Katie Hargrave is featured artist in Altered Esthetic’s exhibition, Earth Works, on view at The Southern Theater from June 9, 2017 - July 2, 2017. In this exhibit, sixteen artists explore the implicit presence of land and earth in our everyday lives. Earth Works will be on view during Northern Spark 2017 (June 10), the Public Reception will be held on June 23 (RSVP on Facebook).
Katie Hargrave is a multi-disciplinary artist based in Chattanooga, TN. She received her MFA in Intermedia Art from the University of Iowa, MA from Brandeis University, and BFA from the University of Illinois. In addition to working with the collaborative groups, “The Think Tank that has yet to be named” and “Like Riding a Bicycle,” she also teaches at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga.
Katie, thanks for exhibiting with Ae! Your work, Don't Tread on Me: Flags for Plants, gives voice to endangered plants. Can you tell us more about this project and why you chose to speak from the plants’ point of view?
My art practice deals with how American history can impact our current reality or how American history can be deployed in a critical way. Conservatives in this country are really good at this, and I hope to become more tactical for myself as a progressive/liberal artist. I like to think about symbols (flags in this instance) and how their official nature can be manipulated. In these pieces, I began thinking about the phase of the Gadsden flag (the original “Don’t tread on me” flag with the snake) and thinking about other things that phrase could mean. These flags are for endangered plants that are impacted by trampling (usually by the expansion of human development or by grazing animals like cows). What if the plants could speak for themselves? What if they had the agency that humans had to make and deploy official symbols like flags?
How does your work respond to its surroundings including natural and manmade environments?
I am very interested in the idea of what “natural” is. The United States is known for its wild spaces, and these spaces are a part of American identity (as the colonizer, as the cowboy, as the transcendentalist, and so on). What’s fascinating to me is that these ideas of what “natural” means are constructions. All of this land was impacted by human development long before this land was colonized by euro-Americans. This preface is important to me because we all (everyone living in the US) have to deal with the spaces we (euro-Americans) occupy, while what it means to “deal” might change in different contexts. I try to do that conceptually within my work, but I also think about this when I work within a gallery setting. Most of my work is responsive to the location of the gallery in which it will be shown, for instance this piece features plants that are from the Great Lakes region.
Your work is rooted in research and history. You also say you like to take things apart and put them back together. What does your creative process look like?
My work often starts with a narrative (something I read in the newspaper or a book) and then I start to delve in deeper. I love archives and history books, and I try to get a grasp on the historical antecedents for whatever current event I am interested in. Sometimes the work pulls from collage, taking two disconnected ideas and putting them into context. Other times the work is participatory and I use historical and current information as a framework for participants to work within. My studio is always a mess; I work on many projects at the same time (partially because I collaborate with lots of different groups).
I am also interested in metaphorically taking apart systems. For instance, right now, I am unpacking the history of public land in the United States, looking at the history of the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and reading novels about range wars, reading about barbed wire, looking at the creation of native reservations, manifest destiny, and the history of the design manuals for US government offices. Once I know that history, I can mix it together and put things into context in stranger ways. Those stories are becoming installations, books, and embroidered patches right now.
Many of your projects include collaborators or audience participants. Why are these connections important to your work?
So many reasons! I consider myself to be a socially engaged artist, which means working with people throughout the process is important to me. Not every project is participatory, but it is an important tool in my toolbox. Working with participants, I hope to move the audience from a viewer that analyzes the work to an engaged co-creator in the work. I hope to do this throughout my process (sometimes in the research phase and sometimes in the final works) in order to open up space and allow the audience to see their own power. I am an educator, and I am not interested in hierarchies within my work, so I seek to dismantle the idea that the artist is the genius through making work that relies on other people.
Collaboration allows me to work on different bodies of work at the same time. I can work on projects about cycling, skill shares, and neighborhood engagement as a part of “Like Riding a Bicycle” and I can make work that unpacks mental health systems, support structures, and gentrification as a member of “the Think Tank that has yet to be named.” The people I work with are super smart and have different areas of interest than me, and we enrich each others’ practices by working together. Within my own work, I don’t have to worry about being a total history nerd; I can just go there.
Do you consider your art to be political? What do you hope viewers take away from your work?
My work is absolutely political, but I engage in a quiet politics. While I am protesting or working with local community organizers outside of my art practice, I hope to think about a quiet or a slow activism within my work. How can small changes to our sense of self alter the way we move through the world? We all know how important the symbolic is, but if we are able to point to the absurdity of the way those symbols are created, can we make new, more meaningful symbols? I think being in the world is a political act; there is no way not to be political. Making something lovely, being thoughtful, moving through the world with your eyes open, these are all important. Perhaps it is easier to see how my work is political, which deals with the construction of the identity of a nation state, than the work of artists that are perceptual painters, for instance, but I would argue both are about paying attention. That’s political.
I hope viewers begin to see themselves and their own power. I hope they identify with or against a story I am telling. I hope they share their own story. I hope they’re present and excited enough to become engaged, if only for a moment.
Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions we should know about?
My work is in a show called Needlework: Rethinking Vulnerability and Resistance that opens June 9 at Prøve Gallery in Duluth. I am also getting ready for a couple of exhibitions this fall. I’ll be in solo shows at Michigan Technical University in Houghton, Michigan and Jacksonville University in Jacksonville, Florida this September. I’m also excited to be included in a group show, Imagination Unbound, at Berry College in Rome, Georgia. That show explores how preparatory sketches for artworks can be shown alongside finished work. It’ll be a busy season.
Where can we find and follow you online?
@katie_hargrave_ on Twitter and Instagram
All images courtesy of the artist.
Interview written and edited by Sarah Kass.