Q: Hello Kate, would you like to introduce yourself?
A: I’m Kate! I’m an artist and scenic carpenter originally from Maine in the United States. I work at NYU as a Global Academic Fellow in Visual Arts.
Q: Ok, on with the interview questions. What is the idea behind “Self Conscious”? What is the theme you are trying to explore here?
A: Self Conscious is a series of documents of private performances where I am the sole performer. Each piece is almost like a self portrait: an act that I am doing for and by myself that I then photograph or film to show to others. The works are exploring a lot of themes especially: loneliness, existential dread, the dissonance between how people look and how they feel, and quiet violence.
Q: Can you describe the time when you first came up with the idea of exploring self-conscious?
A: When I lived in New York, something I would do a lot was to try and sneak into places where I wasn’t necessarily supposed to be. Offices, basements, storage rooms. I would take videos of myself exploring the spaces and then export a couple frames from each one which would become the documents of that experience. So when I moved to Abu Dhabi, I naturally started doing the same thing. There are so many strange and interesting architectural circumstances to play with on the NYUAD campus and such weird, neutral furniture. I wanted to do a show that reflects a particular mental state that I associate with institutions. I actually came up with the idea for the performance “I’m Fine,” when I was helping to install the Diana Al Hadid show in the NYUAD Art Gallery; I was doing some dry-walling work for them. For the performance my elbow was drywalled into the wall of The Cube for the opening of the show, and then a hole was left there for the remainder of the week.
Q: What has been your inspiration? (books you have read, movies you have watched or other art work, etc?)
A: Felix Gonzalez-Torres is a huge personal inspiration of mine. I have a long list of artists, performers and film makers, etc. that inspire me but he is definitely at the top. I love the way he uses very simple gestures to make larger metaphors and how beautifully sad his work is. Cindy Sherman is another artist that I think really inspired me for this show in particular. I love her film stills and the idea of an imagined and also abstract narrative.
Q: I’ve noticed that Self Conscious is a multimedia installation. What do you like about the process of working with different materials (or how do different media come together)?
A: As a conceptual artist, I’m definitely not tied to one medium. I usually think of an idea I want to communicate or a feeling I want the audience to get and then decide what medium best suits that purpose. For a conceptual artist, anything can be a medium. I’ve used everything from marble and glass, to bread and water to the internet, cell phones and the human body. For Self Conscious, I really liked seeing the way the different types of documentation created these sort of layers of conversation. Like how the video of me falling down the stairs acts more like a photo than a video because I am completely still in it for much of the time. However, in a way, I think of the show as all being of the same medium: performance. The documents of those performances are a hole in the wall, videos, pieces of paper, still images and projections, but they are all ultimately in the medium of performance.
Q: What are you trying to communicate with your art?
A: Oh my gosh, this is always the hardest question to answer. I think in many artists’ ideal world the art they make would just do all the talking and they would never have to say out loud exactly what they are trying to communicate. If I had to give an elevator pitch about my work, I would say that I’m trying to communicate the perfect futility of life and it’s beautiful loneliness. I don’t want to be a huge downer, but all the works in this show are certainly chronicling human sadness to varying degrees. That feeling of pain gone unnoticed is something that I think everyone can identify with. I hope that maybe by feeling my feelings through my work the audience will have some perspective on… I guess on the grace and humanness of those struggles, and the beautifully mundane tragedy of life.
Q: How do you expect people to react to this installation?
A: A lot of my work is darkly humorous. I hope that people laugh at first, and then once they have gotten over that to understand that it is deeply sad. The initial laughter serves to make the sadness even more sad. I don’t like it when artwork is too precious, so I hope that people interacted with the pieces! A lot of people sat on my swing and took the photocopies of my hair and that really pleased me.
Q: Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?
A: I’ve been really interested in boat building for a very long time. I’m a scenic carpenter, so I’m pretty good at working with wood, but boat building is a totally different type of woodworking. I could build you a fake boat for a musical in nothing flat, but it almost definitely wouldn’t float. At some point, I’d really like to build my own wooden boat. Maybe it comes from my nostalgia for my coastal upbringing or maybe I like boats more for the symbolism, but I have had this itch to learn to make one for some time.
Q: What’s the best advice you ever had for the student artists at NYUAD?
A: Don’t let fear control you. Someone very wise told me that “The enemy of art is fear, and fear can never be defeated.” Fear doesn’t just go away for people that are brave. You have to overcome that fear: of being judged or failure or making a mistake. This is something that I struggle with a lot and am still learning and relearning whenever I make an artwork. If I didn’t have fear, I would have made ten times as much art in my lifetime. But every time I make a work, I am making the choice to say “yes I am afraid, but I am going to do this anyway.”
Interview by Ming Hu. Photos by Nino Cricco.