Katya Grokhovsky: Feminist Art in the Trenches

Katya Grokhovsky, One Fine Day, 2014, photo by Yan Gi Cheng.

Katya Grokhovsky has been making waves in the New York City art scene for last five years. In 2015, the Huffington Post named her one of the “top ten feminist artists to watch.” Since then Grokhovsky’s work has been featured in numerous exhibitions including the prestigious Spring Break Art Show exhibition Form and Formlessness: Objects and the Body curated by Peter Gynd which was part of NYC Art Week, a solo exhibition at +/- Project Space in Soho20 Gallery in Brooklyn and most recently she finished an artist in residence at Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts in Saratoga, WY and at Paul Artspace in St. Louis, MO.

Grokhovsky is a multidisciplinary artist who employs sculpture, painting, installation, performance and video in her work. It is through her use of personal narrative, performance, and risk taking that has helped to set her apart from other artists working today. Born in the Ukraine, Grokhovsky went onto receive her BFA from the Victorian College of the Arts in Australia. She eventually found her way to the US and in 2011 she received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. While Grokhovsky takes on a host of issues within the works she creates, feminism has become a reoccurring theme.

Void, 2015 from Katya Grokhovsky

Where does feminism fit into the contemporary art world today?

I think contemporary art world needs feminism in order to correct the gender and race imbalance, which still persists, to highlight the often invisible forces which control the art world and world at large, to destabilize the patriarchal order and to upset the system from the inside. In the words of Marilyn Minter when asked in a survey by art net news whether the gender gap in the art world still existed: “Is the Pope Catholic?”

I want to believe that one day we will be treated equally, but as it stands today, in 2016, still, if you are not a heterosexual white man, you have to work that much harder, that much longer and often in extreme obscurity and poverty. Of course it is changing, but not fast enough. I’d like to experience an art world where identity politics don’t define your value, your geniitlia doesn’t define your visibility, and your skin color and ethnicity don’t define your place in history.  We are not there yet.

The way the world values women has to change on all fronts. In the art world, the art market rules and money is power. Women have much less of it in general. The amount of times I have been told throughout my career that my work won’t sell for much or at all because I make work about being a woman, because I am a woman, because I am an immigrant, because ….It is disconcerting, depressing, grinding away at your subconscious. There is so much fear of women and our experiences: it is brutally oppressive.

I will never forget a time when as a young creative girl, always drawing and making things, when I was told women are not good artists and I shouldn’t take it seriously. Instead I should focus on “being a good future woman: i.e. mother, domestic goddess, sexual object”. I make it my mission to disprove this notion through my art and my life. I am definitely a “bad woman”.

Katya Grokhovsky, Untitled, 2012.

What do you think it means to be a feminist artist today?

I am not an advocate for labels. I would like all artists to be called artists, who simply work with different subject matter. However, that being said, a feminist artist is an artist who, I think, analyzes, criticizes and subverts the white male supremacy through their work.  Exposes the invisible, the hidden, the forgotten, discarded, questions any given structures, any assumed stereotypes about gender, sexuality, lifestyle choices, identity and societal pressures. There is so much subjugation, fear and intolerance in the world, a feminist artist today is an artist who is painfully and acutely aware, a warrior, alert, critical, an art activist, supportive and compassionate.

Katya Grokhovsky, Touch It, 2016, photo by Debbie Rasiel.

I was reborn a feminist artist the minute I made work about my appearance as an undergraduate in my first ever live performance work. I cut my then long hair in front of an audience without a mirror, leaving the hair behind on the floor. I refused the set norm of long hair as sexually attractive feminine characteristic. To me at the time, it was simply an act of renewal and entrance into art world and life as a serious artist, but it was my first feminist act of art to others because I was in opposition to patriarchal ideals.

Female and female identified experience counts less, and is often ignored; it is somehow not universal, even though we are 50 percent of the population. I was always astounded by the lack of women in art history, reading those old dusty art history volumes from a very young age, looking for the invisible women between the pages, backpacking through European encyclopedic art museums, bewildered by the lack of voices I could relate to. Being taught mostly male point of view in art schools.

I believe in making work about girlhood, womanhood, aging as a woman, questioning the ever present male gaze, objectification, sexual assault, body image and shame concerns, menstruation, reproductive freedom: issues which affect so many people daily, often tragically. If that makes me personally a feminist artist, well, it proves my point, that it is not universal, and I will proudly take it. I think it will take another century or two to make our experience heard as an absolute norm, a given, as valid and simply important. So we have work to do.

Status Update, 2013 from Katya Grokhovsky

In 2014 you developed the Feminist Urgent project. It incorporated several elements including an online presence and several round table discussions. How has it evolved since then?

Feminist Urgent was developed as a vehicle of immediate response, a call to action, and a platform, through which I could facilitate discussions on various urgent subjects. The panels I conducted exist as podcasts online, last panel taking place in the summer of 2015 at Soho20 gallery, where I was an artist in residence.

Since then, I took a hiatus from the project, deciding to concentrate solely on my art practice, refocusing FU to an online presence, specifically a Facebook page, where I post various readings, events, and articles on urgent feminist issues, acting as a sort of a news digest. I am rethinking and redirecting the project into a curatorial platform and an art blog, which I will be launching in 2017. The discussion series might return as part of other events, I am not entirely sure yet, but I am consolidating my labor and time and am looking for funding for the project in the meantime. It is all a labor of love right now.

Katya Grokhovsky, Utopia 16000, 2015, photo by Natasha Frisch.
Uproar, 2015, photo by Peter Gynd

The art blog through the feminist lens has been an idea germinating in me for a long time, as I am passionate about supporting and exposing artists, especially women and non-binary artists, in any way I possible can. It is a natural progression of my life as an active artist and curator. I am hoping to document my studio visits with artists, interview people I admire in the art world, review exhibitions I see, documenting the contemporary art world I ‘d like to know. I strongly believe in women supporting other women, creating our legacy together.

How does your artistic practice differ from your curatorial practice? Do you think there is any overlap?

I started curating naturally, more as an organizer first, as an artist who was interested in creating and jumpstarting a community and in exposing my own work alongside my peers. I also saw there were so many gaps in who was showing work and who wasn’t and what kind of work I wanted to see, so it gradually evolved into a separate independent curatorial practice. I am now happy to step out of the exhibitions and act as a curator.

Katya Grokhovsky, Untitled, 2013.

To me, it is all part of my art practice at large. As a curator I am interested in artists who work in themes I am interested in as an artist, so it is in a way a bridge, a way to connect, to break the solitude of artistic studio practice. My own art practice has its’ own language and codes of conduct, which might differ greatly from artists I curate.

I get to see what is happening in NYC, in the trenches and have invaluable discussions, measure the temperature. Artists are my family, my tribe, so often the work I see excites me and I ‘d like to champion it. I enjoy organizing and bringing people together through an idea, so curating has become that vehicle for me. I curate once or twice a year, depending on ideas and opportunities.

What has your experience been like working as a mentor within the NYFA Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program?

I enjoy teaching and mentoring immensely, especially meeting new people, who like me, are not from USA originally, with similar experiences. It has been extremely rewarding and invigorating. It is now my 3rd year as a mentor in the program: so during my recent summers I have been meeting new artists, from all over the world, under one NYC roof. It is electrifying; challenging, can at times be absurd in regards to cultural differences and has helped me personally to overcome my own boundaries and limitations with language and various traditions.

Katya Grokhovsky, Do It, 2016.

I am also a big believer in passing the torch of experience and knowledge, in a world, where so much goes unsupported and unnoticed. I myself have had great mentors throughout my entire life, encouragement, without which I would not be a practicing artist today.  Mentorship is integral to success, to survival, to purely mental stability and understanding an artist’s life, which I only truly comprehended by observing other artists. Nobody in my family is an artist and nobody understood what it is like and how it works, so I had to seek it all out, to push hard to see the world I wanted to be in.

So now, I am thrilled to have an opportunity to mentor and pass on anything I can offer, even just moral backing for the work, knowing from experience every bit counts. However, I am definitely a tough love mentor. I like to be very honest, to lower expectations, to set realistic and grounded goals, in order to support the long- haul artistic flight.

What was it like being part of the Bunker Projects Performance Arts Festival in Pittsburgh?

I have always wanted to visit Pittsburgh, so being part of Bunker Projects Performance Arts Festival provided a great opportunity to do that. It was a stimulating and fun experience and I loved the city! My favorite part of participation in festivals is meeting new artists during a short and intense amount of time. Performance festivals are always energetically charged live experimental platforms and I wanted to explore a new installation-performance work.

The work dealt with an idea of disproval of the old fashioned notion of female sex as the Gentle Sex or Weaker Sex. I highlighted various tropes and stereotypes of femininity, domestic labor, beauty and female anger, ideas of remaining pleasant, whilst suffering in silence. It was a vital exploration, as I am in the process of shifting my performance practice in which I step out of my work and cast other people to perform, whilst directing.  I am considering restaging this work with several performers. I am interested in merging my visual practice and performance in significant ways, directing and composing it, overseeing it as an overall complete work, as a director and an audience member.

What are some current projects you are working on? And what are some upcoming events you are participating in?

I am currently collaborating with interdisciplinary artist and curator Luis Mejico on a project, which deals with questions of racial issues and politics, through passerby activation and facilitation of a dialogue on the street. We are hoping to ask difficult questions and record the conversations. The project will be activated as performance/ intervention in Art in Odd Places Festival in NYC in October 2016 and exhibited as an indoor installation at a future date.

I am also working on a long-term project, which fuses various aspects of my practice, exploring my own history and identity through research and excavation. I am revising my life’s trajectory and learned behaviors. “The undoing” project is an inquiry into memory, place and future possibilities. It is an attempt to decondition, decode, deconstruct and reassemble again, through combination of photography, video, performance and sculpture.

In October 2016, I am looking forward to being an Associate Artist in Residence at Atlantic Center for the Arts working with Master Artist Sanford Biggers.

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