March 14, 2014

Spotlight: India K

 India K's dedication to "shared energy" is pretty electric.

Art is such a personal thing, and those who make it, such personal creatures, often keeping within themselves. So it’s a wonder – a bit jarring, really – when an artist creates something for others, something to give, or in an effort to connect with others. Not, of course, to say all artists are introverts who mostly prefer to keep to themselves, but it’s the ones that “do it for the good of the whole,” the ones who keep others in mind when fulfilling their artistic needs, that can oftentimes prove most intriguing.

When India K began Brooklyn-based collective Pitch & Rail, she had similar thoughts in mind. Wanting to recreate the supportive community found in art school, she made an environment where talented artists with the drive to create and connect were invited. On top of this, the art she creates is also formed with others in mind – her series “Shared Landscapes” features words connected with invisible string, floating above a San Francisco vista. In a way, the phrases and landscape are one, super-imposing the words onto the scene so all who view it benefit. The viewer is as much a part of the experience as India, and for that second, they're all connected, and maybe (definitely) that's something we need more of. We spoke with India about forming a collective, grandparents and horror films.

THE LE SIGH: I'm head over heels for your "Shared Landscapes" pieces – they're really thought-provoking and, at first glance, make you do a double take. Where did you come up with this idea, and what was your intention behind it?

India K: I love Robert Montgomery's work - he makes these giant neon signs that say really intense and beautiful things. When I first saw those, I had this whole new trail of thoughts and just started putting together words in a notebook I hoped spoke to a nostalgic or longing part of the human heart. I thought maybe it would be a poetry project at first but I couldn't forget where the inspiration had come from and so I made the words into signs cut out of cardboard. After looking at the signs, the whole project just kind of fell into place. I was home in San Francisco at the time and that fueled the meaning.

I placed them against popular vistas in SF I knew people would travel to. By placing them in these popular, well known places, I hoped not only that many would see them, but also that it would provoke people to think. I called them “Shared Landscapes” because all these places are public and I hoped my signs would become part of that shared public experience. The signs stayed up for about three weeks before we began having heavy rain and I removed them; I wanted to preserve the letters, as this is a project I’d like to repeat in different locations. I'd love to do it here in Brooklyn, a place that is slowly starting to feel more like home.

In the end I was still able to incorporate photography in the documentation of the piece. To view the entire piece effectively required you to stand from a specific vantage point, so the sky became the background. Using a camera, I was able to find this point and frame it. This was an unexpected part of the installation I enjoyed: that the words needed the landscape to even exist at all.

TLS: Pitch & Rail aims to, in a way, replicate the supportive community for artists that art school provides (in addition to a lot of other lovely things) – but obviously with that, you get a lot of voices with different themes, mediums and stories. How do you balance them all to create one cohesive collective?

IK: In a way, maybe I don't? Is that a bad answer? Pitch & Rail has a messiness to it: "I'll do a show anywhere I can," "you want to be in the show two days before? ok" kind of thing. While the shows have themes and the artists reflect the theme, I definitely give people a lot of creative freedom and at times the theme becomes something that merely brings them together rather than a rule or dictated philosophy. We start with a theme, but jump off from there and move around and in that way it is educative and unrestrained. On a whole, I welcome anyone who wants to make art and wants to talk to other artists about making art. If you are respecting, driven, talented and fucking love art, come on down. In that same vein, if you are in a show or participate in a project, you are "in" Pitch & Rail. You are part of the collective history. And I invite anyone to put up an event or show or exhibit.

TLS: What has starting Pitch & Rail allowed you to do that you singularly as an artist have not? Or what has it allowed you to do differently?

IK: One thing it has definitely allowed me to do is learn a lot about many artists and really dive deep into their work, which I love. I really do enjoy getting to know one artist and their themes and ideas closely. But it also has let me see patterns and connections in the art world I don't think I would have noticed otherwise. Making connections between work and linking artists who have things in common has been really cool. When I'm installing a show, I always say this thing where I'm like, "I think your art could have a great talk with this other piece" or "have a dialogue," and it sounds really cheesy, but I really mean it! Like, sometimes I meet an artist and I think "oh my god you have to meet this other artist." I sound like a matchmaker. I think it's because I really want to see them make something together or work off of each other’s awesome energy. I think that's what Pitch & Rail is also about: sharing energy.

This is random but, sometimes in museums, I get so sad because it doesn't feel like any of the art is having a good time together. Like they have nothing in common and were thrown on a blind date. I hope my shows never feel like that. Just because they're from the same era doesn't mean they're going to get along! I love it when museums are bold about putting 20th century/modern/contemporary art next to something from a long time ago. It's all art! It's all made from human passion. I'm running with this matchmaker metaphor, as you can see.

TLS: What have you found is the most challenging about curating a collective? How do you balance your own work with running a platform for others?

IK: I haven't made much art for myself since starting P&R. I struggle with this a lot. I feel guilty when I'm not making stuff. I think it’s something all artists face. I just make myself feel really bad about not being active enough, or not constantly creating work like I did in college. When I do a show for Pitch & Rail, I really don't think about my own work at all. On top of this, I do have a full time job that pays the bills (I don't know if people think Pitch & Rail is my real job, some kids from my high school definitely do) and that job is long hours and pretty crazy (marketing, a world that is still new to me every day). In the end, I guess I just take things one project at a time. I do a show, then I lay low and make something for myself, I get busy at work, then I feel like "hey I don't want to make art, I want to curate" and I hop back to Pitch & Rail.

TLS: Your series "grandparents" works to describe/depict just that – your grandparents. Aside from depicting their objects and home, how do you think this series conveys their personalities and selves to people who don't know them as you do? Have your grandparents viewed the series? If so, what do they think? 

IK: My grandparents have not seen it, but the days I was over there shooting my grandma kept trying to tidy up and I said, "No please don't!" I think their house is fascinating. It's stuck in a time period I can't quite pinpoint, and I adore it. The little things around the house I photographed, those are what I think of when I think of them. The curtain rod against the textured ceiling. My grandpa's old Fat Boy Burger sign. And the holy cross on the wall in the pink room! Oh man. In a way I'm okay with me just knowing what they mean, and letting others interpret it. I showed the series to some friends who were helping me edit it down and they all said even without knowing my grandparents it reminded them of their grandparents or older relatives. There are just undeniable generational aspects. I hope it conveys a feeling more than anything, of time stopped, paused, but not lost.

TLS: You've mentioned your main themes are nostalgia, memory and self worth – what about these ideas draws you to them?

IK: Nostalgia and memory have always fascinated me. I love the way people save things or can't throw something away. I love how much can be in one object. I think what draws me to it is that I experience it so much and want to understand it better. I photograph obsessively - I'm paranoid I’ll one day forget everything and I hate throwing things away. When I make art about it and ask other people, I get so excited. I guess I make art about it because it excites me. I've realized mainly for me that exploring the paradox of trying to step into the same moment twice is what drives interest in nostalgia for me. People are always doing it and I love trying to capture that idea and feeling in art.

Self worth is a theme I’m just beginning to explore for myself. One of my professors in college, and someone I consider to be a life mentor still, was always pushing me to make art about myself instead of other people. She thought I couldn't properly explore topics until I understood my own connection to them. She was totally right, and she'd scold me for ignoring my own problems/thoughts concerning nostalgic. But with self worth, I’m getting there. Growing up, I often felt ugly and unworthy of any kind of affection. Sometimes I still feel like that. But by making work about it, I’m trying to confront it. The "mid-drift" project is my first foray. It's about feeling dirty in a shameful way but wanting to feel feminine at the same time.

TLS: I love your series "Red Rum" (especially because I love The Shining) – what's your favorite horror/suspense/scary movie?

IK: I adore The Shining but actually really dislike scary movies. The Shining to me isn't scary as much as it is suspenseful, and, I’m going to sound annoying saying this, art. It's definitely art. It's one big art project. It's so unlike the book – [Stanley] Kubrick absolutely had other motives for making the movie. It's so beautiful. I’m in awe, honestly. I need to make more art about it. The Shining is so crazed and maddening. It's awesome. That project was a collaboration with my friend Jane Burns in college and we were like "What if we had a whole red party?" It was a crazy wonderful time. People afterwards told me they actually felt more agitated and crazy being there because of the color. Secretly I was like, "score! I did what Kubrick did!" but I hope they had a good time too.

TLS: Your photos have an older quality to them (which probably ties into your theme of "nostalgia," I would assume) – what do you think this element of your photography expresses better or differently than a digital camera?

IK: I know I've talked a lot about when objects have memory embedded in them and I don't think this question escapes the same idea. I like having physical objects in my hand when I use film. I love that, before I scan them, the only proof of that photographed moment exists in one object and nowhere else. In a way it's not even that film expresses it better than digital, it's the process. But of course I think the graininess I can achieve and rough edges or fuzz on the film adds a huge amount to my photos. I love it. Once again one of my professors would probably be like, "What! Get that dust off your print!"

TLS: Why photography over other mediums? When, where and how did you get involved with the art?

IK: I started taking photos because I couldn't draw. I was so jealous of girls who could draw. One time I drew a horse perfectly in art class (like 5th grade I think) and I almost cried. My teacher was so confused. I first took photos on a family trip along Route 66 when was 11 or so. I had a disposable camera. After that, I just kept going. My dad gave me a point and shoot. When I realized I would never escape photography as an obsession and my grades in high school were sucking, I just thought "well ok" and enrolled in photo classes at the Academy of Art University. I completely fell in love. I quit violin and ballet that year to concentrate 100% on photo (high school was meh, photo was life). I started to do more installation stuff in college and now I make collages (something I wish I had done earlier – I find them to be extremely satisfying) but photo will always be my favorite guy.

Check out more of India's work here.

Written by Molly Morris