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Fearless Perseverance

Interview by Jana Astanov.


2018 System Failure, photo: Walter Wlodarczyk

Katya Grokhovsky was born in Ukraine, raised in Australia and is based in Brooklyn, New York. She is an artist, independent curator, educator and a Founding Artistic Director of The Immigrant Artist Biennial (TIAB). Grokhovsky holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a BFA from Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne University, Australia and a BA (Honors) in Fashion from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia. Grokhovsky has received support through numerous residencies and fellowships including The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) Residency, BRICworkspace Residency, Ox-BOW Residency, Wassaic Artist Residency, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Studios at MASS MoCA, SOHO20 Gallery Residency, BRIC Media Arts Fellowship, VOX Populi AUX Curatorial Fellowship, NARS Residency, Santa Fe Art Institute Residency, Watermill Center Residency and more. She has been awarded the ArtSlant 2017 Prize, Asylum Arts Grant,  Dame Joan Sutherland Fund, Australia Council for the Arts ArtStart Grant, NYFA Mentoring Program for Immigrant Artists, Freedman Traveling Scholarship for Emerging Artists, Australia and others. Her work has been exhibited extensively. You can follower her on IG @katyagrokhovsky, and visit her website

3:AM: What in your upbringing led you to become an artist?

Katya Grokhovsky:  I was basically born with the ability to draw and so my parents nurtured it by taking me to rather demanding art lessons from the tender age of 4 and since then just let me explore my creative impulses throughout my whole life. I remember constantly drawing and writing and being quite playful with materials, obsessive with objects, and particular with color and atmosphere. I used to put on ridiculous plays, employing my school peers, directing them, dressing them, designing all aspects of the production, including tickets, flyers, etc. Somehow, I always knew what to do and wanted to do it all. Not much has changed. I went to an art school for children between the ages of 10-14 in Ukraine and just continued making art into my adulthood, in high school and then onto Art and Design Colleges and Universities in various countries. I think I never stopped studying art, an activity and a foundation I resisted with all my might at some point as a rebellious teenager, but for which I am forever grateful now.


2018 System Failure, photo: Walter Wlodarczyk

3:AM: What are some of your biggest influences, early and current?

KG: When I was a child, nature and literature inspired me the most, I was a quiet observer of the world around me, brewing, stewing ideas of my future, daydreaming for hours, sketching, contemplating. I was always an avid reader, having grown up with a librarian mother, surrounded by books, always a stack by my bedside. Writers have hugely impacted my development and a way of thought; I loved Nabokov, Bulgakov, Dostoevsky, Virginia Woolf, and George Sand, Bronte sisters. I also adored leafing zealously through art albums, which my mum collected, studying them almost every night. She always loved impressionists, Goya, and many others, so I definitely soaked art in trough her passion too. Of course, I don’t remember seeing any female artists in my old books, but I knew they existed, out there, in history, in the universe. To this day, that dissonance of being a girl, a woman and yearning for the large world, only seeing male representation is an acute point of awareness for me. We can’t let that go on, ever again, enough. Right now, I am reading several of contemporary women, especially philosophy and feminist theories etc. such as Roxanne Gay, bell hooks, Rebecca Solnit and one that is an essential to me at this time, Rage Becomes Her by Soraya Chemaly. I am also always inspired and energized by the fearless perseverance, hard work and tenacity of my peer artists and curators, especially female – identified, who are often ignored, undervalued and misrepresented.


2018 Theater of the Mundane, photo: Walter Wlodarczyk

3:AM: You were born in Ukraine, you were raised in Australia, you studied in the UK and the US how has living in these different places and cultures affected your work?

KG: The constant movement and adaptation has made me a nomadically inclined artist and human. I have become easily adjustable to my circumstances, both in art and life and can be quite inventive in my ability to make something out of nothing. Both accumulative and ephemeral nature of my practice stem from that too, as I know what it’s like to begin anew, owning only your body, memories, and courage and will, as well as found materials and places. My boundaries and personal limits have been pushed and pulled many times throughout my life and I learned to understand fragility of life, broaden my worlds, live large, believe in the present moment, as it could all be gone in a mere instant. On the flip side of it all, I am quite aware of the feeling of not belonging to any one place or culture and alienation is painfully familiar and insistent, transience is palpable. That’s why New York feels like a home, a moveable feast as it is.


2018 Theater of the Mundane, photo: Walter Wlodarczyk

3:AM: What strikes me about your practice it’s the totality of the experience within the environments you create that include performance, installation, sculpture, and video. Can you please explain your process in creating your multidisciplinary works?

KG: My process is multi-layered but quite methodical and systematic, which I perfected over the years. I used to be extremely insecure about working in different mediums, and finally decided to just explore, which guided me to the use of immersive environments, involving several diverse aspects of my work. I work with ideas as vehicles, which carry me into their own terrains. I follow their siren calls, inhabiting unmapped lands and new spaces of technical and material inquiry in the process. This method does require a lot of faith on my apart, along with numerous failed attempts, often unusable in the beginning. I recruit myself into a battle and struggle with them, until I ring out some portion of truth. I am interested in reconstruction, re-imagining the use of found objects and facets of life we ignore daily, rituals, gestures of mundane actuality, which could be easily disturbed, subsequently ruining our comfort bubbles. I draw and paint and collage at the beginning of new projects, letting it all flow, remixing old and new, bought and found, researching, observing, collecting. Play is an integral part of my whole practice, in all mediums. I choose and insist on remaining a child in that respect.


2017 Bad Woman

3:AM: I first learnt about your work through your performance practice, how did you get involved in performance art?

KG: Performance has been one of the siren calls of my work since my undergraduate studies. I have always loved the immediacy and ephemeral, risky nature of it, so I experimented a lot at the time with live actions, re-performing art historical works, learning the medium through my body. When I was younger, I also, among other things, wanted to be a dancer and studied it for a while, so I understood endurance, core and stamina well and was attracted to the idea of creating experiences, rather than attainable objects. Performance has become one of the major players of my practice, as it lends an exciting, almost dangerous space to my making. It’s also, an addiction in itself.


2018 Bad Bunny Woman, photo: Walter Wlodarczyk

3:AM: Your installations are eclectic and opulent, the constellations of objects are vibrant, seductive, ridiculous, both pathos and humor ARE is always present, how did you develop such distinct aesthetic?

KG: Terrible ideas, humor, absurdity, entropy and failure are some of my favorite elements of art. I have always been attracted to the DIY construct of opulence, having grown up in Soviet Ukraine and imagining the West to be a golden beacon of luxury and abundance. Consumerism, desire, capitalism, kitsch simultaneously attract, amuse and disgust me. I dive into the lavishness and ridiculous futility of online shopping, discarded objects and nostalgia with innocent abandon, often recycling my own artworks and experiments, devouring my own artistic tail, chasing unattainable horizon of both failure and perfection. Humor has been a necessary part of my life as a multiple immigrant and it has become a core of my work too. Color is a device I employ to attract, seduce and to punctuate, as I see it as an aggressive gesture, a statement, and an act of bold defiance against the tyranny of beige.

3:AM: Some of the most pronounced themes of your work are issues concerning identity, migration and feminism. How is the current political climate influencing your work?

KG: I have felt enraged at the way society treats women my whole entire life, but right now I am feeling much more empowered and supported to speak out. I can expose my fangs of anger; I can bite and scratch the surface, scraping off years of patriarchal conditioning and artificial assumptions in a much more pronounced, unaltered way. Of course, the pushback comes quickly, and I have already experienced it many times, but I will always be interested in women’s lives, in how expectations, limitations and rulebooks shape our identity and how migration affects your whole entire life and being, regardless of political climates or trends. My work stems from my personal experience, and I simply cannot get away from the facts of living in the body of a woman immigrant person, harboring centuries of male gaze policing, positioned at several geographical, cultural and linguistic crossroads, traditions and conflicting messages. It will take a lifetime and beyond to unpack and explore and decondition, and I plan on doing that until my last breath.

 


2018 System Failure, photo: Walter Wlodarczyk

3:AM: What are some of your notable past projects?

KG: My works One Fine Day (2014-) and Status Update (2013-) became pivotal and important works in my practice, allowing me to focus on what I truly believed in a humorous way. In One Fine Day, I gathered insults directed at my body and printed them on T-shirts, which I wore in a reverse striptease dance performance. This project is ongoing and I have now collected a lot of utterances aimed at women for future project iterations. In Status Update, I explored the meaning of social media and the public site for a female body, carrying large handmade painted canvas banners, which displayed banal statements, whilst occupying as much space as I could, signifying presence and objection. Both of these works, as well as many others, accumulatively lead to my most notable recent project, Bad Woman (2017-). Created in post election sump and turmoil, it became a jumping off point for my current works, a character onto which I project my lifelong mission of non-compliance and protest through absurdity, alter ego construction, performance, video, sculpture and installation.

 


2017 Bad Woman

3:AM: If you were to come up with one sentence or a piece of wisdom for other women to include in their lives, what that would be?

KG: Stop pleasing others and get angry, rely on your gut instinct and intuition completely, reject what society and men have been telling you (none of it is true), believe in your magic, mind, talent and ambition, explore your body and stand up and be counted in your own life as someone who matters and has something important to contribute.

3:AM: This year you are the curator in chief of Art in Odd Places, festival that present performance and installation art in unexpected public spaces, could you please tell us about your curatorial vision for this year’s edition of the festival?

KG: For this year’s Art in Odd Places, I have chosen to present works by women, female identifying and non binary artists, focusing around the theme of the BODY. I have also added an exhibition of all participating artists’ works at Westbeth Gallery, in a month long multidisciplinary group exhibition, in order to give exposure and presence to the artists, as well as a home and visibility to the festival. I started working on the AiOP BODY more than a year ago and the theme of BODY and selection of particular artists seemed right in our political climate. I could not predict our current events of course, but I trusted my instincts at the time. My vision as a curator in general is to work with artists, who seem to be at a disadvantage by virtue of their gender, skin color, social and cultural status, etc. I wanted to explore notions of the body in all its manifestations and mediums, as well as investigate the chasm between performance and visual art, through simultaneous gallery presentation and a public festival.

3:AM: One of the most interesting works in this year’s AiOP was the social practice project #WashingtonsNext, reminding us all that this country still worships monuments to people who were slave owners… I saw men arguing over this piece; pretty much everyone who passed by was interested, moved, or shocked. It felt timely. Can you please tell us which, in your opinion, were the most moving works this year?

KG: It’s very hard to pick to be honest, I feel protective of each project and each one has been a journey, an experiment and a brave attempt in itself. I do however, feel some works translate better onto the street than others and it is not an easy feat for some artists to stage their work outside of the art realm. I personally would highlight works which ignited the imagination, intervened well aesthetically into the urban space, had the most public engagement, interested audiences and pushed their own restrictions through critical thought, absurdity, humor and investigation. In my opinion works by Nicole Goodwin, Dominique Duroseau, Luiza Kurzyna, Jodie Lynkeechow, Deborah Castillo, The No Wave Performance Task Force (Christen Clifford and Amy Finkbeiner), LuLu LoLo, Questions Collective, Jessica Blinkhorn, The DoMystics, Claus Hedman and Yali Romagoza did that very well.

3:AM: How does the curatorial work inform your own art practice? 

KG: My curatorial practice is a natural extension of my own studio work. It expands it through my desire to facilitate a dialogue, to connect and support a community of artists, to exhibit works that possibly might not have a place, to yield whatever power or ability I might have as an individual artist in a form of curatorial endeavor. It feeds my work on many levels and I can’t seem to go for a long time without a curatorial initiative surfacing in my life.

3:AM: As a character in art history, what impact do you think you’ve had? How have you changed the ways in which people look at art?

KG: I’d like to think that somehow I, either as an artist or a curator, have had an impact on at least one person in a profound, meaningful, life changing way. Of course, I would like to be placed in art history books, I am not afraid to think, want or say that. But I also believe in the moment and living and learning from my contemporaries, producing and discussing, elevating and facilitating, activating and revolutionizing art and making. I want people to unlock their understanding of what art is and can be, to change their perceptions about female and immigrant artists, to unbolt the art world borders. I hope my work makes people think and laugh at the absurdity of life and society’s presumptions and stereotypes, to see their everyday in different light. To conjure up another dimension, to look beyond their lives, to see a new galaxy and to rise up against the autocracy of the patriarchy.


2018 The Immigrant Ball, photo: Walter Wlodarczyk

3:AM: What are your future art plans? Where can we see your next piece?

KG: My immediate future art plans post – Art in Odd Places include curating a group exhibition at NARS Foundation in November for ASA – Asian Society of Art and my first West Coast solo exhibition at LAST Projects space in Los Angeles, opening November 30. In December I will be participating in a new all–women art fair in Miami, called “47pont6” and in the early 2019, I will present an auteur evening of my video works and performances at Wythe Hotel Cinema in Williamsburg and exhibit a premiere installation of my long term project, The Future is Bright, at BRIC Biennial in February. In the long term, I am very excited to begin work on establishing my first founding – directorial project, The Immigrant Artist Biennial, fiscally sponsored by NYFA, the first version of which I plan to curate and launch in 2020 in NYC. Onwards!

 

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER

Jana Astanov is a multidisciplinary artist, poetess and Priestess of Impermanence at Red Temple. Her work includes photography, poetry, performance and new media. She published three collections of poetry: Antidivine, Grimoire and Sublunar. She can be found here: website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, October 21st, 2018.