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Born in Los Angeles, now New York-based artist Kathryn Garcia subverts cultural taboos, delving directly into explorations of gender, sexuality, psychology, and their relationship to both art history and contemporary pop zeitgeist. We met to discuss the queering of culture and why her online alter-ego—BDY DBL—saves the day.
Legacy Russell Kathryn, how would you define your creative practice? As in, what modalities do you put into action via your work?
Kathryn Garcia I guess I would say my practice is not medium-specific—or you could say the mediums bleed into one another. The work bleeds. I work in drawing, as a practice, and also in video. I also employ methods of appropriation in various works; my website is both archival and interactive/schizoid.
KG By schizoid I mean that it is non-linear, basically there is no center. I put stuff on there randomly. It functions as an archive in a sense but doesn’t follow any kind of order.
For me art is about communication. Of course, I have aesthetic concerns when making something, but my work is content driven. I make art to talk about my ideas and political concerns: sex, gender, queerness, desire, trans-, becoming other, becoming flower, becoming man-woman, woman as man, man as woman, or that without distinctions.
Exploring zones that create precarity within meanings defined through oppositions, the bleeding of opposites, being that which bleeds. Those confusing in-betweens. What exists between a penis and vagina when both are becoming each other? And how these kinds of states of in-between challenge language, structures, and other mechanisms of control. Madness, anarchy, sexuality and the abject are a few examples of these types of states. I guess as a goal I aim to confuse people into a state of questioning why there are definitions in the first place, and more importantly, what those definitions are used for, preying on sexual impulse, attraction/repulsion, and liminal spaces.
LR What interests you about these concepts?
KG How they defy hierarchies or throw hierarchies or hierarchical thinking out of balance. Organs not holding primacy over other organs, and what that implies in regards to the greater social structure—to desire in general, to ideas of have or lack.
I like the idea that Deleuze and Guattari introduced and then Hocquenghem expanded into queer theory that desire is productive, that there are no limits to desire. That thought interests me over [Freud’s] “Pleasure Principle”—the idea that desire is futile and the nature of it is that which can never be satisfied . . . an example of this would be consumption in capitalism: More more more. Me me me. Lack defined in relationship to desire: corporate ads, Oedipal triangulation, the vagina as a horrific symbol that the penis is missing. I mean, I just think that’s ridiculous, I think we’re socialized into these oppositions, I don’t think they actually exist outside of structures of power, which to me is problematic. If libidinal energy is a genderless thing, force—whatever it is—then why is power based on the phallus? Why are these buildings in New York so goddamn tall? I prefer things that ooze over things that are vertical. All this verticality breeds neuroses.
LR I first saw your works as part of BRUCENNIAL 2010: Miseducation, presented by Vito Schnabel and The Bruce High Quality Foundation, in downtown New York, in 2010. They were gorgeous drawings on transparencies of seemingly headless bodily forms, spread open for our inspection.
There was also a video, right? When eavesdropping in the gallery space, I overheard some folks jumping right into the whole age-old debate of whether or not this was pornography or art. I found this particularly strange since right next to your work there were several pieces, made by various male artists, that also made use of so-called pornography in their pieces—in particular I’m thinking of a work wherein Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson’s sex tape was quoted—it seemed like folks had a whole lot less to say about that.
Have you heard this before about your work? What about a female artist—in this case, you—representing/re-presenting the sexuality of other women within her work do you think is so startling for an art audience?
KG That piece at the BRUCENNIAL was a montage of excerpted clips from Eurotica films circa 1970—lots of lesbian vampires and other cannibalistic females, mad women consuming one another. I wanted to show mainstream depictions of female-female sexuality. The blood sucking female vampire feeding on another woman to me is a metaphor for lesbian sex—blood on blood (menstruation), sex and the consumption of blood. The lesbian/vampire as abject fetish, at once attractive and horrifying. It’s funny that people thought of it as pornography because in comparison to contemporary pornography the sex in these movies is so soft core. I don’t mind someone seeing my work as pornography rather than art, it is actually flattering. (There’s that liminal space again!)
Maybe it’s startling because it falls outside of a category. I mean, hetero depictions of sex (like the one you mentioned) are omnipresent to the point of vacuity, so perhaps the debate may not arise because people are so used to it? I don’t know, I’m speaking hypothetically because I don’t know where these people are coming from. But I can argue that people are used to hetero depictions of female to female sexuality—like porn made for men with women acting as lesbians. You know, that stuff you see where you’re like, “Oh my god! She doesn’t like pussy, she is just pretending—and why are her fingernails so long and french tipped?!”
I would also argue that people are used to the more stereotyped butch/femme homo-normatives when it comes to the depiction of lesbian sex and I think I fall outside of that category as well, so it becomes a little more confusing. I’m not depicting the more obvious representation of, say, a dyke sensibility, or the go-to queer subcultural identity of a butchlesbian—it’s a little different. In that particular video I pulled from a pop (subconscious?) portrayal of what I see as queer sexuality, so it’s a little twisted.
Also two of the drawings in that sequence were made by layering images of Sarvia [Jasso]and I on top of images of my friend (the artist Matt Greene) who posed for me dressed as a woman, actually posed as Sarvia, so there are various levels of sexuality there, various levels of gender identity, various identities/sexualities, so that may also add to the confusion.
LR Within your work, how do you choose to differentiate between the realms of sex and gender? Is there a dividing line?
KG Well, linguistically the two words are used interchangeably and there are so many variations within each. They can be the same or different.
LR What is your relationship to social and cultural politic as you produce your work? To the lineage of popular culture? Where do you cull your material from? Beyond this—what inspires you?
KG I would say I am examining all of the above through my work, processing the social fabric, but also commenting on it. Making something to insert within the social fabric as a politic, as well.
Pop to me is an interesting lens into culture. I grew up in L.A. so naturally I think of Hollywood and Disney as pop. Warhol’s pop, but Michael Jackson is much more pop to me. I like finding homo-eroticism within pop and exposing it, or exposing negative portrayals of homosexuality, or where homosexuality is pathologized. Like the history of the movie Cruising (1980)—how the LGBT community hated it at first, and protested against the content of the film . . . the narrative is structured around a a homosexual serial killer. I mean it was probably originally released as propaganda against late ’70s early ’80s gay night life in NY— propaganda created to instill fear. Now it’s like this cult classic among the queer community, like after all that time, they began to fetishize the pathology, began to like it because it depicted deviancy, degeneracy. It also showed Pacino as starting to falter, like once you’ve seen what you’ve seen in gay culture there’s no going back, you are now a deviant, by default you are now part of a deviant sexuality. Thank god! I wish it was that easy, that people weren’t so stiff, so straight! I mean, I’d rather be a deviant than Will and Grace. I’d pick Jean Genet over Anderson Cooper.
I cull my material from everywhere—comics, fetish mags, porn magazines, movies, queer theory, I read a lot of Semiotext[e], Burroughs, Guy Hocquenghem. Artists—Jack Smith is kind of at the top of my list right now. I love Lee Lozano; I’m excited to see the Asco show at LACMA in L.A; I have an obsession with Nina Hagen ; Nattasja Kinski; B-movies; Mario Bava; Brian De Palma; Cronenberg; Lynch; Anarcoma, ACT-UP.
LR You have quite an archive of work on your website www.bdydbl.biz. The by-line reads: “BDYDBL, ART, CYBER, SEX, PORNOGRAPHY, QUEER.” What does this mean?
KG I Remember when I first started using chat rooms the invitation was always “Want to cyber?” In other words—to have sex via internet. I have tons of saved chats with my girlfriend still . . . I guess it’s like sex via internet, via text, that’s what CYBER refers to. “QUEER” because it’s queer—I just wanted it to go beyond an artist site, something more interactive.
LR Unpack the history of BDYDBL. I feel like the idea of a body double for me immediately brings to mind Hollywood (or porn industry?) movie stand-ins; the history of the doppelgänger; and the (sociological, biological, etc.) notion of twinning and the cultural phenoms that have sprung from those concepts. Double body or body double for me seems particularly steeped in queer discourse as well, hearkening to the duality of sexuality, the balancing of and controversies surrounding the evolving archetypes of masculine/femininewithin contemporary aesthetic . . . for you, it seems that BDYDBL acts as a vehicle for a myriad of things, there are many layers—it is all at once a nom de guerre and a super-hero-esque alter ego! What kinds of things were you aiming for in the genesis of BDYDBL? What are some characters that embody the BDYDBL ideal?
KG So, BDYDBL was started as a collaboration with my friend the artist Dena Yago. I wanted to design a site that was similar to a porn site, or a spam site for Prozac, like one of those strange links you get at the end of a spam email. I don’t know how we came up with BDYDBL but I think it was Dena’s idea, she liked the word with “.biz” at the end. Later we found the de Palma film of the same title (Body Double, 1984)—that film is about voyeurism so it was funny, the similarity. Dena later made a video where she interviewed her friend who is an actual body double.
But I think everything you are saying is true, the title came to life during a conversation over coffee, but it grew to mean what you’re saying, or predicted the genesis of itself. BDYDBL was born. I think of the site as it’s own entity really, I never really call it my website I always call it BDYDBL. It definitely relates to gender, two-spirit, androgyny, double selves, Single White Female (1992)—another movie where lesbian sexuality is pathologized! Trans-alter-egos, all of that. I think BDYDBL encapsulates it all. It’s also an identity I hide behind, for instance online i use bdy dbl instead of my real name. I think I’m from a generation between T.V. and internet so I’m not really into this whole age of transparency, I like privacy, which also probably means I like voyeurism. Also, in reality, your identity on the internet is not you, it’s a screen, a fantasyof you, a projection, so essentially it is a dbl.
LR What does femme mean to you? Within your work does it have a presence? What binaries are created in your body of work?
KG Femme is a label used within a queer subculture to describe feminine lesbians, it’s similar to the label lipstick. I don’t know, I don’t think it really operates in my work. I hope to represent a space where binaries like masculine/feminine no longer exist, where they become another or become something other. Fluid states are important to me. Masculine and feminine are just two imaginary points anyway, neither really exists. I prefer the idea of plurality.
LR Where would you pinpoint the beginnings of your interest in creative production and art-making? Did you go to art school?
KG I didn’t go to art school. My dad always painted—he actually got a scholarship to go to Chouinard [Art Institute] in L.A. way back in the ’60s but declined and went to the military instead. I think he thought that artists were weird. He was from East L.A, he played football and drove classic cars, probably too pachuco for the art world. So my dad brought me up going to museums, looking at the masters. My dad loves Rembrandt. I made my first oil painting at four years old. So I guess I’ve always been in it.
LR What are you working on now?
KG I was just in a show at Pace titled Soft Machines.
I am also working on a suite of drawings of the Carla Series where we will follow Carla throughout various important events in her life. “Carla” is a character I have just recently developed, she is…composed basically of a series of lines a pair of heels and ring. But Carla is so much more than that, she is an abject mass in constant motion. The first drawing of her depicts her with a wedding ring on, to kind of poke fun at mainstream depictions of the normalization of gay culture via the whole legalization of marriage thing. So Carla is my parody of that, she’s essentially an abject monster who can transform into anything—and now’s shes getting married. She’s an ongoing character that I will continue to develop—Carla will continue to grow and trans-form.
I am also working on a film with Gordon Flores entitled Lily of the Valley that is shot between NY, Los Angeles, and London.
LR Fantastic. Any habits, rituals, trans-formations you exercise when producing work?
KG Oh—those I keep secret!