Courtney Kessel

Courtney Kessel

In Courtney Kessel’s artwork the intimacy of the mother-daughter relationship becomes the subject of an action and simultaneously suggests a game, a physical experiment that represents the dialogue between the two figures.


In Balance With, 2012
Video still
5-min video edit from 30-minute performance
Courtesy the artist

The activity of Courtney Kessel is characterised by her interest in developing and investigating the dynamics of growth and the construction of bonds and relationships. In Balance With was initially created as a performance piece that included her daughter, Chloè. The two sit respectively at either ends of a wooden seesaw. While the daughter sits still, the mother places various objects to create the necessary counter-weight to balance their two weights. The artist gradually arrives at a balance that remains nonetheless temporary.
The correct balance between the two is not the real conclusion. The objective of the performance is not simply to find but also to know how to maintain the balance achieved. What regulates the action is the relationship with her daughter: “I can only make my artwork as long as she is happy and occupied.” The balance between the two depends on the common desire to get involved. The objects used as counter-weights are books, toys and clothes representative of their respective individuality and their life together. They are the basis of a meeting point between the two, and the sharing of objects becomes the expression of a negotiation of material and mental spaces, a negotiation that characterises the mother-child relationship.

Chloè was six years old when her mother first decided to involve her in this performance, repeated twice over the years. Each time it produced a different result: their weights changed, the daughter had grown, the mother was older, and the objects employed were different because they comprised different moments in their lives.
Each performance represents a particular moment between mother and daughter. At the same time, the image that the artist succeeds in creating becomes a powerful universal metaphor for a reflection on the mother-daughter relationship and its precarious equilibrium.

Courtney Kessel (born 1974, USA; lives and works in Athens, Ohio) is an artist, curator, and teacher at the Ohio University School of Art and Design in Athens (OH, USA). Her work, comprising different art meduims such as performance, sculpture, and video, is not independent from her multi-faceted activity as an educator, and always involves a reflection on affective, family, and social bonds. After being granted a Study Abroad Program from the Temple University in Rome, in 1995/96, Kessel debuted in the Italian capital with several solo exhibitions, among which were: Who’s Shoes at the Temple Gallery in 1996, followed by other solo and joint exhibitions held especially in the United States. Among her most recent joint exhibitions are: in 2006, Garden of Delights: 24th Annual BWAC Outdoor Sculpture Show, Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park & The Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York; in 2007, Renegades, 25 Years of Performance at Exit Art-A Selection From The Archives, Exit Art, New York – GeneratioNEXT, Lexington Art League, Loudoun House, Lexington; in 2009, Bonafi de, Dream City, Pittsburgh – Critical Mass, Trisolini Gallery, Ohio University, Athens; in 2010, HerArt, Kennedy Museum of Art, Ohio University, Athens – Radical Narcissism, Dream City, Pittsburgh – After the Pedestal, The Sculpture Center, Cleveland; in 2011, Interstice, Ohio University Gallery, Athens – Love and Things Like Love, Lexington Art League, Lexington; in 2012, New Country: Ruralism in Contemporary Art, Claypool-Young Gallery, Morehead State University, Morehead – Found In Translation: Reveal Collaborative, Majestic Galleries, Nelsonville; in 2013, Ephemeral Art and Practice: the ephemeral, the evolving, Barr Gallery, Indiana University Southeast, New Albany – HWD, Rosewood Gallery, Kettering. Among her most recent solo exhibitions are: in 2003, Kisses 4 Sale (performance), Wall Street, Washington Square Park, and Grand Central Station, New York; in 2006, Dead Weight (performance), Morehead State University, Morehead; in 2010, Susan Kennedy: Pieces, MOMA, New York; in 2012, Performing Visibility, MFA Thesis Exhibition, Trisolini Gallery, Athens. In 2007, Courtney Kessel received, along with other artists, a public assignment for the Heritage Ttrail site, in the city of Winona Lake in Indiana, where she created the sculpture, Words of Kindness, later acquired by the city. Her works are part of different private collections in Italy and the United States.

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