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‘All I Do is Work’

In Issue 12, Sneaky features three contemporary artists making stunning abstract work. Jonathan McBurnie chatted with Melbourne artist Kate Geck about her work beforehand…

You work in so many different media… I was wondering where your work actually began, and how it evolved?

In the early 2000s I was studying interaction design – and I became interested in tactile interfaces. I wanted to make sculptures and spaces that used soft, malleable materials to control video and sound – as opposed to these hard surfaced, perfected controllers and interfaces. So I would make these furry controllers from modified gamepads and keyboards. I was also interested in these objects having personalities and characters that would determine the way you interact by changing the output. So for example, there were furry clairvoyant energy readers and if you were too aggressive in interacting with them, they would give you dud fortunes. But if you were gentle, they would give you nice ones. That was in QLD, then I moved to Melbourne and did a Masters and all these really serious artists kept telling me I was making feminine rave art in the group crits, which was very punishing…so punishing…but I suppose it made me realise I had to stop using fur. The main reason I used so much fur in my early work was because I got this grant to buy $1500 of white fur. That is seriously so much fur. And I wanted to use white fur because it was soft and glowed under a black light (used 2b a raver). So I just used it and used it until the pieces got smaller and browner. But suddenly in these punishing crits the material totally gendered the work I was making…and, well to their credit I guess I was a raver for 6 months. Anyway, gender and art – that’s like a whole other kettle of punishment. So I went to the other end of the materials spectrum and started using acrylic instead, and I became more interested in making sensory environments where interaction was more ambient and less didactic. I’m still really into the idea of fake cults and digital shaman, but now I leave the characters out and present the spaces as tombs to them instead.

Do you approach your art on a project-by-project basis, or do you just have at it, hitting whatever part of it you feel like on the day?

I don’t have much spare time so everything happens project by project in the time that I can fit it in Sometimes I get to go away somewhere and do a residency which allows me to focus on one new idea and try it out…the last time I was able to do that was last year in Oakland. I had a month at an artist’s space there and was able to get an old electronic knitting machine to think my computer was a floppy drive – which lets me knit pictures from my computer. Residencies are super important I think, because it lets you focus on one thing and completely put your art practice before real practical life – for a little bit. Aside from that I just squeeze things in when I have the time. I have a very precise and strict diary.

A really interesting part of your work for me is just how all of these different media and projects of yours all come back together and act in a really cohesive way, visually. I find that remarkable. Is his deliberate, or does it just filter out that way?

There’s an underpinning aesthetic – the ‘right’ amount of hectic. It’s like getting dolled up for a night out on the tiles – put on all your favorite things then take a few off to get the old balance right.

Your work is a really dense collision of aesthetics. Art, fashion and textiles, music, performance, digital pattern, the internet aesthetic, Japanese printmaking, whatever, it is all mashed up together, creating a really refreshing, visually complex, and sometimes almost aggressive hybrid aesthetic. I was thinking about the amount of time these accretion of materials and influences and inspirations takes?

All I do is work, and when I’m not working I go to shows. So it’s constant, I always like to be doing something or figuring out the next thing. I’m lucky that I get to work around art in my two day jobs – so I always get to be collating, collecting and refining things. I like that you see an aggression in it – I think there is an anxiety underpinning all of this work, and that manifests in a frenzied output at times.

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What do you think the contemporary artist’s responsibilities are, in terms of redefining our role within society? I see a lot of artists and also galleries clinging onto this commercial gallery system from the 1980s and 1990s, when people were buying a lot more art, and one by one they are dying like flies. Do artists need to be more independent, and find new avenues in order to survive?

I don’t think artists have any particular, special responsibility beyond any other person. I wish they had a responsibility to not be boring, or punishing, or make shit art. But art is extremely self-indulgent, so who am I to say these things. I like art that tries to connect and engulf, and is technically skilled – like Yayoi Kusama, Assume Vivid Astro Focus, James Turrell. I am in awe of art that can connect and tell a truth, but still exist as something beautiful and aesthetic – like Australian artists Texta Queen, Megan Cope and KT Spit. I don’t know many artists in the commercial gallery system, most who are probably work specifically within a very ‘collectible’ medium –where there are discrete artefacts that can be made and traded. There are definitely exceptions to that, but I mean I can’t imagine any installation/multimedia artist under 30 in Australia who would be able to survive off private collections/commissions. Who knows, happy to be wrong. But that’s so super unattainable. There are lots of artists these days but not lots of buyers for all these different kinds of art– so I don’t know how relevant that model is. Like the definition of an artist is so broad these days with etsy and markets and arts administrators and the internet. If you want to be an ‘artist’ but also ‘survive’ you’re better off being good at practicable things which you can use to support yourself until someone decides you’re ready to be a big deal. I don’t think anyone should ever really decide to become an artist in order to make money. We should get paid, if we make things people want or need. But really who wants to support white middle class me to make the weird, personal things I make? People should probably try and cure cancer with that kind of money.

Gary Panter, who I see as related to you in many ways, wrote in his early 80s manifesto ‘Currently we are suffering a lean economy. By necessity we must be self-supporting. Popular media is bigger than the fine art media. Aesthetic mediums must infiltrate popular mediums’, which I think is even more relevant now than thirty years ago. What are your feelings on this statement?

Totally – like I said, you should try to be practical. If you can paint things that people want to buy, do that. That’s great, I sometimes deeply wish that’s what I was doing. Not sure there’s a big market for huge, complicated acrylic video kaleidoscopes YET in Australia, but I am working on initiating the buying public. In the mean time, I will keep saying yes to art and design jobs, and put in for grants and then do them to make money. It’s important too to be extremely open to opportunities. I often get asked to do things at my jobs or in my freelance work which I don’t totally know how to do. But I usually say yes if I’m sure I can figure it out in time – and that’s why I have learnt how to do lots of different things from programming micro-controllers and making giant foam puppets, to using After Effects and silkscreening. Being able to effectively trouble shoot and use google properly are the 2 most important skills for any artist/human to ever have. People should work on that.

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