West

Dreams of Aggressive Vitality

Leah Thomason Bromberg visits Gabe Hill's Studio

It’s a sunny November afternoon, and I am meeting Gabrielle Hill in a bunker. 

Well, in a way—walking through California College of the Arts’ MFA studios in San Francisco can feel that way with its windy, concrete courtyards and industrial aesthetic. There is even a perpetual grey that seems to hover over the studios. After making my way through the fog, I am delighted to see Gabe’s studio, number 32, tucked into the corner of Hoopertown. The work in her studio is the beginnings of her own imagined bunker: one where her protagonist is holed away from the end of the world.

Gabe came to the Bay Area from Vancouver and is Metis and Cree. I met Gabe when we were both in Banff for In Kind: Negotiations exactly a year ago. I had just finished my own MFA at CCA the spring before, and she was in the process of applying to CCA herself. Seeing her studio made me thankful for a friend and fellow artist (the best sort of combination) who has experienced the same landscapes (or industrial MFA bunkers) as I have.

My own studio has always been a sort of bunker: a place to hide away and get lost in my mind. Gabe’s studio likewise was filled with piles and experiments and ideas. Nearing the end of her first semester, her work is beginning to coalesce after months of questions. Car tires, a quilt, papers with notes, and house paint surround pieces in their infancy. She works in a variety of media, but today it seems her work leans toward sculpture. 

LTB:  What's the project you're working on here?

A yellow piece of legal paper in Gabe’s studio shows her own emphasis given to Frantz Fanon’s words:

The first thing the colonial subject learns is to remain in place and not overstep [her] limits. Hence the dreams of the colonial subject are muscular dreams, dreams of action, dreams of aggressive vitality. I dream I am jumping, swimming, running, and climbing. I dream I burst out laughing, I am leaping across a river and chased by a pack of cars that never catches up with me. During colonization the aboriginal subject frees [herself] night after night between nine in the evening and six in the morning.

— Wretched of the Earth, page 15

Gabe is in the midst of a larger installation piece titled Muscular Dreams from this excerpt. There are obviously still the questions of how the piece will turn out, but she is literally scraping away bit by bit at its creation as she carves, paints, and wires each component.

Gabe shares that she’s been thinking a lot about Jimmie Durham when he talks about “unknowable futures.” As an indigenous individual, he’s found that so much of his tradition has been lost, and is in many ways inaccessible. Without knowing the past, its projection into the future is equally unknowable, leaving a zone for questions and imagination. What could be more unknowable and questionable than this bunker amidst a sort of apocalypse?

In her dreams, Gabe is often saving the world, waking to find herself feeling accomplished and victorious. Here I wholeheartedly relate: in my dreams I fight for my voice declaring danger to be heard and then physically rescue my loved ones (to then wake, feeling exhausted and anxious). I love the agency that I access in these dreams—not only over myself but over the entire landscape. It seems to me that Gabe is creating that landscape with her installation. I found myself getting lost in the space and in the imagined world she described.

GabeHill_lightwiring

LTB: Could someone who is not indigenous make this work?
GH:
I think so! I think lots of people probably have these muscular dreams: colonized people and people just living under a system that feels immobilizing. This is just my own expression of this.

She really hopes to create a fantastical and immersive space. Books by Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler sit around in her studio. Science fiction has long been a space where the politics of their authors get worked out, yet another space for agency and experimentation.

LTB: How am I supposed to orient myself toward this work, or find my way into it?

As a painter, sculpture has always been sort of mystical, and with three-dimensions I often get overwhelmed; but then Gabe pulled out a Jessica Stockholder book. I literally gasped because it gave me a foothold into sculpture. Jessica Stockholder’s work is like a painting you can physically enter. Wires and tubes are like paint strokes against a background—and Gabe also sees them as bunkers.

Over the semester, Gabe has planned this extensive project. She has small goals for herself everyday. She's even decided on a palette. “My colors are usually all over the place,” she shares, and with this piece she is keeping to a palette of pink, blue, black, and white.

LTB: What is a non-negotiable for you in making work?
GH: Working with my hands.

In a time of digital everything, Gabe wants to keep that physical connection to her work. In one intervention, she braided the grass of an entire hillside, working slowly and methodically, chatting with the camera person who filmed part of her project. That sort of down-to-earth tone in her voice and in her work is apparent throughout her studio  and in this new project.

One area has tube lights painted an ultramarine on one side, while the other shines down on the tiny tobacco plants she is trying to grow in her studio. She started them in her apartment in sunnier Oakland, but they seem to be struggling in the studio despite her best efforts to research what they need. The pure light is strong, and I easily lose myself in it; and for once those orange electrical cords are beautifully accenting the lights they power. After learning to wire the lights herself, Gabe is building a light box for the tobacco, a plant with traditional and everyday uses.

In the back a warm-toned, wooden desk sits in front of a mauve wall. A can of paint and a roller are off to the side. Gabe is carving words and stars and figures into the wall and down onto the desk. The golden under layers of the plywood emerge, reminding me of the colors in my grandmother’s home. Eventually she will ink blue over the wall and pull linotype-esque prints from it. Eventually the blue will cover the carved stars as a subtle nod toward Ghost Dancers, whose dance also connected physicality with hopes for the future.

I left Gabe to carve away at her desk and her wall, chipping away to make physical her own imaginings.

“Growing up in science, it is really interesting to see people turn fiction into fact.”

A studio visit with Mary Anne Kluth, a friendly ambassador to ideas of the real and the fake.

Kluth is an Oakland collage and installation artist who constantly questions reality and perception.  She is currently working on a series called Theme Park; she visits amusement parks to gather imagery and constructs her collages based off of American landscape paintings.  She brings her collages to life in her installations.  I just got swept into her worlds.  Her collages made me feel like I was with Mary Poppins and we were going to hop into her landscape with a little bit of magic.

Kluth shares, "I never really experienced landscapes west of Denver, CO until I was an adult.  When I moved out here, it was the first thing that took my breath away.  My parents drove me out here through the very flat and lifeless Great Plains, when we got here I was floored."  Kluth experienced Western landscape on such a different level than I could ever imagine.  Originally from Colorado, Kluth moved to the Bay Area when she was six years old.  Her father was a geologist, a photographer, and a ceramist.  As a geologist, he traveled a lot, and he took her on his excursions.  Kluth’s childhood is at the forefront in her making.  Kluth now researches the land, the older writings, and the American landscape paintings of Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran.  

Although she doesn’t consider herself particularly knowledgeable in geology, she grew up in science.  With her father and his colleagues, she would use her imagination to bring her own narratives into his studies. “I never had any idea what they were talking about; I made up my own explorations and studies... although a little out of context.”  Before her installation, Theme Parks, Kluth created an installation called Visitor Center.  It was her way of finally telling her father’s stories and research.  She used her experiences hanging around Visitor Centers as a starting point.  Self-taught dioramas mesmerized Kluth.  Visitor center dioramas are usually made from employees who are very passionate about the parks, but don’t have the right resources and techniques to construct museum quality dioramas.

“I think growing up in a house that is really obsessed with the truth, reality and facts, there is something about theme parks and fake places, community, and experiences that is so weird to me.”  They were additional part of her trips with her dad as they spent time at Disneyland and California Adventure Park.  She currently works as a restoration artist at Fairyland in Oakland, recreating the fake landscape that is physically real.  As early as she could remember she was asking, "What is representation? What fake experiences do we choose to make for each other?" There are artists designing and creating these amusement parks yet go unrecognized as artists.  It is representational; but as commercial art, it is not seen as conceptual work.  

Science is recorded information from research.  When explorers and scientists went on explorations, they had a different way of documenting their experiences.  They were alone for days or weeks, wrote long detailed notes, and drew beautifully rendered pictures.  Now explorers have different, faster ways to communicate their research. You can follow NASA on Instagram and Twitter; it is a different way of turning your experiences into stories.

“Photoshop is so advanced now; sometimes I let the tools choose for me.”  There is so much of the deliberate hand in Kluth’s making, and the power to let go of controlling the piece and trusting that technology will make an artistic decision is so fascinating to me. I asked her if she ever gets mad at Photoshop for selecting something she never intended to select.  She responded, “No. I really enjoy playing with that.  Sometimes the digital line stays; I like leaving the proof of the digital mark.” It is all connected back to the real place.  How do we construct images?  Kluth wants the constructed image; she enjoys the big reveal when the curtains open.  You can still see how everything was made.  From the street view, The Escape looks like an imaginary place you can walk into. When you walk through it and turn around, you can see how she constructed the pieces.  She lends artistic trust in technology, but she adds subtle reminders that she is the maker.  

Kluth thinks “living in the Bay Area is really interesting as sort of a hobby.”  We talked about how people in San Jose go into work and use their video game skills to bomb drones in other countries, and how people at Google are in the pursuit of extending human lives; those happenings are so real to a very select group of people. Kluth commented on how sad it has been to see friends leave, but believes there are positives and negatives to the situation.  She wished there was a more meaningful tech versus art conversation. “There are still moral and ethical and imaginative questions to be asked that are not being asked because we are still upset about the buses… there is a different story of technology and art that hasn’t been talked about.”

Kluth sees the difference between real and fake as a political statement. What are the implications of representing things.  How has technology changed our perception of landscape?  She does not claim “her work to be overly political, but it would be nice if it was a friendly ambassador for ideas of the real and the fake. She believes “the American landscape and how we see our national identity can be one of the defining moments of our generation. How is this American landscape seen across the country?”  She voiced her concern as to whether or not she was the right person for this conversation, but she believes it is the responsibility of being a cultural maker to be a part of the conversation. However small, you still have some part in the conversation.

 

Check out more of her works at maryannekluth.com.








Making space.

Devon McKnight in conversation with Alexandra Lawson.

In a time of such highly visible social injustices, I keep asking myself what is the artist’s role in creating change? For Alexandra Lawson it seems the answer has always been a bit clearer. Alexandra thinks in terms of community, conversation, and participation. She wants to blur the line between artist and audience, the everyday and the art space. The idea isn’t new. We can see influence from Situationists International lead by the popular Guy Debord and their experiential psychogeography, but Alexandra seems to be carving out a space for the social artist or at least a dialogue about doing just that.

What I find most fascinating about Alexandra’s work is its simplicity. It gets down to the essence of life. The sweet moments, the things that make humans beautiful…our ability to feel and to love and to express that to one another and to share that love.

Alexandra in her light-filled writing space.

Alexandra in her light-filled writing space.

Look at the titles of her projects…I Value You, Experiential Breakfast, Tell Me Something.  I think one of the things that drew me to Alexandra is her desire for face to face dialogue which can be a rarity in the age of texting. If you meet Ali you will notice what a great listener she is and how interested she is in who you are, what you’re all about and she’s not afraid to be pushy with her interest. Ali is looking to connect. She knows the importance of discussion, conversation, and communication.  

Toowoomba, Australia, where Ali is living, working and learning is a small town on top of a hill in Southern Queensland.  The closest large city is Brisbane, two hours away.  I realized, although Ali is located in this somewhat remote town, I see her as an international artist.  

AL: When I decided to stay and do the PhD in Toowoomba, a fellow PhD candidate Tarn McLean and I wondered how we would have dialogue with artists in our fields, that is within Social Art and Painting Expanded; we decided to start a project space called RAYGUN PROJECTS with the intention of bringing international artists to Toowoomba, to engage in dialogue with us, which we have successfully done for the past four years. Over that time we have been able to create a system of networks with wonderful artists/people from around the world whose work we are interested in. So yes, I work with people from many backgrounds and places, which I adore doing. 

I find this interesting as often artists feel they need to be in New York or Los Angeles or Berlin to be a part of the art world and its conversations, but these two decided to bring the world to them. By importing, they not only build a new dialogue, but a global one; building a global dialogue out of a small town.

So in addition to Ali’s personal practice and her PhD studies, she also co-runs RAYGUN.  The space sits above a row of shops on one of the main streets in Toowoomba. It’s a simple, small room with two windows looking down onto the streets. It is full of bright Australian sunlight during the day and sparkles with streetlight in the evening. 

Sal Randolph’s The Expanding Library of Art: RAYGUN Edition 2014

Sal Randolph’s The Expanding Library of Art: RAYGUN Edition 2014

Tarn and Ali both have studio spaces down the hall from RAYGUN which makes it all a pretty ideal setup.  As a social artist I wondered what type of role space played in Alexandra’s work. 

AL: The room that I write in is definitely my studio, I refer to it as a studio, and have just spent the best part of the last 3 years in that room, the furniture changes position often, and it has books and stuff everywhere or is super sparse depending upon my head space. It is the space where everything happens. Regarding the space that my work exists in, I refer to that ‘place’ as ‘social art’, in that it is made by an artist and it very much exists within the theory, history and discussion of ‘visual art’.

Alexandra’s studio.

Alexandra’s studio.

DM: Do you see the running of this gallery space as part of your practice...your artwork? Or do you like to separate the two?

AL: Interestingly this question is asked often. What Tarn and I do at RAYGUN is certainly an extension of our own practices, and we collaborate on projects sometimes; such as recently at NLH Space in Copenhagen where we undertook a project called Sharing Loving Giving, which is a kind of practice that exists as the ‘third hand’ of RAYGUN. 

Our primary activity at RAYGUN is to work with artists to facilitate a solo show. Sometimes we have group shows, but primarily we work with one artist who we engage in a dialogue with throughout the exhibition process, which we love. 

SHARING, LOVING, GIVING at NLH space in Copenhagen, Denmark

SHARING, LOVING, GIVING at NLH space in Copenhagen, Denmark

I met Ali years ago when she was studying abroad in Greensboro, North Carolina. Soon after meeting we began collaborating.  Ali brought this unbridled will to make connections to Greensboro, a town that at the time was a bit quiet and disconnected even though it was clustered with universities and colleges. Ali had a sense of the social, community and engaging art, something Greensboro was desperate for. I wondered if the US and its artists had any influence on Ali’s thinking and if this country offered her something different from her Australian culture.  

AL: In the US I met an artist named Lee Walton, who was highly influential to the honours thesis I was writing at the time, in addition to my thinking and my work. Prior to coming to the states I wrote a paper on Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics, however upon meeting Lee and experiencing his classes and being exposed to some of the people he introduced us to and spoke about was significant to my thinking at the time. Lee also introduced me to an amazing lady named Sal Randolph who I have had the pleasure of working with towards projects at RAYGUN. Regarding US artists bringing a perspective that is different from Australian culture, Harrell Fletcher described Australia as being a little like LA, but with people speaking with a funny accent, meaning they are not fundamentally different, but in saying that, of course an individual’s direct experience/culture always influences their work to a degree. 

Excerpt from Valuable People

Excerpt from Valuable People

In Ali’s work VALUABLE PEOPLE she calls upon the global public to submit names of people they value and why. In many of her projects Ali calls upon the experiences or ideas of others.  For her PhD she is researching the realm of social art and studies the ideas and knowledge of prominent social artists to influence her own thoughts. You could say experiences and thoughts are her media.  In a consumer society such as ours, I wonder if this type of work is overlooked because it isn’t tangible and often it is temporary, existing only for a moment.  I wonder if this makes artists like Ali nervous. Because their work can’t be consumed, thus is it less desirable? 

AL: You are touching on ideas that I had when I was researching initially and ended up focusing my research around the social artist, proposing that social artists (also known as participatory/live/socially engaged artists) are currently displaced, due to the use of everyday activities and objects to facilitate their artwork. As a result, social artworks have been traditionally unable to self-identify as art, and are often misread and misrepresented through a variety of other fields (such as theatre, politics, pedagogy etc) both historically and within current debates. I proposed that a ‘place’ should be established for the social artist, as the social artist is as valuable to the creation of social art as the traditional artist is to the creation of traditional/modern art objects for visual pleasure. Therefore social art deserves a place, to be acknowledged and understood within visual art practice and associated theory and criticism. My work exists within that debate.

I was drawn to this type of work because the paintings and objects (I love painting and object based work very much) didn’t seem to be achieving the outcome that I needed, I became interested in creating an experience for the participant. Regarding being nervous about the existence of the work, no, I am not nervous. There is more and more literature/debate emerging re (for/in?) this type of work by writers such as Claire Bishop, Grant Kester, Nato Thompson etc, it certainly has a presence even though it is not often discussed in depth, or is merged with non art activities. 

Regarding the incorporation of tangibility into the work, yes, the projects that I create usually do have some kind of tangible ‘trace’ object, which I consider to be only documentation, created in order to understand the intentions of the project after the work has occurred. 

DM:  Where do you imagine your work existing? What is its best space?

AL: It’s an interesting question; I am assuming that you mean where is the work best displayed? I have come to think that ‘showing’ the work isn’t that important, I like that idea that it might exist beyond the initial experience as some kind of trace object, such as a book for example. 

DM: I love this too, probably because we love the book as object so much. It’s a keeper of ideas.  

“What is it’s best space”...meaning in your lovely imaginary or best world...how would or where would these projects/experiences/situations occur? A gallery, a street, a coffee shop? All of the above?  I was just watching Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present and I realized I had always thought of her as this museum artist but she activated many spaces...the Great Wall of China, outdoor plazas, and also museums. Love that. Sometimes I feel we place the burden onto ourselves to be gallery or nongallery...space or nonspace. 

AL: I have watched ‘The Artist is Present’ this week too! I watched it with the intention to identify whether Abramovic considers herself a performance artist, or a social artist. Her lineage has been in performance, and I think that everything she does and every one of her intentions is so very heavily grounded in performance, which is interesting, this is why it is located without question in a visual art context.

DM:  So! What will you do now that you are finished with your PhD?

AL: That is a good question, I am still adapting to this change, but am primarily absorbed with growing RAYGUN. Tarn and I are in the process of making it financially sustainable, as at present it is funded by a wonderful funding body called ‘Arts Queensland’, we are adding more programs next year and have three publications underway. There are certainly exciting times ahead

How I Arrived

José Luis Íñiguez spends time with Macho Menos at the LGBT Center in San Francisco, CA.

José Luis Íñiguez, Petitions to Saint Anthony, 2014

José Luis Íñiguez, Petitions to Saint Anthony, 2014

“The grass is much greener on this side,” that is what he said to me ten years ago. I stood there in trepidation not knowing what it felt to be liberated. I was twenty at that time and very innocent in all phases of my life. Johnny was very sweet in guarding my secrets and respecting my silence. He was my comrade, a friend that helped ease the difficult times in the Valley of Tears. I recall our beautiful dialogues about the future and what we desired for ourselves. He envisioned himself living in the Bay and I projected living in the city of Los Angeles. Years down the line, I find myself living in the space he imagined himself inhabiting and with a strong objective of never negating myself from the world. 

I came to the Bay to rekindle my interest in Art and through my grad school experiences; I made connections with many artist of the LGBT community, which has enriched my life in many ways. My first interaction with queer people was the night my sexuality was questioned. It was on 16th Street in the Mission that I first declared to the universe my queerness. 

“Are you Gay?” 

“Ummmmmmmmmmm…yes.” 

I recall my heart palpitating at full force and my mouth trembling with the desire of my tongue getting caught between my teeth. The word came out and like that, I was reborn. I had negated so much of myself throughout the years that this monumental awakening helped me confront the complexities of my community and reclaim a big part of my identity. 

Since my declaration, my greatest interest has been to support and collaborate with the queer community. It has been gratifying interchanging dialogues, producing work with many talented artists, and knowing that I have a community that has my back when I encounter rough situations in a hetero-normative world. Pride month has filled in the gaps of uncertainty in a time where we are still fighting for our rights on a worldwide level. The plight of my people is extremely real and our voices are a present demanding consciousness of our needs. 

This month, I have encountered many beautiful projects that have uplifted my spirit and brought to my attention the strength of our voices through different forms of artwork. The National Queer Arts Festival sparked our Pride celebrations in San Francisco by helping local artist curate over forty art shows that have bridged connections across many borders of ethnicity, gender, ability and economic status as well as social justice and spirituality. It weaved many thought-provoking perspectives on current issues surrounding the LGBT community. I was given the opportunity to be part of Macho Menos, an exhibition curated by Alex Hernandez and Rob Fatal, which presented different perspectives of artwork that works with, against, and around gendered expectations of respective Latino culture. The LGBT Community Center endorsed this exhibition-allowing artist to investigate their relationship with “machismo” through the mediums of photography, painting, video, sculpture, textiles, performance and multi-media.

Macho Menos is a Latino queer slang that plays on the Spanish phrase “mas o menos,” which translates to “more of less.” This exhibition analyzes and expands on this phrase to examine a greater complicated picture that connects between homosexuality and macho philosophy. We are taught at an early age of our development to always think in binary when it comes to gender. It is very difficult to escape the masculine and feminine because our language is gendered. Through our work, we investigate and discuss our relationship with our Latino roots and challenge social expectations of what “manliness” means to us. 

e. Salvador Hernandez (eshcetera), Caress No. 2, 2011, Monotype,  Eshcetera.wordpress.com

e. Salvador Hernandez (eshcetera), Caress No. 2, 2011, Monotype, Eshcetera.wordpress.com

e. Salvador Hernandez (eshcetera; pronounced eh-shh-she-tuhr-ahh) is a 2nd generation multi-ethnic Gender Queer art educator from Los Angeles. A one-time aspiring photojournalist documenting fringe communities around him, eshcetera discovers issues relating to identity playing a major role in their approach to the arts. eshcetera’s collection of artwork encircled Queer-identity, second-generation Chicano/a, and GenderQueer-centered observations, narratives and musings fused with Queer theory, gender politics, sexuality, and lived experiences. Caress No. 2, he infuses his artwork with ambiguous silhouettes that prompts longing, yearn for empathy, and expresses companionship, social ideas that most queer Latinos yearn for through the teachings of our traditional families.

 

Alexander Hernandez, Zapata, 2015, Embellished mustache, gel medium transfer on wood panel, hernalex.com

Alexander Hernandez, Zapata, 2015, Embellished mustache, gel medium transfer on wood panel, hernalex.com

Alexander Hernandez is a Mexican-born multimedia artist living in San Francisco. His practice consists of photography, performance and textile in order to investigate tactile craft processes in queer communities; moreover how this process is used to unite marginalized people. He has MFA from California College of the Arts and works with at risk youth at Larkin Street Youth Services. 

 

Senalka McDonald,  Shiny Black Stars , 2013, Digital photography,  Senalka.com

Senalka McDonald, Shiny Black Stars, 2013, Digital photography, Senalka.com

Senalka McDonald is a Panamanian American self-identified geographer-slash-artist investigating themes of social transgression, identity play, and imagined spaces. Using performative gestures and utterances, she examines the perceived role of an-other, focusing on the very real trauma of being taught ones “place.” That “place,” embodied physically, lives internally, practically in our subconscious, at the edge of social breakdown.

Being part of Macho Menos allowed me to connect with other individuals that frequently encounter the high value of “manliness” in a machista culture. Fighting against a salient feature that limits the roles played by male and female in my community, which often unfolds attributes of courage, dominance, power, aggressiveness, and invulnerability. It has given me a platform to continue challenging the struggles that we face on a daily basis and to bring awareness that we the Latino community have not had our sexual revolution.    

Somewhere between Mulder and Scully

Leah Thomason Bromberg visits Katie Dorame's studio

Dorame_studio_talking

Your headphones tell you it’s 1812. The sounds of mass at Mission San Juan Capistrano quietly rise and fall. Suddenly there’s a roar, screams; the bells toll violently.
 
This is Katie Dorame’s favorite part of the audio tour.
 
Maybe that’s because this is the only time the audio tour of the mission actually points toward any sort of trauma, and individuals cannot in any way be responsible for an earthquake. Or maybe it’s because the audio tour is really hokey. We laughed together just imagining it.
 
A studio visit with Katie is a breath of fresh air. She is a rare friend for me as we share an intersection of painting strategies, indigenous politics, a complicated relationship with religion, and an offbeat interest in monstrosities. Katie grew up in southern California and is a member of the Tongva (or Gabrieliño) Tribe of California. Her studio in Oakland is filled with paintings, drawings, a sculpture here and there, and newer installation work.

Katie poses a question in her work, “What if westward expansion went all the way into the ocean, into outer space?” Her question lands her in the rich territory of science fiction. In comics, books, and movies, indigenous people have these special connections to nature, to mythical spirituality, and to other equally strange aliens. (If that’s true, I am missing out.) Space travel always seems to be about manifest destiny anyway.
 
Her recent body of work, Alien Apostles, empathically puts that strangeness onto the Franciscan priests who colonized what is now California in the 1800’s, when the Tongva and other tribes California experienced multiple waves of invasion. (The Franciscan priests only enslaved and converted the indigenous people in the area instead of committing outright genocide, which is argument the Vatican is using to declare Junipero Serra a saint.) Many Tongva artifacts have been lost, and much of the history left was written by the padres themselves. A reality for Katie is that she must learn about her people through books, making history and research a painful and dark experience—one I can definitely relate to. Katie verbalizes the disconnection between well. Someone had asked her if the padres were just the bad guys then. She responded, “If they’re aliens, then they’re new and they don’t know the rules.” The alien padres remain monstrous, bloodied, and cruel, but they are the strange ones. Her work attempts to make sense of it all, to comprehend how these events took place. What’s Katie’s stance on these histories and religious institutions?
 
“Somewhere between Mulder and Scully.” She wants to believe, she wants to take part, she wants to inhabit that world; but there’s still so much skepticism.

Like with most science fiction, Katie has an attraction and a repulsion to history. You keep watching the carnage, but through your hands covering your face. Cinema has a big voice in how the public views history. Katie’s connection to film harkens back to her own childhood in southern California. The last painting she made during her MFA was titled Hollywood Indian. Fictions and histories infiltrate one another. In another body of work, Shifting Screens, Katie juxtaposed images of Tongva artifacts found by archeologist’s sifting the dirt with screens with images of non-indigenous actresses portraying indigenous characters, which pointed to shifting identities. The film stills are seductive, yet the artifact looms over them leaving you to wonder what is happening. Katie points out how Hollywood loves to strip imagery of its history. I have found myself watching movies filled with questionable takes on indigenous identity, being both horrified and fascinated. Her Shifting Screens paintings are perfectly lit, slick, super smooth, and gorgeous—just like Hollywood.
 
Katie’s Alien Apostles paintings take an agency that I love: she is making her own stories. She has always found the stories of Jesus to be violent and bloody, an aspect often disregarded in Renaissance paintings of a peaceful Jesus seemingly relaxed on the cross. Her paintings possess the same structure, but with an unsettling, ethereal nature. There always seems to be something lurking. Katie uses oil paint like watercolors, thinned and mostly as washes. Her paintings are simultaneously disconcerting and hilarious. They glow, but I like to tell myself that it’s actually because of these unearthly (radioactive?) alien padres.

Dorame_installation_doorframe

I asked, “Where do you see these paintings living?”
 
This is a question Katie has long been wondering. She’s also begun to create her own setting for her work. Her painting installation in her own studio draws on the Spanish and early colonial painting in the missions. Local indigenous people constructed and painted the missions, and their own designs snuck their way onto the walls despite the padres actively attempting to anglicize them. She feels a connection to these other indigenous painters through this physicality to create her work. The paintings on the wall feel defiant and secretly political to me. A book details what seems to be two deer facing one another, when in actuality one is a deer, and the other is a hunter disguised as a deer. Katie has begun creating her own versions of these paintings to remember these moments and create a space for her own work. The space also has a conversation with history.
 
There is something disconcerting in the question of where work needs to go. The ugly histories of displacement for indigenous people still echo in the lives of contemporary indigenous people. Katie’s solution to frame her own space is both challenging and a relief. Katie’s work looks back, an unpopular viewpoint in a San Francisco Bay area that is in love with forward progress but one also struggling with the neocolonial undertones of gentrification. Our conversation seems to take place in the past itself—we let the histories we talk about transport us to somewhere else, a strategy I find undeniable in her work. It’s as if the Spanish invasion of California, the Inquisition, Goya’s life, early Baroque painting, and 1950’s B-movies are all happening at this very second.
 
You can see it in her palette. I asked how she chose her colors. It seemed to be somewhere between academic painting and the items that she just likes to keep around. Books out on the table are filled with images of the missions’ interiors and their tawny stucco. Burnt sienna and coral echo throughout all of her work and in the artifacts, shells, and earth-toned fabric scraps in her studio. A piece of translucent vellum appropriately covers a painting from Shifting Screens. There’s an alien padre sculpture in a box that stood near the door of her recent exhibition in Ithaca, NY to beckon (or frighten away) viewers. His face is that glowing terre verte. Katie uses oils as a vehicle for color—she finds it the only way to achieve the richness and luminosity she needs.
 
I look back at the padre sculpture. He is so creepy. But Katie made him only 30 inches tall and sort of sad looking, especially as he lies powerlessly on his back with his scaly hands raised in the air.


You can see more of Katie Dorame’s work via her website, katiedorame.com. Images from her recent exhibition, Alien Apostles, in Ithaca, NY can be viewed on Handwerker Gallery’s Facebook page.