KINGS Artist-Run

Celia Brightwell

Razorblade Romance

“Look up, and you see things flying / Between the day and the night; … Dark air-life looping / Like a glove, a black glove thrown up at the light, … / Wings like bits of umbrella. … Hanging upside down like rows of disgusting old rags / And grinning in their sleep.” – D.H. Lawrence

Goth band HIM’s vocalist Ville Valo created the heartagram in 1996 on his twentieth birthday, and later said the symbol’s probably the best thing he ever came up with. It’s tattooed around his left nipple and emanates from HIM’s Y2K album Razorblade Romance. Connecting the heart and the pentagram in one symbol fuses the hard and the soft, the glam and the goth, the anima and animus.

Alone, the pentagram bears similar multiplicities: drawn in a continuous stroke, it’s beginning and end. In Christianity, the five points of the star represent the five sacred wounds of Christ: two through the feet, two through the wrists, one through the chest. In occultism, the points represent spirit, fire, earth, water, air. Within occultism, Wiccans use a pentagram pointing up as a representation of spirit over physical elements and Satanists use a pentagram pointing down as a representation of the horned goat of the Sabbath.

Michael Kennedy’s exhibition Razorblade Romance (2022) explores the schisms and possibilities within symbols that recur throughout his earlier work. The pentangle is geometrically replicable – every pentangle has a small pentagon that fits a pentangle inside, and so the process can be repeated to infinity.

Instead of a geometrically perfect process of repetition, Razorblade Romance deconstructs earlier iconography through a process that’s dynamic and gestural – ritualistic. The goth wears the same crucifix as the priest. Like a heartagram, he’s the sweet spot between good and evil.

Recurring symbols and tensions clash and harmonize. The same lines that were traced fastidiously with a projector in earlier works are continued here in free-hand texta. Papers scribbled with discarded exhibition names are an ironic nod to rejected possibilities, strewn across the floor in earnest. The creases and stabby marks in the paper are like forked lightning and tangled wire.

Star Wars force-sensitive hero Ahsoka Tano makes a return of the Jedi from Kennedy’s work in Christopher LG Hill’s group show Encapsulated (2021). A dangerous warrior yet a fragile idealist, she’s alienated in her solo quest to find belonging.

Collectively, the iterations of such icons throughout Kennedy’s work can be encountered as white noise, and individually with frequencies of vulnerability. Subcultural references shared by outcasts in the 90s and 00s become reflections of personal identity. Silver Fortuna castles and carpeted townhouse floors. Movie tickets and ice skates in vast windowless, clockless complexes. Taking turns to peep into the dark circular abyss, terrible and senseless.

The ‘cool S’ that first appeared at the center of Hans Holbein’s painting The Ambassadors in 1533 has since been transmuted then doodled with biros, over and over, in the margins of high school notebooks. At the bottom center of Holbein’s painting is the anamorphic skull, deformed unless viewed from either high or low – as memento mori a premonition of ascent or descent. As above, so below.

Holbein’s skull appears again 484 years later in Kennedy’s painting As she dips and wails and slips her banshee smile she gets the better of the bigger to the letter (Memento Mori) (2018) at the bottom center on a frisbee pursued by a cartoon bat. The same wings, like bits of umbrella, re-appear in Razorblade Romance but on a fallen cherub in pink outline. In ‘Resurrection’, Valo sings “You smiled like an angel (falling from grace).”

For Puritans, bats are a symbol of bewitchment and Satan’s messenger. For Chinese artists they’re a symbol of happiness and new beginnings. Just as a pentagram is equally beginning and end, Razorblade Romance references earlier work and is a harbinger of what’s yet to come.