After serving in the military, receiving an art degree with a focus on sculpture from the University of Washington, and after traveling the world making art and working dead-end jobs for nearly a decade, Kerry Skarbakka began applying to graduate programs. During this time he made almost every possible mistake one could make in terms of becoming a professional artist, including mailing school applications loaded with typos and errors.
After being turned down by a number of schools, Kerry realized what had happened, rectified the problems in his application process, and was accepted to a photography program at Columbia College in Chicago. Here he was turned on to the influences of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, who described the experience of life as perpetually falling and our responsibility as human beings to master our own uncertainties.
Grew up in a conservative community in a religious family, in Tennessee, where he dreamed of one day becoming an actor, today Kerry is best known for his long-time project on falling and the loss of control, The Struggle to Right Oneself, began in 2001 as a response to the death of the artist’s mother and the subsequent attacks of 9/11. A project for which he received both awards and death threats — his 2005 Life Goes On performance, at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago, sparked outrage when it was interpreted by some as a recreation of the tragic jumpers from the World Trade Centre.
Kerry has defined that period as the worst single moment in his career, since his goal was quite different, and the hundreds of letters from individuals stating how much they appreciated the work — as it managed to represent their own feeling of uncertainty — are proof that his project was not only misunderstood.
“We live in a completely uncertain world, from austerity measures and corporate greed to clean food and water surpluses and climate change of an increasingly over-populated planet. This lack of control from an individual perspective is a big part of the message.”
In 2005, Kerry was chosen for a prestigious Creative Capital Foundation Grant for his project on global warming, Fluid. He received a public art commission from the 1% for the Arts Program in the city of Seattle for a 5-channel video art installation, The Elements of Attraction. Outside of photography and video, he has been involved in sculpting projects around OSU.