Interview with Katya Grokhovsky
Being & Feeling (Alone, Together)
Spring 2020 – Virtual Exhibition at Lamont Gallery
Artists in Being & Feeling (Alone, Together) explore embodiment, emotion, and being: how we make our way through the world, full of feeling, as solitary individuals and together with others.
Katya Grokhovsky is a multi-disciplinary artist based in New York City who works in performance, sculpture, drawing, painting, and curation. Her works in Being & Feeling explore “…ideas of gender and identity construction, alienation, labor, history and the self.”
Q: In your 2018 interview with PERFORMANCE IS ALIVE, you discussed the concept of “Bad Woman” and her resulting child, “Bad Bad Woman” who continues to encapsulate the seemingly never-ending battle women endure for their rights and humanity throughout the centuries and generations to come. With this thought in mind, do you find yourself exploring themes of feminism and immigration simultaneously? Does feminism and immigration emerge side-by-side, one informing the other, in you work?
A: All themes in my work originate from my own life experience, so there is a continuous thread between them throughout my practice. I am woman and an immigrant living in the world, and feminism ensures my survival in it, so both are intrinsically linked and make up my existence and identity, as an artist and a human being. I inevitably explore them simultaneously, sometimes focusing on one aspect of one or the other more through various ideas and projects, which act as amorphous containers for the work and my thoughts.
Q: In your painting “Sunset”, on view at Lamont Gallery, you included “Bad Woman” and “Ugly Face” in scrawled text on the canvas. Newspaper clippings and family portraits are collaged into the composition along with many abstract markings and a drawing of a gun. Can you discuss these characteristics/elements – why you included them – how did they come to be in relationship with each other?
A: This particular painting was made on site at a gallery in L.A, called Last Projects, where I had a solo exhibition in 2018. The painting was inspired by the city itself and was made a week before the exhibition there and completed during a live performance at the opening. So, some of the markings and words, such as Bad Woman and Ugly Face were added directly onto the canvas during the performance. The drawings and collaged elements of the painting came before the performance, so there were both premeditated and intuitive aspects in the work, inspired by the light and colors of L.A sunsets I was enjoying, whilst being street-harassed and objectified during my evening walks. So that’s what the painting expresses, my ongoing concerns regarding the ever-present male gaze, the absurdity of American obsession with guns and relentless objectification and oppression of women, casting shadows across the beautiful skies.
Q: Are these paintings a visual representation of personalities morphing, birthed out of immigration and feminist oppression? Would you say they represent an “un-leashed beast” angry and advocating for those who may not be strong enough to speak out? Or are they an avatar of sorts in the process of becoming their strongest selves?
A: My paintings are expressions of my state of being at a particular time and space, I tend to not calculate too much of what I am going to make and try to listen to my gut instinct as much as possible, which is usually to convey the wildly oppressed woman-beast within. We all have one, and all of them are brutally subjugated and withheld. Immigrants have also been considered as “savages” historically, so I am always interested in the unleashed, the masked, the unseen, especially through the visceral medium of paint. I do hear and feel the voices and souls of many, when I work, who might be speaking through me and my art, I can’t explain it, but it’s there. It’s important to me to keep an open door and to not over design and force my own opinion on everything I make. It’s a collaboration with the past, the future and the invisible. The unknown is the treasured marrow I am seeking.
Q: As a mentor and educator, which profound experiences around your own migration journey and years of navigating what it means to be female in this male-centric community, do you frequently share in order to uplift and lead the immigrant artists who you mentor?
A: In terms of the art world, which is where I reside, I suggest to find an accomplished older female artist mentor, if you want practical advice on how to navigate, survive and thrive in this male-dominated industry. I personally have been lucky enough to work with incredible women mentors, so as I am becoming one myself, I share their advice, mixed with my own. Be brave, take those major leaps of faith. Dream big and take up space, raise your voice. Don’t make yourself small and pleasant, like the world wants you too. Don’t listen to those, who have not fought it out in the arena. Be scared and do it anyway. Be relentless, and never be afraid of failure. There is no prescribed way to live, no matter how much society wants us to believe that there is, especially for women. I lived in many countries and eventually moved to the U.S to pursue my Masters degree, on my own, without any family here, partner or connections. I had intense belief in myself and for that, I give credit to my parents, who encouraged my talent for the arts since I was very young. There are many false starts and dead ends and obstacles. Never settle. Fight for yourself, you don’t owe the world your beauty or perfect command of the English language, or creation of new humans, but you do owe it to yourself to shoot for the moon. We live once!
Q: Who are the artists, writers, film makers, politicians, etc. you frequently share with your mentees for inspiration?
A: Some of my favorite artists are: Louise Bourgeois, Ana Mendieta, Georgia O’Keeffe, Eva Hesse, Phyllida Barlow, Pipilotti Rist, David Hammons, Jessica Stockholder, Tania Bruguera, William Pope. L and many more. In terms of writers, I am mostly reading women, such as Rebecca Solnit, Roxane Gay, Virginia Woolf, Margaret Atwood, bell hooks. One of my all time favorite filmmakers, to whom I come back yearly for inspiration, is Chantal Akerman, and someone I grew up with, Andrei Tarkovsky.
Q: Can you share with us some of the thoughts and questions that emerged during The Immigrant Artist Biennial paneldiscussion via Zoom on March 25th? What were some of the panelists’ reflections on these challenging “Coved” days? How might these current circumstances impact the continued dialog around immigration and the resulting work of these artists to come?
A: One of the first things that emerged are the emotions and tension we all feel right now and the need to mourn the loss of our world and society in our own way. There is a pressing need for humanity and compassion, for connection and community, to keep each other sane, to reject the hyper capitalist pressure to produce. We must acknowledge the fact, that we are experiencing a collective trauma. There is a lot of anxiety about immigration status, about border closures, about government assistance, all of which the pandemic highlights even further. Nobody truly knows how this will impact our future as artists and cultural workers. We are overworked, underpaid, under-appreciated and devalued, so there are no answers yet, only the necessity for reflection and survival right now.
Interview Conducted by Aimee Towey-Landry
Aimee Towey-Landry joined the Lamont Gallery in the winter of 2018 as the interim Gallery Manager and in 2019 she became a gallery attendant. She has over six years of experience in arts administration from her positions as Registrar and Exhibitions Coordinator at the Gulf Coast Museum of Art in Largo, Florida and Special Projects Coordinator at the Tampa Museum of Art in Tampa, Florida. She is currently working with a team of professionals to build a non-profit that serves the homeless and the housing vulnerable populations of greater Concord. She also volunteers at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.