During her month-long residency at SOHO20 Gallery, New York-based artist Katya Grokhovsky embarked on a series of emotionally expressive yet contemplative multimedia projects. These works address issues of gender by exploring the gallery’s feminist legacy as well as the artist’s own personal experiences of girlhood, womanhood, and the realities of being a female artist in a largely male dominated art world. SOHO20 Gallery became the site of Grokhovsky’s latest Feminist Urgent Roundtable, a series of open forum discussions and events moderated by the artist “focusing on the personal, often silent protests women carry out in their daily lives due to persistent and overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, expectations, patriarchy exhaustion, and gender inequality.” The residency came to a close with an open studio and participatory performance piece, titled Unresolved, in which Grokhovsky invited visitors to use a selection of brushes, combs, and scissors to untangle her hair, which she had not brushed deliberately for almost five months prior as a personal protest against gendered expectations imposed on girls and women.
AB: Can you describe the project(s) you are embarking on for this residency?
KG: This residency is an open studio lab with numerous components, so it’s an evolving exhibition, which can be tricky as I’m opening my studio to the public, so anyone can come in and see the work in progress and have a dialogue. So if someone is visiting, I want them to participate somehow. Hence, I have set up one of the walls of the gallery as a participatory piece, inviting visitors to write the name of a female artist, be it themselves, or other artists, dead or alive. I was really interested in SOHO20’s legacy as a women’s gallery that has been around for over forty years, so I wanted to keep putting names up on the wall throughout the month. It’s nice to see the lineage, especially since part of my own practice is looking to female mentors for guidance. From there, I divided the gallery into sections. There is a girlhood section, a wall installation, in which I utilized various materials I have collected, such as fabrics and past performance objects, such as T-shirts, on which specific bodily insults are printed as text, which come from my own biography. There’s history here with my own work that is speaking to the history of this gallery and this particular project of female legacy and feminist practice. There is a story of a young girl and woman, who experiences verbal misogyny, which stays with her for most of her life and which creates this vast ocean of insecurities. I don’t know one woman in my life that hasn’t had that happen to her.
AB: What prompted this particular performance piece for your residency at SOHO20?
KG: Each one [of these insults] has been said to me by close friends, family, and, of course, strangers. As an artist, I want to overcome, to go beyond and above. If this is hanging on the wall in plain text, what does that do if it’s not activated by the body? I employ my body in my work, so hair is a medium as well. I’ve always had thick, long, curly hair, and for my first performance as an undergrad in Australia, I cut all my hair off in front of the audience with tailoring scissors just looking at [the audience] as a mirror. I’m coming full circle now, where I am asking the audience to “make me ok again” somehow. It is a different gesture. It’s less about my appearance and more psychological, and it is in conversation with a history of feminist practice. Hair has always been a great part of female identity. These participatory actions where I ask other people to take part go back to performance art as an experiment. It is about trust and letting go of fear. You feed from your audience. I’m really interested in that exchange and in boundaries between people. I’m basically a living sculpture with damn ugly hair, which has become another part of my de-conditioning because I want to see what happens to my own psyche. Do I care? Do I need to care? Does it matter if I don’t brush my hair? No, it doesn’t, at all. It’s only me. I’ve also internalized the idea that if I’m not looking a certain way, then I’m less.
AB: What sorts of issues and ideas are you exploring in your work and why are they important?
KG: I think a lot about deconstructing and de-conditioning. I want to question what we, as women, deal with daily, on top of all else. There are layers upon layers of construction, going back to early girlhood, which is an important, often damaging time. Girlhood is a very interesting subject. I often dig into my childhood, and I’m very interested in the difference between boys and girls growing up. I’m interested in the transition from young girl to teenager and how important and traumatizing it can be when girls become objects of desire. This side of the gallery [opposite the girlhood wall] is more of the adult woman section. Growing up female, it’s implied that beauty and your appearance is a big deal. You do eventually wake up from that pressure as a woman, but there is a residue, a bad aftertaste of wasted time and effort to be a certain way. I was thinking about what it means to grow into an angry woman, which you can see in my drawings, which seem to always solicit an “aggressive” description. I don’t see them as such; assertive, yes. The selfies in the woman section, digital images printed on canvas, are masked identities. Each one is holding a type of mask, a face that is not my own, which are actually torn photos of models from magazines. They address this idea of never measuring up. I feel that a lot of women hold themselves back––“I’m not ready yet” or “I’m not perfect yet.” It could take years to do anything, and there are real world consequences for that.
AB: How are you combining your artistic practice with social activism?
KG: I consistently deal with the male gaze in my practice; excavating it, interrupting it, and turning it around to see what it’s doing. I’ve internalized it, but as I get older, I become more aware of it and freer from it. I’m interested in history, particularly women in the art world and beyond and the legacy that I’ve been dealing with as a performative and social practice activist through my Feminist Urgent project. I want to reach out and see what else can be done. It comes from my work and from my life. It comes from dealing with issues of being a female artist and regularly hearing from other female artists about their experiences. I hope to change something, even if it feels like I am trying to move a boulder with my eyes.