Katie Holden

Katie Holden (b. 1990, Saratoga Springs, NY) holds an MFA in Contemporary Art Practice from Portland State University and a BFA in Painting and Drawing from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She is a winner of the 2014 Arlene Schnitzer Visual Arts Prize and has participated in residencies with Signal Fire and IDEO Boston. She lives and works in the California Bay Area.

I work in a variety of media to investigate the overlap of digital space and natural place. For several years I have been interested in how art objects are interacted with both physically and digitally and what differs between those two venues. Either space has corporeal implications that affect how art objects are seen.

Viewers adjust their bodies intuitively to three­dimensional art objects and just as easily shift their posture, line of sight and two forefingers to view an image on a screen. These observations and curiosities have inspired me to make performative videos, screen capture photo sequences, augmented reality experiences, sculptures, and installations in tandem with my studied painting practice as a method of experimenting with exhibition strategies and viewer engagement.

In a chapter from Contemporary Painting in Context, Peter Weibel wrote: “A knowing painting knows its own history, just as it knows its artificial surroundings. The change of code affects painting. The painting changes code immediately.” Weibel’s chapter about media and immedia focuses on the way film and video effected painting in the 1990s. He defines A Pittura Immedia as a painting that “expresses absolute pleasure at whatever remains of painterly qualities able to resist mediation.”

I do not seek to protect the act of painting from mediation because I think Painting can hold its own. Instead, I think it more apt for painting to express pleasure in generating a contemporary breadth of painterly qualities existing amongst mediation. It is for these reasons that I continue to make work aiming to both prod and celebrate antiquated and developing aspects of the act of painting.

climbing, video by Katie Holden

Q&A with Katie Holden
by Sidney Mullis

Hi Katie! What got you interested in the physical and virtual realm of viewing art?
I started thinking about this one day as I was photographing an especially grimy painting I had just finished. On the display screen there was an amount of distance that made the globs of paint look more sophisticated. This troubled and excited me and served as an impetus to make more paintings to examine on screen.

Sometimes paintings looked better on screen and sometimes they just looked flat and uncompelling. My paintings at that time functioned like white balance cards­­ images that I knew and understood how to see but didn’t necessarily hold sentimental attachment to­­ they were more like a tool. So, instead of trying to make the photo represent the painting I was experimenting with how the paintings looked when photographed and viewed on a screen.

Those experiments led me to examine both realms neutrally.

In your statement you mention Peter Weibel and his writing about media and immedia. What drew you to his writing?
This writing is included in the book Contemporary Painting in Context edited by Anne Ring Peterson. While attending the undergraduate Painting & Drawing program at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga the book was included in a seminar class. I was really lucky to have attended such an intimate undergraduate program with a truly crafted curriculum. Over the years this text has become one of a handful that I continue to revisit more often than others. As my relationship with Painting changes over time I find it enriching to reread and adjust my opinions on these writings that I’ve both heralded as ultimate truth and held at arm's length at different points in my work.

For those of us not familiar with writing about painting, how would you explain a Pittura immedia to the general public?
Weibel is speculating what will become of painting in the wake of what he thinks to be a formidable wave of media. He defines visual as being a social context or consensus and extrapolates art as a constructed visual site saying that it possesses mediated visuality which is just a way of saying that visual work is being represented in television, cinema, and cultural codes. He champions a Pittura immedia as the result of painters becoming more concerned with the act of painting than a set of binary and visual logic imposed by social context. As a symptom it generates pleasure.

The writing is brilliant, and still after many times reading it I find myself puzzled at certain points. I think that’s why I keep coming back to it, my interpretation has changed quite a few times.

However, I do always find his overly suspicious tone in the writing to be entertaining.

I am really fond of the digital images you call screenshot paintings on your Instagram. They feel very true to my personal experience of viewing art today while living in rural central Pennsylvania. Could you talk about how you came to make these pieces?
I started making the screenshot paintings in 2011. At the time I was solely focused on making physical paintings and I didn’t quite understand what to do with them and how they related to my work. For that reason I didn’t feel very confident in their worth, but I really enjoyed making them. I found the process of building spaces and implying perspective through jpegs on a flat screen to be amusing and complimentary to the act of painting. I also thought it was great that the final screenshots would be time stamped and reveal aspects of the OS it was created in. For a long time I would make the screenshot paintings and just store them on my external hard drive, not looking at them until I made a few more.

I was actually pretty surprised that you even noticed them on my instagram account. To this day I haven’t shared a majority of them, but I still love making them. I really like that I can combine a variety of images (my desktop, personal photos, phone screenshots, stock photographs) to show an exact moment of time and thought in my practice. When I make them it feels like writing a short poem or a quick postcard to a friend.

Examples of Holden's screenshot paintings

What is your relationship with social media? How do you think it has changed your relationship to viewing and making work?
I try to retain a genuine attitude with how I post on my social media accounts. If something piques my interest I share it without over indulging in staging or concern for aesthetic continuity. However, I do consciously use different platforms for different aspects of my life, and for me, not all platforms are appropriate for sharing my work. For instance, I find that I’d rather show in progress pictures of studio work on Instagram or tumblr because it feels more comfortable and less like spam to post more often on image centric platforms.

As far as viewing other user’s content I think I am much like any other person in that I scroll pretty quickly. I know what I like within a moment and the finger motion to pronounce so is second nature. I don’t think the act of viewing work on a screen is any less fruitful, it’s just within the application’s design to be inherently quick and seamless. I like that I can view work so rapidly most days, it’s illuminating to have so much access to how other artist’s live and work.

Lately, I find myself attracted to making works that critique the artist’s/art’s relationship with social media/internet culture. Examining my relationship as well as other artist’s relationships with social media has inspired works like it’s okay to feel this way and a solo exhibition called naturally. Taking the time to cultivate an awareness of what I am posting/viewing/perceiving on an interface and why I like certain content that other users are sharing definitely influences ideas for new works. I like to imagine how to reproduce aspects of digital display methods in physical space and vice versa in order to collapse perceptions that either method possesses a greater impact or superiority.

I find your Wall painting super interesting in how it was created, documented, and then turned back into a performative video. Could you speak about this piece? Was the painting made during the naturally exhibition? Is it important to you to show these pieces together?
Wall was one of the three pieces designed for the naturally exhibition. All the pieces were made specifically for that show to depict how my paintings and studio habits are affected by my digital life and it was essential that the works to be shown together. Wall was made during the installation of the exhibition, so while I was installing the other works I was assembling the wall, climbing/painting, and shooting the video to be shown at the opening.

I created three categories of focus for the exhibition: the wall, the container, and the scroll. The wall being the initial physical space that a painting inhabits and is supported by, the container as the personal computer space where the painting is stored as an image, and the scroll representing the continuous feeds on internet platforms and applications.

With wall, I was examining the relationship between white wall space and Painting and what role it has in displaying a painting. I was interested in how the white gallery walls that displayed my finished paintings were the same as my website where images of my paintings float atop a white background. I used the wall as both a support and a void. Someplace and no where.

The bouldering holds on the wall served as the underpainting and scaffolding of the process of making a painting, creating courses of movement that challenged and imposed limits on my decision making. The holds were utilitarian and impasto, a mark and a support. I used them as a reference to my body, and a mark for me to react against.

So, wall could be viewed as a painting and/or backdrop. The video documentation, climbing, is mirrored back at the wall displayed on a body­sized plinth. In the video my back is to the audience and my eyes are focused on the painting and my body’s movements. With the viewer's body caught in the space between the 8’x24’ painting and the body­sized plinth displaying climbing, there is an inclination to look at them both. Back and forth.

The wall is a surface and destination.

For me, the overlap of the real and virtual in art speaks to a larger blurring of what constitutes reality for people in their everyday lives. Are you interested in this expansion?
Absolutely. I think that art/artists do an excellent job of perceiving and critiquing the current state of human life. However, I would replace the word “real” with physical because I believe that both physical place and virtual space to be equally real.

What is the most important thing to you about your studio practice?
The most important thing for me is to remain critical and continue making work that questions and confronts its lineage. I mean this both in terms of my newest work in relationships with my oldest and my practice in relationship with art history. To be an artist and have the time to labor over paintings is an incredible privilege. It’s important for me to keep sight of that privilege and make works that are earnest and aim to improve upon themselves.

What are common obstacles that you run into in your practice? How do you solve those problems?
Most obstacles arise from money and budgets. Sometimes having a lofty imagination means you aren’t afraid to dream about expensive resources, fancy materials and idealistic exhibitions. I think imagining having all the luxe tools and tech is fine, but sometimes I have to take the ideas about artworks in daydreams and confront them with a frugal sensibility.

Ultimately, I think having limitations promotes problem­solving (or grant writing).

You completed your MFA in Portland, OR at Portland State University. Congrats! What is the art scene like? Did it feel like a good place to make and promote your work? Where are you off to next?
Thanks! I really enjoyed my time in Portland. I learned so much from the MFA Faculty and candidates at PSU and was able to meet supportive community members along with other students attending PNCA, Reed College, and OCAC. The art community in Portland is very tight knit and full of grit with a wide variety of venues and artists. I was fortunate and had several opportunities to show work at different locations around the city.

Portland is home to organizations like PICA, festivals like TBA, and galleries like Compliance Division, composition, and S1 (and so many more)­­ so there are always a diverse assortment of art events to attend.

I think the most lovely thing about artists in Portland is that they aren’t afraid to create their own space. It’s an added bonus that there are resources and organizations that really want to help those artists create their vision. Right before leaving Portland I had work in Bronco Gallery, which is exactly what it sounds like­­ a Ford Bronco with a gallery­­it’s truly amazing.

Since graduating I moved south to Davis, CA to be with my partner as he was finishing his MFA at UC Davis. Now that he has graduated we are planning to live and work in to Los Angeles.

Is there anything else you would like to add? Any upcoming shows or projects we can keep an eye out for?
I’d like to say thank you for including me amongst such a great group of artists, it was truly a pleasure to answer these questions. As for upcoming events, I am attending the Vermont Studio Center for the month of August and I’m excited to make a new suite of works.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your work and chat with us!

To find out more about Katie and her work, check out her website.