MOUTHBREATHER: An Interview with Katelyn Farstad

[uds-billboard name=”katelyn”] Katelyn Farstad is a recent graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She has exhibited at Zach Feuer Gallery in New York, Synchronicity Space in Los Angeles, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Hopkins Art Center, Art of This, The Soap Factory and Fox Tax Gallery in Minneapolis, and has an upcoming exhibition at Julius Caesar in Chicago, April 2013. She is the author of a recently published essay, “I’m a Rotten Meat and Acid Potatoes Kind of Guy,” on Fischli and Weiss’s masterpiece, Der Lauf der Dinge (The Way Things Go). Farstad is also an active musician in the Twin Cities, playing drums in two bands: Tips for Twat and Larry Wish and His Guys.

Katelyn Farstad’s current exhibition at Midway Contemporary Art, MOUTHBREATHER, includes paintings, sculptures and architectural manipulations. The work’s anxious materiality can be seen as a mask that obscures reapportioned objects; convoluted by the histories that are dredged. A catalog of the exhibition will be published early next year and include writing from Farstad’s archive of unpublished works. In this interview, Farstad discusses aesthetic pederasty, recycling paintings and attempts at her own undermining.

Tony Sunder: The press release for your current exhibition, MOUTHBREATHER, at Midway Contemporary states, “Farstad is freely dipping her toes into a variety of stylistic histories: surrealism, art brut, fauvism, cubism, dada, still life, and the decorative arts all manifest themselves within her reign of aesthetic pederasty.” I wanted to ask you about the phrase, “her reign of aesthetic pederasty.”

Katelyn Farstad: Perhaps it’s a heavy-handed thing to say, or to do…aesthetic pederasty…what does that mean? I think it means there are odd unconventional relationships in the paintings. Or, perhaps I am trying to light heartedly refer to the male dominated world?

TS: Are you the pederast? Are you the male? Who is committing the pederasty?

KF: What is happening aesthetically–in the room, in and in between pieces–is a form of pederasty. The meaning of the word is too linked to man-boy relationships, but if we are forced to think of it this way; I am the young boy and the older male is Painting. There is a molestation happening to ideas which have been adapted by these other artistic movements that serendipitously seem to also be present in my work. A general molesting between them all.

TS: It’s a give and take.

KF: I don’t know what kind of “feminist” I am, you know what I mean? I don’t know where my stance is in all that. Aesthetic pederasty really just had a nice ring to it….

TS: It becomes slippery fast. I read that statement in the press release and thought, “Oh, that’s a funny.” But then the more I thought about it, the more slippery it became. I started to think: whose reign? and what reign? Where is power being placed? It’s a very amorphous statement. Aesthetic pederasty is a funny way to think about it, but it is real and the more slippery it becomes in relation to you, the more you see it present in the work.

KF: …and then you can look at the paintings in a more molested light, or something… It suggests that the viewer takes a certain type of stance toward the paintings in an effort to understand them. A term like “aesthetic pederasty” probably subtlety points at more underlying personal qualms I have with myself and that comes through with a certain humor I use when titling things…and also in the brashness of certain aspects of the show. I like to make it known that I’m scrambling…it’s a scrambling. I’m aware of just myself in a stupid way, trying to make my best effort to communicate some sort of deeper position of existence within these tiny excerpts of information.

TS: Is that out of a fear of the brashness coming across as just being brash?

KF: …or being read as snide, or too snarky. Which it is, a little bit, but I’m way more sincere than that. But you can’t convince people. Sincerity is a very mucked up thing. You can’t judge others sincerity; you can barely judge your own. But when I think about sincerity, and what I think it means to other people, then yes, I think I am being sincere, but also being interested and excited and puzzled and frustrated. Those are all motivations to produce images–when there are so many already, so many artists…

People love cohesion. They love things to be able to be quantified and compacted just like everything else. If something is flailing and vomiting and shitting–screaming as it comes in a room where people are trying to have a nice time, where everyone is wearing pearls, that’s gonna rub some people the wrong way.

TS: Art is often reduced to some pleasant aesthetic moves, and then running through all the permutations of them, but with your work it’s highlighted and then made to be uncomfortable. Color moments are placed on top of a rug that makes them hyperbolic and disgusting…a moment of lush color, but on top of human hair. It’s like you give it to us, but then you gotta put the hair with it. It’s like the father who sees his child smoking and then forces him to smoke a whole pack. He gives the child exactly what he does, but does not want.

KF: In the most exterior of surface, I might suggest some initial notion of pleasantness, but then what is just below the surface is usually more subsumable to the paint, some easily disguisable material that is in fact ‘grosser’ than the surface treatment of it. I am attempting to get the viewer to look (literally) closer, so that they have a surprising realization, one that makes them feel slightly embarrassed for falsely judging the surface. That is something that I am after, as far as a pre-prescribed emotional response to the works goes, so that your conflicted with appreciating something on the one hand, for these nice or pleasant aesthetic attributes, but then you are inherently at odds with the deeper formal aspects of it that supersedes the outward nicety of the pleasant moments of paint.

TS: Assemblage work. It’s recurring because it’s continually being made with new forms, new objects, and it looks new because the objects which comprise it are new. Like Kelley Walker and Rachel Harrison look new because their objects are new, but maybe Rauschenberg and Johns looked equally ultra-crest fresh when they were originally kicking, but their work just has had time to yellow. Maybe we’re going to see this assemblage resurgence every twenty years. But your work deals with the opposite; it has already acquired the patina of a five year old pillow sans case. Is this patina important to you? To give it a look of being not new?

KF: Yes….maybe like in an instance where Isa Genzken has some kind of action figure which is entirely unfettered by any sort of peripheral paint or whatever, it sort of feels unadulterated. Or, rather if its unaltered it was already doing something….but I’m trying to get the objects to do something else. So, therefore, its appearance, its surface, usually has to change in order for me to be able to use it. Not always though.

I’m not sure if I agree that the pieces have a patina. I would think about it more like a certain type of psychological stain.

Psychedelic Centers, Last Brown Attempts, 2011.

TS: In your work previous to this show, there was a lot more (to use your word) “unfettered” objects.

KF: Maybe I was more content changing nothing about the surface or the inherent quality of the object, with the exception of completely changing the color in an opaque way. For instance in Psychedelic Centers, Last Brown Attempts (2011), a green wreath that is made of yarn was left unchanged because, in and of itself, it’s like this pure thing and there is nothing competing within itself aesthetically. It is purely itself. But the pieces in MOUTHBREATHER are caught under a foggy veil of vomit and dizziness. The objects are more nauseous themselves. Whereas before, maybe they possessed the confidence one would feel at the beginning of a night, before you’re completely battered down, but now…

TS: …but now it’s after the night?

KF: Yes. Now it feels more upfront or more honest, or something. I’m allowing myself to be more honest. I don’t feel this simplistic compositional reserve; I feel the opposite as I did before.

TS: Now you feel free to…

KF: …to like expreesssssss myself… [laughter]…realizing that I was trying to make paintings without ever using paint, and not ‘painting’ at all seemed like something to address. Now I am after a heavier hand, a more visible hand. There is a rolodex of go-to things that indicate a heavier hand in terms of surface and paint, different textures you can achieve with paint; using a palette knife versus a brush, gobbling it on……no drips though, I don’t like drips. The image of a drip is too cruel.

TS: It’s very, very rare that something now, as opposed in the older works, is allowed its own intrinsic material qualities. Everything is covered in four layers of some substance.

KF: Something might be crowning to a view, to shine, but then something else smites it out. There’s smite happening.

Untitled Black Lattice, 2012.

TS: Do you actively, or consciously, undermine yourself? Do you think: “This looks great. I should work against that.” Is it possible that something look too good?

KF: No. For instance the black lattice piece [Untitled Black Lattice (2012)] is this weird drawing on pink paper with a clump of stones and a shell with a vertical black line running through center. I think that thing is austere. So, no. Sometimes I have a limit where I think something is good and I don’t need to always shit all over everything. But also when I think of other artists…that seems like something everyone is unwilling to do, right? To shit on themselves and then to show that stuff. That’s all the stuff that doesn’t get shown, that sits in the corner of the studio because you can’t fit it into the series….‘cause you’re trying to make a flippin’ series!

Looking back at past works, I think of them all equally…so it’s sort of like new members to the club all the time. Club open. No leader! Or if there is one, I guess, it’s me. I’m not completely resisting the notion of repeating an effort, but that is where I have the biggest anxiety, so I try to be constantly skipping around…turning a blind eye to certain things. I know it is just going to regurgitate itself later. There is some sort of personal policing, not seeable by all. I have aesthetics preferences; formal hopes and dreams.

MOUTHBREATHER (installation view)

Much of the stuff that I have used are discarded household items that maybe had an aesthetic aspiration at one time–to be seamlessly integrated into someone’s home decor–but it never could work for anybody. Tiny wicker chairs to put a bear on? Nobody wants those things. So, they’ve got to find somewhere to go now. There is a notion of repurposing a perceived past life that these objects have had, like a born again “whatever,” to now exist in a completely different way…a way that they never knew that they wanted, but now they have to. There is a forced element to it.

TS: So, then I want to bring up the two ‘installation’ choices at Midway which are seamlessly integrated into the space: the egg shaped portal and the large stuccoed wall.

MOUTHBREATHER (installation view)

KF: The egg I thought of in relation to several literal images of infancy, both of humans and other species of beings, throughout the show. It was an initial way to antagonistically respond to the space, and that’s usually what I go with. I thought it would be both a little unpredictable and also heavy handed…again, this idea of the heavy hand. The symbol of an egg is tied to other images throughout the show, and completes the ‘picture,’ but still… It’s a weird feeling; it gives me a weird feeling, the room.

The wall looks like the inside of a Mexican restaurant or something, but now in this gallery. And, now the stucco is also white so it mimics the frosting of the cake in the image of the cake that is hung on the stucco wall. It’s the only thing hung on the stucco wall, in the large section of it. That is possibly the ultimate undermined instance in the show…building this massive wall with this beautiful texture and then hanging this parallel and slightly underwhelming thing on it.

TS: The gallery is generally supposed to be a white-walled neutral space and, having given a dialect (for lack of the better word) to the space, you have given a feel to it. That seems like a very overt choice, to de-neutralize the space.

KF: There a lot of like similar tactics between the pieces but they are also to each their own. There are a couple of pieces that are intrinsically connected, but it’s almost like, if this is going to be a space for these objects, which are these sort of newly born things to be existing, there should be an attempt made in the space to put them further out…but to not detract from them. They are very ‘theatrical’ (for lack of a better term…because I don’t like that term). By creating a set, I’m trying to make them feel at home. They’re nervous. They’re leaving the studio. They’ve never been to anyone else’s house before…they haven’t gone anywhere. So, I tried to imagine a space that was going to let them be the most at ease and in the most approachable state…because simultaneously they are a bit unapproachable.

It’s is a spine, in a way, that these feats of architecture are not functional choices. They’re sort of austere and perfect in their production, in their execution (*shout out to K.Olson. & P.Docken.*). The wall and the “egg portal” look as if they have always been there. A simple decision to change a shape can do something to a space and it is sort of magical, and necessary…I feel as if it is necessary. There has to be architectural intervention for a new ‘plane’ to exist for the works to reside in. They are already so brash, in and of themselves. I thought, “If I am going to make gaudy decisions what is the most subdued level of gaudy?”

Untitled Mauve Lattice (2012) is the piece on the floor behind the stuccoed wall. The thin fabric has been hardened and looks like someone that has died in the forest at night wearing nothing but gauze…and you see them the next morning and it’s perfectly formed to their face. It’s thin and it’s dewy and there is something incompatible about it. These architectural interventions conflict with the architecture suggested by the sculptures and paintings and, therefore, somehow it’s balanced.

TS: You quite frequently reuse paintings as if they were raw material. For instance, the painting The Secret V.2 (2011) is now the roof of the sculpture Wake Up Those Sleeping Dogs (2012), featured in MOUTHBREATHER. But it’s not like it’s a thing that went poorly and is being repurposed. That particular painting was featured prominently at your show at Zach Feuer last April; heavily documented and consecrated. If anything, it is definitively a finished painting. And yet, now in this show, it is being subsumed as a roof for a sculpture.

The Secret V.2, 2011.

KF: That is actually really weird because I guess it’s the first instance of a recycling of that kind. The Secret V.2 is a painting on its own, and also features itself in Wake Up Those Sleeping Dogs. They could never show in the same room, obviously because that would be…difficult. The Secret V.2 is just really resting within Wake Up Those Sleeping Dogs; it’s not permanently adhered to that sculpture.

TS: So it can always be itself and it can always be subsumed into the sculpture?

KF: Yeah. That whole sculpture is a balancing of separate paintings and integrating objects in this strange still life. It’s a shallowly meta-redundant thing…I didn’t do anything different to it. I don’t know what that impulse was to integrate this completely autonomous finished painting into a sculpture as an element, not as itself. But itself remains unchanged. And, The Secret V.2, of course, is the second version of its former self, The Secret.

TS: So maybe the roof painting is a bit of an anomaly, but continuous work on something isn’t. Maybe this goes back to earlier when we were talking about patina…

KF: Certain things get left alone for months and months, and then I will see them in a new light and get back in there. Certain things are finished and there is nothing else that could happen, within a particular painting, that I would not rather just explore in an entirely new painting. It’s just different for each piece. Because certain paintings are more of a process of beating a dead horse, and trying to resurrect it or save it or find some sort of admirable moments within its total chaos, versus…well I think there is kind of a bi-polar nature to the work a little bit. There is a fight between stopping prematurely and overworking something…and I haven’t worked too much in the territory of moderation. I like to dabble in extremes and putting those things in conversation with each other, showing works together that maybe you would normally think you shouldn’t because upon first impression they don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other, but by proximity start to bleed onto each other a little bit.

TS: What do you think about the statement “…despite the brutally cold winters this may be one of the greatest cities in the US. Minneapolitans and Saint Paulites are wildly optimistic about the future of the city in a way that presumes that anything is possible.”?

KF: **HONK** You know, I don’t know. Maybe I feel the same way because when people move to New York and have lived there for two months and then they say “Oh, I’m from New York.” and get pride out of that I don’t know what that’s about, but I like saying I’m from Minneapolis. I kind of like it here. I just like the fact that you can walk down the side of the street and there will only be one other person in their total disgusting glory and you can just get a good look at ‘em. So there is a savory quality about Minneapolis. It’s really exciting. People are optimistic about a future that they are not really willing to actively participate in crafting. That’s everybody’s fleepin’ problem. That’s my problem, too.

TS: Is Minneapolis a great place?

KF: I don’t know. Everyone is just cold (in terms of the weather) and wished they remembered to buy Nutella the last time they went to the grocery store, but they forgot–and they keep forgetting–so they are just mostly mad about stuff like that. I mean, I also think it’s great there is an amazing group of artists here. Actually, on the record, there are certain people I believe in wholeheartedly as artists and as people and I feel like they are doing amazing, individualistic, experimental and radical things. And Minneapolis does get hard, for there is no chance of things like gallery representation or art fairs or any of that malarkey. Artwork here doesn’t circulate so much as it just collects dust. And right…like wine, that’s good! Let ‘em age! Let’s take the paintings back out and say, “Oh, we still have this!” I’m probably not gonna sell them. It’s fine. Who cares? (Me, slightly.)

TS: That’s the fear of course, that they never go anywhere.

KF: That’s why I feel like I’m so prone to recycling paintings…because at a certain point, do I really want to look at this thing, or can it be something else? Can I use it again? I mean I think it’s great here. It’s cheap. There are some amazing people making some amazing art. There are a few good galleries, it’s just…we gotta get some more galleries going. We gotta start something, or somebody’s gotta start something.

TS: But do you think that is specific to here?

KF: There is great stuff happening and there are great people, but it’s not on a coast…so mostly it’s like a middle child syndrome anxiety. In such a dichotomous society, it’s easier to be like East Coast/West Coast/Male/Female/Good/Bad/Ugly…



Katelyn Farstad: MOUTHBREATHER is on view at Midway Contemporary Art until February 2, 2013.
Images courtesy of the artist and Midway Contemporary Art. Photo: Gene Pittman

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