Emily Kennerk's 'Suburban Nation' 

"Driving,” says artist Emily Kennerk when asked what inspires her. For Kennerk, that means getting behind the wheel and rolling out to where the sprawl meets the horizon. As she goes, she takes photos, makes sketches and writes herself notes. Her pieces, she says, can take a year to percolate in the studio before they’re ready to be realized.

Suburban Nation, opening July 13 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, is Kennerk’s first major museum show, a constellation of four large-scale installations constructed using mass-produced materials like vinyl siding, decking and other prefabricated home building products.

Kennerk calls her work “familiar but surreal,” adding that “the materials have to be familiar or the piece won’t work. Displaying them in a museum setting changes everything. With these objects, it’s more about the space that they’re sitting in. Initially you may respond to the structures, but I think the most interesting aspect is how you approach them on either side of the gallery and then walk through. The transaction that happens with the viewer and the understanding of the space — that, to me, is where the art exists.”

Kennerk says that the chance to mount a project on this scale, in this setting, “is an amazing opportunity. These works could not be produced in any other venue … to actually see these realized is huge.” So has been working with the IMA’s curator of contemporary art, Lisa Freiman, who has championed Kennerk’s work. “It’s a breath of fresh air,” Kennerk says. “The new leadership has really changed the dynamics of this place. They’re bridging a lot of different ideas from all over. For me, right here, it’s exciting.”

An Indianapolis native, Kennerk attended the Herron School of Art and Design before doing graduate work at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. She recently won an Efroymson Fellowship, which, she says, was instrumental in enabling her to develop the ideas given form in Suburban Nation.

“I can’t believe how fast I’ve seen it shift,” says Kennerk of the gathering dynamics in the local visual arts scene. “It’s totally changed.”

Emily Kennerk: Suburban Nation will run through Oct. 7 in the IMA’s McCormack Forefront Galleries. For more information, call 317-923-1331 or visit www.ima-art.org.

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