The Concept of Self, Kate Gilmore and INSANEly Pink Walls
First of all, HAPPY LGBT HISTORY MONTH EVERYONE!!!!! It’s pretty exciting that we have our own history month, even if it’s mostly just the LGBT population that knows about it.
So to all of my straight readers out there:
Second of all, here’s a forewarning that this post may be considered a little lengthy to some of you folks, but I’m covering a few different topics here. So go ahead: get your learnins on and enjoy!
On September 16th, The Weatherspoon Art Museum opened their newest exhibition organized by Xandra Eden titled Persona: A Body in Parts. The show is all about…yep! You guessed it… Persona. It showcases the many different representations of the self in contemporary art.
“…the exhibition includes a striking selection of work in which the body, whether the artist’s own or another’s, becomes a plastic surrogate form from which multiple and complex identities are projected… The artists in Persona adopt chameleon-like personas, don self-made “second skins,” and project fragmented views of the body, to create a view of identity similar to the effect of light shining through a prism, each part separating out into different, though often enigmatic, representations of the self… Artists participating in the exhibition include Barbara Probst, Nikki S. Lee, Carter, Kate Gilmore, Nick Cave, and Gillian Wearing.” - the Weatherspoon Art Museum
Now I know that this is a slight sidestep from what I told everyone I would be talking about, which is queer art history. I’ll get back to the past soon enough, but for now I’d like to talk to y’all about the here and now in queer art.
Not only is this exhibition queer-related in some way/shape/form, but I am also writing about this particular exhibition in order to share my experience that’s taking place throughout it.
I’ll go ahead and answer your question, No. Not all of the artists are queer (although two out of the six featured artists are openly gay) and the work is not necessarily about queers, but the entire concept of the show is about the direct result of how the artists perceive their own identity and how they believe others see them. I mean, if you think about it, to label yourself as “queer, gay, lesbian, trans, bisexual, intersex, etc.” is an identity in and of itself, so let’s start identifying with this show and these artists, shall we?
First off, let’s talk about Kate Gilmore. She works in sculpture, performance, and video that challenges the limitations of the body. At thirty-six years young, Kate’swork has been exhibited at: the Brooklyn Museum; The Kitchen; Indianapolis Museum of Art; Bryant Park (Public Art Fund); Locust Projects; White Columns; Contemporary Art Center, Cincinnati; Artspace; The J. Paul Getty Museum; The Rose Art Museum; and PS1/MoMA Contemporary Art Center. Her work is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art; the Brooklyn Museum; Whitney Museum of American Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago,
oh yeah and the 2010 Whitney Biennial.
Needless to say, she’s pretty freakin’ successful.
KATE GILMORE (born in US, 1975; lives and works in NY)
“Can we talk about something else, something more exciting?…what do you think of RuPaul’s Drag Race?…I love Rupaul’s Drag Race because it’s about a total transformation of the self, while at the same time accepting the self. These drag queens want to be men, but men who are fabulous women. It shows the malleability of identity and how there are so many possibilities and characters within one self…that’s what is so great about the drag race, that they are working so hard. It’s such a struggle.” -Kate Gilmore
Many of Gilmore’s works document her attempts to overcome her self-made obstacles constructed out of various materials, ranging from: a plaster-filled bucket to wood, to stacks of papers to stacks of hay. Not one of them seems to be easy on her body in the slightest. Viewers tend to watch her dark-humored videos with a sense of sympathy and anxiety. In an entertaining duel interview (which I totally recommend checking out) given by her older sister Jennifer Gilmore (a novelist) and Kate Gilmore herself, Kate gives reason behind her work’s success:
“I would say that I am more of an abstract thinker… I take ideas or experiences, not necessarily specifics, and abstract them. I think this allows an audience to relate to my work on a personal level and, hopefully, they are able to bring their own experiences into the pieces.”
Her performances tend to correlate to the idea of placing the sometimes-impossible demands that we create for ourselves in order to (possibly, someday) obtain the idealized version of one’s self. We all do it. Yes, that means you too.
I bet you all can relate to quite a few of her pieces, but one in particular gets me every time. The obvious theme here is a performer reaching the end of their show with the desire for applause, but is instead met with the opposite reaction from their audience (aka: getting pelted by tomatoes). I interpret this piece in a different way:
I never know whether to laugh or cry at this situation, but I can definitely relate to this character that continuously strives for an optimistic approach to life and/or acceptance from her desired audience and is constantly proven otherwise by her surroundings. I love how she keeps trying anyway. Anyone else feel me on this one? No? Just me? Anywayyyyss…moving on…..
In many of her performances, Gilmore wears what she likes to call “career clothing”, mainly involving a dress and high heels. In some cases the attire inhibits her and in other cases it assists her in getting out of these self-created situations. Most (if not all) of her performances can translate into feminist viewpoints. Let’s face it, whether the artist intends it or not- watching a woman escape situations by LITERALLY breaking through barriers in high heels and a dress- the concept makes total sense.
In the same dual interview with the Gilmore sisters, we find out that they grew up in a Jewish household in Washington, DC. Jennifer tries to correlate Kate’s work with their childhood by comparing the type of clothing that’s worn in her performances to their mother (who worked in DC) while also comparing it to Hilary Clinton’s get-up. Kate disagrees. She envisions the career clothing to symbolize something very different:
“I see…that type of woman as being the future, as progress. Transformation. Hillary [Clinton] wasn’t a 1950’s housewife, that’s the past. However, there is something that has always fascinated me about that generation of women. The space between that transformation is really interesting.”
Just last year, Gilmore started including other performers in her works. The Public Art Fund commissioned Walk the Walk in 2010, which consisted of seven women in identical bright yellow career dresses and ivory pumps, purchased at Chadwick’s, walking around the top of an eight-foot tall yellow box. This box was set in one of the busiest sections of Manhattan, Bryant Park, for ten hours a day. The performance itself was very successful as it both charmed and baffled the NYC public.
“…the piece at Bryant Park. It changed how I wanted to work. There were definitely problems, but it ended up being a great artistic moment for me that allowed me to open up and try new things. I realized that I don’t have to be the central character in everything, I can move in and out of the work, I can make big sculpture, there can be live performances, etc. There are tons of possibilities that, for some reason, I was unable to see until this piece. It is easy to get stuck in a process. You know how to do something well and you become known for a certain type of work. It is scary to try something else, but it was one of the most exciting artistic experiences of my art life.”
Since then, Kate Gilmore has continued to use other people in her pieces, especially her live performances (which she then records). The Weatherspoon Art Museum is showing Gilmore’s Main Squeeze and has commissioned the artist to create a live performance titled Wall Bearer, which I am one of many to perform in.
Twelve women perform this piece throughout the duration of the exhibition. Six women work at a time. Every performance is three hours long. During this three hour long period, the women are not allowed to move, speak, or react to the outside world. Sounds pretty intense right?
Okay, I have to admit that I missed out on the artist’s talk about Wall Bearer at the Weatherspoon Art Museum. When Kate Gilmore came to the Weatherspoon to talk to us at our training session, she didn’t mention the meaning behind this piece. While spending time in my little pink box, I’ve had plenty of time to think things through here, so I’ll go ahead and make my own interpretation:
Although all six women are wearing the same dress and shoes (purchased at Chadwick’s of course), they still vary in size, shape, race, and have different hairstyles. They all are placed in conformity and are not allowed to react to the audience, yet parts of their self shine through.
Another interpretation: Because pink is seen as a gender-associated color for females and the space given to the performers is so small, it could also be a commentary on how women can only go so far in life…about how we all have our limitations in this world.
I was going to write about my experience with this performance now, but I’ve decided to wait until the end of the exhibition (in December) to share. I’m not going to leave you hangin’ completely… here’s a little behind-the-scenes info:
First of all, even though we just stand in one place for three hours, it’s still an endurance performance. Sure, you’re body gets numb in some places, but it’s more of a mental challenge than anything. And it is because of this mental challenge that no performance is the same every time. It all depends on my mood when I enter the (as Kate Gilmore likes to call it) “vertical shelving unit”. I sometimes see my temporary environment as a pink jail cell that I can easily go insane in, and other times I see it as a thinking/reflection/meditation chamber. I’ve come up with some pretty interesting ideas for my own pieces in there so far. I’ve also experienced some pretty entertaining reactions from the audience. Who knows what will happen next? I sure as hell don’t, but I’ll let you know as soon as it’s all said and done with.
If you’re around Greensboro, NC and want to check out the show and see a live performance of Wall Bearer, make sure to visit the Weatherspoon Art Museum’s Event Calendar.
*The title illustration was created by me. You can visit my website @ www.katietylerart.com
*All quotes from Kate Gilmore were taken from the same dual interview posted by Jennifer Gilmore at: http://bombsite.com/articles/4936
*The video still of With Open Arms was taken from Kate Gilmore’s website
*The photo of the performance Wall Bearer was taken on the opening of Persona: A Body in Parts by Martin Tucker. More photos of the exhibition can be seen here.