2. Kate Gilmore: Action Sculptor

Walking into the back room of a gallery in 2006 and seeing a video of a woman trapped inside an extremely narrow, ramshackle, splintery, danger inducing wooden passageway with barely enough room to move at all, clawing to her escape in deteriorating, crumbling fancy dress as cameras captured her painful expression and sweating and tearing and seeming anguish was one of the single most intense displays of video/performance art I have ever seen! In recent years Kate Gilmore, the woman behind this grueling display (and many other displays of equal (di)stress: constructing a swaying tower out of twine and rickety furniture to scale, reaching the camera hanging above [Anything, 2006, film still immediately below] ascending a staircase, arms loaded with heavy pots filled with brightly colored paint, dumping them down a sculptural hatch like a ticking Pollack hourglass [Break of Day, 2010], beating her way through a tiny four walled dry-walled room climbing upward using only her fists and high heel clad feet as her bright red polka dotted dress hinders her progress [Standing Here, 2010, film still in middle]) has since become somewhat of a contemporary art world legend, catapulted to fame after being in the 2010 Whitney Biennial. When I saw her work it immediately struck me as a completely new, modern voice in art taking issues of femininity, time, creativity, physicality and molding them around the fact that sometimes even violent or repetitive tasks can possibly lead to an escape or freedom or something beautiful/lasting, even if that thing is just a memory or experience…or a mess. 

1. At what point did you decide to use yourself in your art…I mean when did you stop and say “I am going to plaster my leg into this bucket and see if I can get it out? O, and videotape it.” It seems like a big leap, or was it just a natural progression?

I made my first video at SVA when I was in graduate school. Coming from a pretty traditional sculpture background, this was a big step for me. It became clear in school that the sculptures did not have the energy and excitement that the process of making them did. So, I had to figure out a way to incorporate process, movement, chaos (all elements of my sculptural process) into the work. Video and performative actions were the  best way to do this. Using myself was the easiest thing to do since I always had access to that "material". The physical actions that I created for my self became a way to show a transformative process-- both in character and in an actual sculpture construction/deconstruction.

2. You ‘ve been doing a lot more performance work lately…I recently read about a piece at Pace where you disassembled a huge hunk of oozing wet clay with a team of women and another piece at a fundraiser where you smashed through plaster casts with axes alongside pink satin clad ladies. What has made you move from video to more public performance? And also move from acting alone to acting within a group?

I am actually not in these performances. I don't perform live... these live performances are done by other performers. I have started to move into these live performances as a way to experiment with moving out of the work and being more of a director of sorts (even though the performers are reacting in their own ways to the circumstances in the performances). It has given me a different aspect to my work and allowed me to watch something for the first time without being so entwined in every aspect of the piece-- from making to performing. 

I didn't realize you weren't in the performances! What spurred you to want to take on a more director-ly approach? What has the bearing witness to the situations you've created added to your understanding of them? 

Kate Gilmore – Sudden as a Massacre from David Castillo Gallery on Vimeo.

I thought it would be good for my practice to step out of being in everything so that I could look at the way things transpire without being so involved with every aspect of everything. I got into this when I did the piece with Pubic Art Fund at Bryant Park (Walk the Walk [picture from the PAF below]).  This was a piece that I knew had to be live and sculptural and, being that I don't perform live, I knew I would not be in it.
It was difficult for me to not micromanage the performance, but when I did step back and let things happen and actually watch I was able to see the work in a new way. This process has allowed me to look at the work more formally (dealing with performance in a sculptural way) and to see how other people/bodies react to the different physical space. It has also allowed me to work with other people ,which was so foreign before this project, forcing me to become less rigid.  It is a work in progress so I am still learning...

3. Even though there is definitely a performance art legacy, and often a nod to other artistic works, the physicality of your work is still so unique- the style, color, clothing, the actual physical movement in the actions, etc... I wondered what, specifically non-art, inspirations inform what you are doing? How have you cultivated this very unique style (especially in performance) or, like most good art, is it just what you feel compelled to do? 

I grew up on Broadway musicals, technicolor, and comedy.  (These are still art inspirations).  I am definitely inspired by the visual elements of over the top musicals and the timing and method of comedy.  These are still things that I am drawn to both for personal enjoyment and inspiration. 

4. The move to legitimate art career from student seems like one nearly thousands of art students are looking for annually: they all want a magic pill to get a gallery show.  I know that there is no magic pill for sure but I guess I am still interested in the different career arcs for those artists I respect, the different models of an artistic life that exist in the contemporary art world now, the instances of luck or support that aid in the success of the truly talented. You are one of these artists who I have seen grow along this particular path that most artists are striving for: a vision to academia to an expanded vision to recognition to career. How hard has it been? What, besides your amazing talent of course, do you think has helped you consistently grow? 

I have been very lucky to have a fantastic community of artists around me. These people consist of individuals I went to school with, past professors, and older artists I have met along the way who have been very generous with me. There have also been curators and institutions who have supported me (from the beginning these were emerging curators and non- profit institutions and this has grown to other things now). I have been inspired by all these people in my life and have been challenged by them. I also teach a ton so I am constantly in contact with younger and emerging artists who also challenge me to look at my own work differently. I think it is important to be in touch with all generations of artists and to be aware of what is going on and what are these new influences. I guess what has helped me grow the most has been the community of artists that I have surrounded myself with and the excitement of being in conversation with what is happening in the world right now.



Donna K. is a recent transplant to the Midwest where she can be found exploring culture at large through film programming, writing and her general interest in the world- both on and offline.