Kate Gilmore loves to get her hands dirty. In her performance-based videos, she is the lone protaganist who attempts to conquer self-constructed obstacles while wearing prim and proper attire – pearls, gloves, cardigans and stilettos. Physical comedy meets muscle power as she pushes her body to its physical limits. In Between a Hard Place (2008) she wears a black dress with matching gloves to tear through six layers of dry wall, eventually ending in a room painted the same bright yellow color as her heels. As the video fades to black she turns exhaustively to the camera and smirks.
Not all her performances are so destructive. In Blood from a Stone (2009), included in the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition Reflections on the Electric Mirror, the artist struggles to hoist ten solid plaster blocks onto a row of high shelves. Each shelf is covered in a thick layer of white paint, which splashes on the wall and leaks to the floor below. The cubes are homage to minimalism luminaries – think Sol Le Witt – and the paint splashes are akin to Jackson Pollock’s splatter technique. I can’t help but see the similarity to Carolee Schneemann’s Up To and Including Her Limits (1976) where the artist, suspended naked from a rope harness, manually raises and lowers herself and strokes surrounding walls with crayons. The result is a web of brightly colored marks that trace the body’s movement in the style of Pollock. Gilmore, like Schneemann, problematizes the myth of artistic genius as male centered. In assuming hardship and struggle they challenge the validity of masculinity in art historical discourse.
I just came across an interview with you and your sister, the writer, Jennifer Gilmore. You mention briefly the element of Jewish humor in your work. There is so much aggression to me in your performances – whether you are breaking something or making a mess – how do you find a balance between this and the humor?
I think that I have learned to use humor and color in a way that seduces the viewer. It brings people in to the work, makes them feel comfortable, attracts them…
Then, when they are in I can get a little darker and try to twist things in an unexpected way.
Speaking of Jewish, Passover is fast approaching. What will you be making? Are you much of a cook at all?
My sister is having a seder. She is more into being Jewish than I am. I will, as always, eat whatever I am given. Passover is not known to be the holiday with the best cuisine!
I cook– pretty basic. I don’t have a ton of patience!
And if I were to go in your fridge right now, what would I find? What are the essentials you always have?
Milk, eggs, cheese (all dairy products!), salad. Quick stuff.
As I look at your videos I cant help but think of Martha Rosler – Semiotics of the Kitchen or Reading the Pages of Vogue. The early pioneers of feminist video art blended humor so well with a very direct political and social message. Do you see yourself influenced by this at all? Is there any artist from the period you are most inspired by?
I love that Martha Rosler reference. People have started to talk about her in relation to my work for the first time this year. I think the newer work is definitely more in this conversation. The dark humor of the mundane.
I am a huge fan, so any conversation that I am in that relates my work to hers, I am more than happy to participate! I am definitely influenced by early feminist video and performance art, but also lots of different aspects of art making. I think I have been most attracted to artists who use their bodies as tools. Those who transform an environment and/or themselves through an intense physical action. We see this with Abramovic, Burden, Acconci, Nauman. I also come from this strong history of making so sculptors have always been a huge influence on me. My first inspirations were the sculptures of Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, and Kiki Smith. I am also a sucker for a massive Richard Serra and a very orderly Judd.
What do you think of being labeled as a feminist artist? Is it a blessing or a curse?
I’m fine with it. I can’t imagine any woman artist having issue with this! As a woman who participates in contemporary society, inevitably, this must be a part of your reality. That said, I do hope that my work has other conversations around it as well.
In most of your videos you are wearing a killer pair of heels. In fact, you always wear a great outfit.. Do you buy your clothes specific for the performance or do you pull it right out of your closet?
The outfits are definitely bought for the performances. If they aren’t ruined, they often end up in my closet after that. The clothes are purchased in the same way traditional art making materials are purchased. It’s all a part of constructing an object and the clothes are a major and formal part of that.
Most of your performances are messy – do you just wind up tossing most of your clothes in the garbage afterward?
I keep everything! I am a bit of a hoarder…
When you perform for the camera are you stepping into character? Is there much difference between Kate Gilmore the performer and Kate Gilmore the person?
These characters are probably elements of my personality, but I do see them as removed from me in a major way. I don’t look at my work and see myself in these pieces. I see an entirely different individual. I also often speak to my work and it’s construction as a “we” instead of “I”. This probably means I have a multiple personality or something like that.
If I commissioned you to dress up as super hero, who would it be?
What about a super power? Xray vision? Ability to fly? I always thought it would be fun to read people’s thoughts, but I am afraid what they would say about me.
Save the world from destruction.