WeHo Arts hosted an artist’s reception event on Friday, January 6, 2023, to celebrate the final installation of a two-part temporary art exhibition by artist Kean O’Brien, as part of WeHo’s Art on the Outside Program. The art installation, In Finite Space, is now on-view on the third floor of the City’s Aquatic and Recreation Center (ARC) at West Hollywood Park, through December 2023. The previous phase of the exhibition, I use ____ pronouns, was on view from October 2022 to December 2022.
In Finite Space includes two 5-foot by 7-foot cyanotypes and a gold-leafed hand-drawn text work on paper. The artwork explores the liminal and expansive sky that holds infinite space for the liberation of marginalized bodies. O’Brien considers both the body as landscape and the landscape as a human body. At a time when gender is in revolution, race politics are being interrogated and resisted, where bodies are seen as sites of controversy, and bodies are trying to cross borders all over the globe, we can see that our own bodies are also deeply linked to the environments and the people that hold them.
“It’s such an honor to be showing here,” Kean told WEHO TIMES. “The city has been so supportive of my art. I’ve received a grant from them in the past. It feels like an amazing opportunity to make this body of work. I wouldn’t have been able to make this work without the support. This is a very large scale of what I usually make. I want to thank John D’Amico for being so supportive of my artwork and to Rebecca [Ehemann] for being so wonderful to work with.”
Kean says he wants the artwork to represent liberation and he wants the art to free people from capitalism, racism, and classism. “I want it to represent the future of what it could be,” he said. “I was thinking about what liberation means to me and the only time I feel liberation is when I look at the sky. I think about how infinite it is and it is beyond anything you can ever imagine, so I started making clouds. I kept making them really large. I want people to feel like there is an expansiveness. I want people to think about endless possibilities when they think about the future. How do we want the future to look? I want them to think about how we are responsible for that future, and how are we going to create it together?”
The previous artwork, I use ___ pronouns, began in 2011 when Councilmember John D’Amico commissioned the artist to paint a mural on his office wall at West Hollywood City Hall that included the phrase “I use male pronouns.” At the time, pronouns were not a part of the mainstream conversation in the way in which pronouns are today. The installation at the ARC beckons the viewer to understand their relationship with their own pronouns, which is an inclusive act to the transgender and non-binary community. The artwork material is gold vinyl lettering and is 15-feet long.
Artist Kean O’Brien (he/they) is a transgender, chronically ill, disabled, artist, educator, and academic living between Chicago and Los Angeles. As a multimedia artist working in interdisciplinarity between photography, painting, found images, installation, and writing, he focuses on the nuance of gendered construction, whiteness, the body as landscape for survival, death, grief, and trauma. His academic writing explores the current landscape of higher education from an abolitionist, decolonial lens. He has a longstanding commitment to radical pedagogy, community building and grassroots organizing. He holds an MFA from California Institute for the Arts, a BFA from the School of the Art Institute Chicago and is currently a doctoral candidate in social change at Fielding Graduate University for Education Leadership.