A CONVERSATION WITH KATIE HOVENCAMP

Utilizing The Body


INTERVIEW // katie hovencamp

Katie Hovencamp is an artist who fractures cultural constructs such as gender, beauty, and the body politic to expose, examine, and critique their social and historical assumptions. For some time fairy tales and fantasy have inspired her imagination and curiosity about their effects on women’s roles and the construction of their identities. Hovencamp received her MFA from Penn State. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and featured by a myriad of publications such as Sculpture Magazine. 

Ming-Jer Kuo: Your body plays a critical role in your artwork. When did you start doing live performances?

Katie Hovencamp: I started doing live performance in 2007, when I was studying at Arizona State University. At the time I was really invested in making object based work, but conceptually I often thought about how the body, the actions we do with our body, and how they are symbolic. In order to explore this interest, I started to make sculpture that fit on my body which led to experimenting with performance. I then began studying with Angela Ellsworth and I continued to research my interest in performance during my time in graduate school at Penn State where I studied with Charles Garoian. Performance has become the main component of my current art practice.

MK: How does your work and practice differ from other performing artists?

KH: My practice differs from many performing artists in that it is interconnected with the creation of physical objects. Sometimes those objects are a part of the live performative act, such as the recent series of which body extensions were used. Sometimes the very act of performing making-of-objects informs the live performance to the extent that the objects themselves are extraneous. Working in this manner enables a perpetual state of alteration and transformation.

My purpose in doing so is to explore and experiment with ways that various mediums can inform each other and from which new concepts can emerge. Working in this manner enables a perpetual state of alteration and transformation.

MK: Which artist inspires you and why?

KH: Ann Hamilton has long been one of my favorite artists that inspired me. I admire her ability to use performance, installation, and sculpture in way that creates a rich experience for the viewer. The way she combines the body with specific objects and materials creates interesting and uncanny relationships. She has the ability to bridge together multiple sculptural components, performance, and installation all in one space. I was fortunate enough to see “Event of a Thread” at the Armory. I will never forget this piece be-cause of the depth of the installation and how she was able to activate the entire space with multiple elements.

MK: Besides sculptural objects, photographs are the final medium that demonstrates the result of your live performance. Have you tried to take pictures on your own?

KH: Yes, but I felt that I wasn’t able to capture what was crucial conceptually to my performances. When I am applying something on my body, interacting with an object, or even the in between moments like when a performance is about to start are difficult, or impossible, to capture on my own. This is why I have chosen to work with photographers like Anna Margush, Liz Arenberg-Metcalf, Mazdak Shadkam, and Jeanette Spicer. These photographers and I have worked together to establish the narrative I want to create with still images of my performances. They helped me capture moments such as the preparation, the beginning, middle, end, and the clean up of a performance and certain images were selected afterwards. I have found that perspective to be invaluable, because they can see the performance both as a kind of participant and as a viewer. It’s often the images I didn’t plan that end up being the most powerful.

MK: Do you think the shooting process has influenced your work?

KH: Most definitely! I feel that the shooting process has influenced my work. When I am in my studio and I am testing out a performance, I use a timer or a remote to record my-self so I can see what my body is doing when I am performing. This method of rehearsal helps me to understand the visual cues my work is conveying. After feeling I am able to use my body in the manner that I need to, I invite a photographer to come in to document the performance.

This shooting process has made me more aware of my body and how it reacts under specific conditions. I feel this influences me to push the limits of my body and how it interacts with the materials used in the performance.

MK: You make compelling drawings as well. How do you see drawing in your art practice? Does it transform your creative energy into different media?

KH: When I do a performance or create a sculpture I have to consider things such as physicality, weight, and gravity. When I make drawings I am able to create conceptual narratives without being restricted by the physical world. When I create drawings I am able to view my pieces in a new way.

MK: Your performances with glitter and ice cream are impressive. How did you feel when your body is covered with those materials?

KH: I go through a range of emotions when I am performing with those materials. The ice cream piece was one where I felt extremely vulnerable because I was nude, yet covered in a material that was making my body shiver. The audience saw that I was extremely uncomfortable with a material that connotes pleasure, joy, and celebration. Conceptually, I wanted to use something that seemed innocuous, but then surprised the viewer on how the material affected my physicality. The glitter works in a similar way. I think the material itself connotes an instant beautification. I like to flip that initial concept of a material that is aesthetically pleasing to something that can be menacing.

MK: Is there any interesting material that you want to try onto your body?

KH: Last November and December during my residency at Vermont Studio center, I began working with body extensions. Ever since I completed that residency I have being really interested in the idea of working with theatre prosthetics. I want to experiment with sculptures that can blend into my body more to create an uncanny effect. I believe that studying prosthetics is the next step toward pushing my work into a new direction.

MK: Concerning to cultural issues, what is the most important theme that you want to state in your art?

KH: The most important themes in my art are femininity and where my identity aligns with that concept. I am interested in rituals that are synonymous with femininity, like wearing makeup, uncomfortable dresses, and high heels. I feel that these things embellish the body in a self-deprecating way. I don’t understand why “beauty” supposedly cannot be obtained without pain. I am frustrated with this whole construct and want to critique it by pointing out this absurd notion. I often question societal definitions of the femininity in order to expose, examine, and critique social and historical assumptions.

MK: What is your next goal as an artist?

KH: I am really enjoying the work I am seeing coming out of Germany, particularly Berlin. It has been a goal of mine to make work in Germany, performance art has such a large presence there and I feel it would really push my own practice to new levels. I would like to introduce new materials into my work such as prosethics and costuming because it would give me the ability to create sculpture that blends with the body. I also want to start experimenting with my performance work in public spaces.

See more of Hovencamp's work at www.KatieHovenCamp.com

BY MING-JER KUO