Constellation I: I Remember Remembering
Brian Sherwin: Kara, do you have any formal training in art? If so, where did you study and who were your mentors?
Kara Petraglia: This past May I graduated from the University of Florida with my BFA, concentrating in painting. I worked closely with professors Jerry Cutler, Ronald Janowich and Richard Heipp. These three professors have very different approaches to art making and viewing, and through a good amount of struggle and a fair amount of agreement, each helped me grow into my own. For printmaking, I studied with Professor Robert Mueller. He has enough dedication and passion for his craft to fill a whole room. And I would be hard pressed not to mention Jason Mitchum and Steve Panella—two graduate students who helped me to realize early on that I love to paint.
BS: Kara, you are interested in the ability to make a statement by creating your own visual narrative. You view this exploration as a form of inherent power that can be utilized to shape history. Thus, you address this power of communication by giving a voice to unspoken stories. Can you go into further detail about the motives behind your work and what you strive to convey to viewers?
KP: My main motivation is knowing that if you don’t tell your story, someone else will, or no one will. The latter two are options I’m not interested in allowing to happen. I hope to show viewers the process in which I construct an understanding of my life in a very material way. Process is an important idea for me in knowing one’s identity because life is nothing but multiple processes of constructing identity.
In the grand scheme of things, I feel that a history’s importance should lie with the teller of the tale; with people appreciating that all accounts are faulty to an extent.
BS: By exploring the collective trauma that women have endured are you establishing a feminist message within the context of your work? Are these works a message of strength and endurance or are they revealing the stereotypes that men have forced upon women throughout history? Perhaps they explore both?
KP: The main message I want to convey in my work is that, everyone can and should take responsibility for their life. I hesitate to identify this as a particularly feminist ideal although I do not deny the influence. My focus on the collective trauma of women comes from growing up knowing that there are threats against women that don’t seem to exist as clearly for men. Sexual violence is a truth in our culture and our world, with or without trying to eliminate the stereotypes placed solely on women. Although I recognize that sexual violence against men exists, I focus on "womanhood" because I am a woman and that is what I know. There is a lot of work to be done to know where the stereotypes end and the truth begins, so I would agree that my concept of "women’s collective trauma" explores both a generalized stereotyping and the truth of surviving trauma as I know it.
Yet another aspect of the trauma I explore is what I call inherited trauma. This differs from collective trauma in that it’s specifically related to the violence against women I know and empathize with. This seems to be much more dangerous in that the whole mindset of "if it happened to her, it could happen to me" is much more prevalent. I am a woman but do not necessarily identify with all women; I identify with those I know.
As for the Constellation series specifically, these paintings are meant to be markers for the point in my life that I began to understand, pin down and work through my anxiety and panic disorder. Instead of allowing the anxiety to become a destructive force, I concentrated my energy into channeling the force into a constructive arena of exploration and production. This aspect is where I can identify "strength and endurance" because for me, that is what they demonstrate.
Constellation II: Icarus
BS: Have you experienced any form sexism as an artist... in regards to exhibits and opportunities? When I spoke with Sylvia Sleigh she mentioned how the art world is still conflicted with a form of male dominance. Have you experienced anything like this?
KP: I think sexism exists today as much as racism and classism do. It seems most of these -isms exist in a more subtle way than before, so it’s harder to pinpoint where the prejudice is and when it’s just an honest disagreement. One thing that did strike me while attending school is that most of my peers were women, especially in my Art History classes. I always wondered where they all disappeared to if it’s still a "man’s world".
BS: Would you say that your work offers any sense of hope for the future? Or is it more about capturing the concerns and fears that you have in order to restrain them when these pieces are created? Do these works speak of the past or do they span time?
KP: I think the hope in my work lives in the act of capturing fear. By capturing and identifying even one trigger of fear, it’s possible to gain that much more control over your perceptions simply because you know one more thing about what causes that fear.
The works speak more of the past for me because I like to think of them as markers for past moments in my life and how I was framing these issues. The result of working on these ideas is I usually wind up reshaping how think about them.
BS: Your Constellation Series exists as three windows in a groundless world where thoughts and images are continuously moving and shifting perspective. Can you tell us more about this series and what it means to you? How does it define you as an individual-- how does it explore issues within a social context?
KP: The Constellation series is meant to exist as windows into part of my mind. It’s the realm that’s full of doubt, uncertainty and an honest questioning of why I am the way I am. It’s the serious, honest part of me that has to confront my anxiety and all that comes with that. Using Icarus to tell the story of panic episodes came about as a natural way to redirect the truth of the event. Making false diagrams and trying (and failing) to rewrite the original myth are exercises in attempting to author new stories about my history.
Inherited trauma is what brings me back to a social context. I came into this idea from being warned, mostly by older women, about things like going for a walk alone and to not walk too close to the hedges, or about going on a date and to be weary if my date has unannounced friends join us. No explanations were given, just warnings. These sorts of stories made my young mind wander and where it went never made the warnings concrete. It abstracted them. As an adult I’m now more aware of the violence against women every day but in rewriting my own childish understandings, I make those unfinished stories something to confront instead of what-ifs to tack on to my woman-hood.
BS: I understand that you have been working on a new body of work that you plan to reveal in fall of 2008. Can you give us any insight into these work? Will they further explore the themes that we have talked about?
KP: So far, this work is in its infancy. I’m experimenting with more materials than my last work—Yupo is the big one right now. Thematically, I feel this work pulling me in a slightly different place than before. I’m currently researching traditional silhouette making and Dada sound poetry. I’m excited about where this can take me.
Constellation III: My My My
BS: Kara, can you tell us about your process? Place us in your mind as you stand before a blank surface... what happens? What is released? What are the thoughts that consume you as you work? How do the materials that you use reflect the emotion and issues that you capture upon the surface?
KP: To begin, I take a few days to build up layers of gesso, acrylic paint and pigmented wax. I aim to transform the unstretched canvas into something resembling plasticized paper. I then apply my image tracings and being to carve. All of the contrasting lines are made by carving into the surface with an X-acto knife, printmaking tools or mechanical pencils. This process is long and tedious—I once spent 18 hours carving text into a piece that was 4"x 6". But the time it takes to carve out my images and text is where I have a place to really consider my next move. A great deal of planning goes into the preparation and execution of the work, but a lot of time also goes into reconsidering the piece. But every step, including the editing, is a part of the final piece. I cross out, circle and make notations about how things should be read or linked to other visual elements. Uncertainty, doubt and self-editing are a part of my life and I want to exploit the ability of the materials to make these limitations available for consideration. The history of the piece is accessible to the viewer in a way that mimics how I consider editing of the self to be accessible through time.
The act of carving intricate shapes and text into my surfaces sits on the cusp of obsessive and what needs to be done. The focus needed to get through that process is enough for me to redirect my anxiety. Making my uncertainty literal allows me to confront many thoughts and feelings at one time by showing how they compete for space and acknowledgment.
BS: Is there anything else you would like to say about your work?
KP: An undercurrent in my work that I have yet to pin down is a connection that I keep making between "text", "texture" and "architecture". Some relationships are tangible enough, especially for text and texture, however, in my mind I can't separate architecture from the mix. For the most part, working has been a great search to reconcile my thoughts about these words (sound, use, origin) with the other themes taking over more central roles.
Take care, Stay true,