Interview by Curatorial Collective
Kathryn Shinko received her BFA in Graphic Design from the Myers School of Art at University of Akron in 2011 and her MFA in Textiles from Kent State University in 2015. Her work has been shown nationwide and has been featured in various contemporary needlework blogs such as “Mr. X Stitch”. Most recently, her work has been shown in the Ohio Designer Craftsmen Best of 2015 Show, the Kinsey Institute 2015 Juried Art Show, and the Summit Artspace 11th Annual FRESH Juried Art Exhibition, in which she won 2nd Place. Kathryn is a member of the Surface Design Association, the Ohio Designer Craftsmen, the Textile Art Alliance of the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Friends of Fiber Art International. She is also being featured in the summer issue of “refigural”, a quarterly digital magazine about fashion, art, and beauty edited by Mitch McGuire.
We were able to catch up with Kathryn on her latest tapestry works, Vignettes, which will likely not make an apperance on the walls of conservative housewives, recovering christians, or galleries in search of traditional needlepoint. Yet, on Curatorial Collective’s website, we welcome the opportunity to examine controversial works of art and encourage our readers to formulate their own opinions and views. Without further ado…
CC: Your current series appears to be derivative of contemporary art icons such as Barbara Krueger. What motivated you to use text and typography within your work? Were there other artists which influenced your aesthetic choices?
KS: I think my attraction to using text in art comes from the fact that I first wanted to be an author before I became an artist. When I studied typography at the University of Akron, I learned to appreciate language beyond its conceptual capabilities and understand it as a visual tool. That’s why it’s discouraging to me when artists underestimate or dismiss the visual power of text in art. The words we read are made of letters, which are in essence visual symbols – they visually contribute to a composition like any other formal element.
Barbara Krueger is one of my favorite artists, yes, as well as Jenny Holzer. I suppose I should mention that this series has been compared to Ed Ruscha‘s work, but I personally would not cite him as a primary influence. I was more inspired by the popular trope of pairing quotes with landscape images. This visual formula is something to which we are accustomed, and that makes it an ideal vehicle to communicate something unexpected and urgent, such as the issue of pornography. I also think that the majestic, pure landscapes provide a strong contrast with the text.
CC: At first glance, viewers may be shocked by the language used within the tapestries. Why did you use this specific language and what do you want your audience to take with them when experiencing your work?
KS: To me, it’s a good sign that people are shocked and disturbed by the language. It’s a sign that we are not yet completely desensitized to women being treated as disposable sexual objects (which seems to be where we’re headed). The words are actually titles from streaming videos I took from the website pornhub.com. So these are not my words, I didn’t write them – I chose them to reflect the what I see as the chief linguistic trends of mainstream heterosexual pornography, which include violence, sexism, racism, underage exploitation, and humiliating, dehumanizing slang. They identify the message of pornography as a whole: that women are objects of voyeurism and receptacles for any kind of humiliating sexual treatment so long as the consumer is satisfied.
In theory, this message can also be identified with pornographic imagery, but that’s trickier, because pornographic imagery is so ubiquitous in the media (the internet, movies, television, magazines, etc.) that it’s difficult for us to look at it for what it is. We are conditioned to passively and unquestioningly accept it. It’s counter-intuitive, but seeing the words used in pornography have more of an impact on us than seeing the images of it.
That’s what I want the audience to take with them. That pornography is not in its own hermetically-sealed sphere apart from society, but that it is part of society, and it’s exerting an ultimately destructive force upon women in particular. The language we use to identify women reflects how we genuinely feel about them. And if it’s okay to use such language to talk about women, we should be extremely concerned about how we as a society truly measure their worth.
Some schools of thought claim that pornography is empowering. How is being referred to as a “cute girl getting her ass destroyed” or a “tight pink pussy stuffed with thick cock” or a “picked up teen fucked” empowering? That’s what I am asking here. This is an issue that is beyond pornography – it’s embedded in our society, and we are increasingly using pornographic standards as a measure of a woman’s value.
CC: When did you begin working with fiber and tapestry? How has this medium complimented the content of your work?
KS: Near the end of my graphic design education I was becoming disillusioned by the commercial aspects of design, and I resented having to do so much work on the computer. I appreciate the possibilities that computers offer, but I was missing the feel of putting my hands into the process. Cross-stitching was something I grew up with (my mom was an avid cross-stitcher); because the supplies were around and the craft was familiar to me, I took it up. But instead of taking designs from books, I made up my own, using this “domestic” and “feminine” technique to talk about bigger social issues. Our familiarity with textiles makes it an ideal conduit through which to question societal strongholds. That’s what led me to pursue graduate studies in textiles at Kent State; wanting to refine my craft and hone my communication skills.
CC: When preparing for your MFA thesis at Kent State University, did you gravitate to this body of work originally or were there other ideas that you had considered? How does your graduate work differ from your BFA work at the Myers School of Art?
KS: The idea for Vignettes came to me a year or so before my thesis semester. I knew it was a really solid idea and it was one about which I felt very passionately, so I took a lot of time experimenting with different ways to execute it. I tried a bunch of different media with different combinations of words and images. In the end, weaving these large-scale tapestries on a power mill made the most sense and seemed to best serve the idea.
At the Myers School of Art at the University of Akron, I majored in Graphic Design, so our version of a BFA Show was a group portfolio exhibition. I compiled all of the best design projects I had made during my studies and exhibited them in a personal portfolio. So this experience of showing artwork in a gallery was much different. It was so much more visceral and emotional. I still enjoy design; I like the problem-solving aspect of it. The University of Akron has an incredible design program, and I learned many skills that have informed my fine art practice – software programs, composing patterns, organizing information within a composition, and of course using text as a visual element. There are many parallels between graphic design and textiles. But the work I do now compared to the BFA work I did is much more personally fulfilling to me, it serves a different function.
CC: This is an exciting time in your career since graduating from KSU, winning 2nd Place at the Fresh exhibition, and speaking at the Kinsey Institute. What’s next on the horizon? Do you have new project ideas planned?
I certainly have new ideas – it’s a must if you’re a stitcher, because sometimes the excitement of beginning a new project is just what it takes to finish a current one! Right now I’m working on the third and last cross stitch of a series called Wounds Slowly Being Covered Up, where I combine medical photography with bright, colorful patterns that slowly consume the images throughout the series. My next project is going to be a cross-stitched portrait series of three notorious politicians of the former Yugoslavia, with significant portions of their faces distorted and blanked out. And the next one is going to be a nice hiatus from stitching and fiber arts: I am going to take images of human cells and substitute them as portraits of their donor (I know that’s pretty vague, but giving away more details would ruin the excitement for me!). I’ve been submitting my work to more shows, and I have my eye on some artist residencies. I’m also preparing a course on cross-stitching software that I plan to turn into a workshop.
But the most exciting thing on the horizon for me is that four weavings from the Vignettes series will be shown at the MINT Gallery in Columbus in a show called NSATSAT&A, which examines surveillance, security, and sex in post-internet culture. The show is being curated by Marisa Espe, Education Assistant at the Wexner Center for the Arts and co-founder of MINT Collective. The show runs from August 7 to August 28, with an opening reception on Friday, August 7, from 7-10pm.