The push-pull relationship between consecration and deprecation remains tenuous even today—look no further than the slashing of Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, 1987, by Christian protesters this past spring. The gesture is reminiscent of one much earlier by Mary Raleigh Richardson, which features prominently in Kate Davis’ upcoming exhibition “Ranziges Fett” (29 Oct - 21 Dec) at Galerie KAMM. Davis looks poignantly at the ways in which we historicise art, at times to the end of authorial nullification. She corresponded with the berlin art journal, writing about conservation, her feminist practice and rotting flesh.
berlin art journal: In previous encounters with your work, there has been a really strong linkage between the viewer and the object. Is this performative nature still important in your practice?
Kate Davis: Yes, there has been a strong linkage between the viewer and the object or/and image in previous works. However I don’t consider that to be "performative" and wouldn't want to confuse an engagement with, or negotiation of, an exhibition with performance. Essentially, I want my exhibitions to be an active, rather than a passive, viewing experience. I began by exploring ways in which the viewer could become an integral part of that experience with works such as Participant, 2003, Player, 2004 or Outsider, 2008, which focused on the three-way relationship between an object, an image and the viewer. Through recent research looking at the work of Jo Spence, I came across Paulo Freire’s text asking how we can claim history critically as active participants and real subjects. Freire’s question, “How to be a subject of history” feels crucial to me in the present day and is one that I am attempting to examine in my current work.
BAJ: But with “Ranziges Fett” your focus turns towards conservation?
KD: Informed by successive waves of feminist art and theory, my practice has centred on the fragile re-calibration of representation through twentieth century art history and literature.
I have recently finished working on a project with Glasgow Museums Collection Peace at last!, 2011, which involved me spending time in their archive and making new work in relation to certain material from their collection. I also worked with the museum’s conservators thinking about how their engagement with historical material may differ from, or crossover, with my own. For the exhibition “Ranziges Fett” at Galerie Kamm, I wanted to examine these divergences and convergences further.
BAJ: Some would argue that conservational efforts often align themselves with the creation of particular historical narratives. In conserving, do you believe that we also create?
KD: I do not know enough about the history and tradition of conservation to give any kind of overview, but the conservators I spoke to at Glasgow Museums are often asked to focus on certain historical narratives when working on an object for a given context. And that focus may change with the same object for another context. I am interested in how that sense of enlivening and concealing or revealing parts of an object in relation to its past may inform the ways in which I am attempting to “re-vision” the fallibility of historical memory through the lens of a feminist art practice.
BAJ: In this case, you’re focusing in particular on Mary Raleigh Richardson, a noted militant suffragette turned fascist, and Alina Szapocznikow, a Jewish artist who fell into the hands of German fascism during WWII. They seem like somewhat divergent trajectories, yet, both dealt with the body in rather profound ways. Is this an exploration of particularly feminine struggles?
KD: I am specifically looking at Mary Raleigh Richardson’s famous slashing of Diego Velasquez's painting, The Toilet of Venus, at the National Gallery, London in 1914, which was executed in protest to Emmeline Pankhurst’s imprisonment. I am looking only at that particular action and its historicisation. I am not exploring the biography of Mary Raleigh Richardson with my work for “Ranziges Fett.” Instead, I am interested in how the marks from a suffragette protest in 1914, which were carefully concealed and repaired by The National Gallery after the incident, may be reconsidered today.
I am also referencing some images of works by Alina Szapocznikow as they are treated and analysed by conservators. But again, I am focusing on the artworks and their treatment and not following any biographical narrative. As I mentioned earlier, my work is often concerned with re-thinking representations of the female body and there will be a strong sense of this concern running through the work in “Ranziges Fett” too.
BAJ: You’re also doing a series based on Joseph Beuys' Fettecke in Kartonschachtel. Here, you seem to tie conservation and intrusion. Perhaps we should, at times, let the world/art deteriorate as it was meant to?
KD: Yes, I agree that at times we should let the world/art deteriorate as it was meant to. But I am also fascinated by a prevalent need by individuals and institutions to combat and prevent that deterioration. I am intrigued by how those actions then begin to alter the authorship, narrative and meaning of a work such as Joseph Beuys’ Fettecke in Kartonschachtel.
BAJ: Do you hope your work goes in a hermetically sealed vault?
[Image: Kate Davis, Ranziges Fett study (2011), Mixed media collage on butter wrapper, courtesy of the artist and Galerie KAMM]