Interview: Katherine Spinella
Luca Curci talks with Katherine Spinella during FUTURE LANDSCAPES, third appointment of BORDERS Art Fair 2020, at Palazzo Albrizzi-Capello.
Katherine Spinella (american, b. 1985) transports the refuse of commerce into fractured, elevated, and philosophically personified artifacts through multi-media collage. Using digital manipulation, printmaking, sculpture and video installation in her process, recent projects investigate ideas of post-humanism and the symbiotic relationships between plant, animal, and human. Addressing visual structures of classicism, Spinella examines the conflation between language and image in relation to our perceptions of nature. Spinella is Co-Founder of Carnation Contemporary in Portland, OR where she is currently preparing for her first major solo exhibition (2021). Recently she has exhibited in Thunderstruck at NARS Foundation in New York, NY (2019), Fresh Air at Outback Arthouse, in Los Angeles, CA (2019), IF/THEN at Tropical Contemporary in Eugene, OR (2020) and is soon to participate with WAVE Collective in What’s Different at SOIL Gallery in Seattle, WA (2021). Her work has been supported by the Ford Family Foundation, Oregon Arts Commission, and The Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts. She is a co-founding member of the Thunderstruck Collective, a small group centered around the exploration of contemporary Land Art works through on-site visits, critical reading, and related exhibitions. She received her MFA in Studio Art from the University of Oregon in 2013 and currently adjuncts with multiple universities while living in Portland, OR.
Luca Curci – What’s your background? What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
Katherine Spinella – Coming from a family of non-artists, a working-class upper midwest stock, fixing old lawnmowers with my dad on the weekends was this kind of introduction in a weird way to being a studio artist. I was the unofficial spray painting department for this activity. Learning how to take something broken and refurbish it impacted my way of thinking. My approach to making is highly collage based, remixing found and altered images, casting found objects, using familiar symbols, working with an assemblage of multiple mediums. Always tinkering in the garage with the propane heater buzzing is not too dissimilar from what I do now in my studio. Additionally, the colorful and frenetic movement-filled illustrations in popular children’s books like Don Freeman’s made a lasting impact on my sense of aesthetic. I studied printmaking as an undergraduate with an equally strong interest in darkroom photography. During this time I experimented a lot with non-traditional printing surfaces like screen printing onto my photographs and photograms, as well as intaglio printing onto sheer fabric. In graduate school I went to an interdisciplinary program, still through a printmaking track, but with a much broader lens allowing me to tamper with combining print and other mediums to create multi-media installations while exploring a wider array of concepts. I think now, teaching is the thing that influences my work the most. It’s always presenting me with new questions and patterns that emerge in my thinking and relationship to art.
LC – Which subject are you working on?
KS – I tend to be a conceptual Roomba. Right now, I’m mulling over how isolation by interacting primarily in a virtual space creates this heavy fragmentation of imagery, attention, and absorption of information. How can I manifest this fragmentation in a really physical way? This is something I ask myself. I play with classification and how we access common and varied understandings in our relationships to images and abstract symbols. In recent prints, there is a play with ubiquitous recognizable signs and recontextualizing collections of fragmentary information. When I work with these symbols and images I imagine ways to scramble their hierarchy. For example, in Catfish Blue, the most recent work I’ve finished, I use a semicolon at the very top repeated in a vibrant watermelon color to create a pronounced pause as the first thing your eyes meet. As you enter the work, it’s reading, I ask the viewer to slow down. I think about some of these new works on paper as how a writer might approach a poem. Registers of imagery become lines of adjusted text shaped to create an evocative tone that is something rather than about defining something. The way I work with imagery has a lot to do with the process of photography as well. I create some printed imagery in these new works that are essentially photograms of actual objects, flattened and absent in a way, rendered as an abstract mass through the screen printing process. Many scribbles and strings and nets are showing up these days.
LC – What is your creative process like?
KS – My creative process and practice take on a multitude of functions. Making in the studio, teaching, being part of artists run collectives/groups, and keeping a running reading list. In the studio, I often work simultaneously on multiple things that range in mediums. I recently purchased a large format printer so I can get back into a groove of working with a combo of digital image & screen printed works on paper. I’ve been working with images of compost and elements of decomposition like worms. I’m also teaching myself some candle making by working with clay tubes that I can manipulate and pour wax into in order to make odd candles. My plan is to take video of these candles as they burn down, then project those videos onto objects in some upcoming exhibitions. I guess my process is to make a lot and follow tangents, then edit out what does not work in the end.
LC – Are your artworks focused on a specific theme?
KS – For a long time I’ve been interested in imagining what the earth looks like when we’re gone; when humans are extinct. That may be an upsetting idea to some, but I’m not looking at it from this fear of nonexistence. I imagine this question “What do we leave behind?” And for a long time I’ve explored casts and images of trash as relics of consumer culture. What will future species assume was the purpose of these fragments taken out of context and time? I’m interested in attempting to decenter myself, thinking about how living and nonliving things around me impact my decisions as much as I do theirs. What will the trace of our species be when nature has moved on from us?
LC – How is being an artist nowadays?
KS – I’m unsure of my point of comparison for past to present experience of being an artist. Difficult yet thrilling, but I think this has been true throughout time.
LC – What do you think about the concept of this festival? How did it inspire you?
KS – I think Future Landscapes resonated with these questions about what we leave behind and the ideas I explore with the Thunderstruck Collective.
LC – What is the message linked to the artwork you have shown in this exhibition? How is it connected to the theme of the entire festival?
KS – My print Red Dawn layers and obscures text and information into an emotive image to catalog shared feelings in the mishandling of the pandemic response within the United States. In April 2020, the New York Times released 80+ pages of email correspondence, which was named Red Dawn and collected through the Freedom of Information Act that reveals the early failure to act in regard to COVID-19. Even the subject of the email, for which this print is titled is misguided. Still, as I write this now, we are sitting with a continued failure of leadership as the 45th is refusing the transfer of power. Red Dawn is a visual compression of those early emails. Text and information are layered and obscured into an emotive image that catalogues shared feelings of confusion and highlighting the failure of our country to inform, act, and care for citizens during this pandemic. Red Dawn is both a document and a time-lapse of distress. The last four years in the United States has been a chaotic shuffle toward the end of a belief in truth & democracy.
LC – Would you suggest a collaboration with us? What do you think about our services?
KS – Yes. Good and timely communication. I appreciated someone reaching out to me asking me to apply after having looked at my website.
LC – Do you think ITSLIQUID GROUP can represent an opportunity for artists?
KS – Yes, I think it’s difficult as an emerging artist to gain international opportunities for exhibiting your work, and ITSLIQUID GROUP helped to foster those opportunities and relationships.