reading this book called Summerland, it’s by Michael Chabon. I think it’s pronounced Cha-bin, but I usually say chah-bahn.
Adele: Chaboni.
Kenly: Yes, exactly, I love his yogurt and I love his book. Actually, I haven’t finished it. It was a playful fiction story about these weird creatures who come to this boy on a baseball field and they pick him to save their world. It was a very silly book. He wrote The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which won a Pulitzer Prize I think. That was the first grown-up book I ever read, when I was like, fourteen maybe. That one felt very adult, definitely compared to this book. It was weird to read that book as a totally different person. What else have I been reading? Oh, I just read Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, by Claudia Rankine. So good.
Ava: Yeah, I read Citizen.
Kenly: Citizen is so good. But Don’t Let Me Be Lonely is reeeeally good. Just the title, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, is so good. I read When the Sick Rule the World by Dodie Bellamy, and the part that I remember most about that book is that she keeps calling ET the angel of death. It’s a collection of her stories and essays. She convinces herself that every time she watches ET someone she loves will die, because she watched ET and right after that her mom died, and and her boyfriend came in when she was watching it again and she was like, you need to leave. She was convincing herself that ET is the angel of death.
Adele: ET is scary.
Kenly: ET is a very emotional film.
Adele: I mean, I was terrified of ET as a child.
Kenly: I didn’t watch it as a child. I’m coming to in from like, a metaphorical context, like, who is ET? What does this mean? I would’ve really hated it as a kid. I would’ve been like, yeah, ET is the angel of death.



Adele: What are the challenges facing your art-making in the next year?
Kenly: Well, my therapist said I roadblock myself, which is really true. I’ll be like, “I really want to do that.” “Did you apply?” “No.” And then I’ll just convince myself that it didn’t work out for me. But it’s like, I didn’t do anything. I think that’s the biggest thing. Me, looking towards the future, and assuming that it’s not going to work out, and making a game plan under that assumption. Which is really bad! Why is that my assumption?
Ava: It’s the kind of thing where it’s like--you can’t… what is the saying?
Kenly: You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take?
Ava: Yeah, something like that. You can’t ever be told yes if you don’t--I don’t know. That’s not what it is. But yeah, basically, that’s what i’m trying to say. If you don’t apply, you’re not there.
Kenly: Right. Also just assuming that there’s someone more qualified. Which is true, but also… I could be qualified!
Adele: You have to grasp for those spaces or opportunities that will have enough space for you to grow into. Not whether you fit, but how your vector trajectory is going.
Kenly: Yeah. I need to get that trajectory going! It’s like I have the momentum, but it’s all going in a circle.
Ava: Figure out your exit point.
Kenly: Right, but it’s also like, I need to remind myself that I’m moving, I’m at the studio, I’m making work, I’m doing things.
Ava: How are you feeling about Richmond?
Kenly: Well, I’m from Richmond, so I’ve been here my whole life. I’m definitely looking for somewhere else that will still feel like home. I can’t imagine myself anywhere else but I’m not going to stay here forever. I’m not going to let myself do that. I think depending on what I do for grad school, that will inform my decision.
Ava: Is grad school a definite next step for you?
Kenly: Yeah, when I’m sitting down and trying to make a plan. I really want to expand my education. I like having an education and I like the idea of having more time like that. I think that’s exciting, especially in a group of people who are also excited by that. Because undergrad is like--
Ava: --not everyone is on the same page.
Kenly: Yeah. Not because they want to sit down and have that conversation! I just want to make better work. Who can help me make my work better?!
Ava: You.
Kenly: Don’t bring that up like that! I know, ok?!
Ava: I know. What your therapist said is true, we’re all our own roadblocks! More than anything else. Who’s your therapist? How do I un-roadblock myself?