Interview with Kate Gilmore


Aris, after seeing your new body of work, I kept thinking of Louise Bourgeois. As you know, Bourgeois was constantly embedding personal history into all her works. I was wondering if you could talk about this in relationship to these new sculptures?
I love Louise Bourgeois’ work, and she’s a huge influence. Well before I had the pleasure to visit her salon in her house in Chelsea, I was making work with shared language. So much so that the two reviews (NY Observer, NY Sun) of my show at Cue Art Foundation both (favorably!) mention the dialogue between our work. And this is a few years before the Arachnae… Bourgeois is such an inspiration both because she demanded and owned her artistic freedom by engaging in many materials, styles, and concepts, but also because of her pioneering, and at that time brave, post-modern sensibility during a period when male-centered modernism was dominating the conversation. Her questioning of high and low, process and ready-made, narrative and abstraction, all served to enrich her work but also the language of art for all of us. More specifically, the Arachnae, conceptually as well as materially, follows previous work I made with mythological references: Medusas and Hydras. I welcome the further associations the Arachnae, as spiders, invoke with Bourgeois. That association is certainly part of their meaning in relation to art history, but also in understanding specific shared motivations with Bourgeois: my primary influence, my mother, was also a tailor, and I spent many hours in her shop making patchworks to pass the time. My mother was a protector, but also a weaver of complex realities: Her marriages, her “immigrating” us to the US, her extraordinary business drive, her various spiritual journeys… Her bravery though has cost her, as complexity often does, and the myth of the Arachnae relates well to this cost.
When thinking about your work, I always have an intense feeling of sexuality. The potential for some great sexual act—the appendages, the dominance and submission, the plastic! How do you think about sexuality in relationship to these sculptures?
I should also mention here another big influence, Lynda Benglis who, like Bourgeois, was a pioneer in commanding her voice and artistic freedom. Also with Benglis, abstraction and sexuality were fused to expand boundaries and question hierarchies. Playful sexual suggestions abound in my work because I understand, and accept, sexuality as an essential human motivation. Sex, and also procreation politics are behind a lot of our strategies. My own personal experience, as well as my understanding of our American society’s sexual anxieties, particularly when manifested as racism or economic control, have led me to embrace sexual metaphors as part of a larger systemic examination. Our collective discomforts and obsessions, when understood, can shed a lot of light in how and why we construct systems the way we do. Power and dominance seduce but also reveal the discomfort of socialization.
In Americana, the plastic covered fabric immediately brings to mind grandmothers covering their upholstered couches to protect them from the human stain. What does it mean to put plastic (made in a similar way) on art work?
Again my mother. We had a living room, mostly out of bounds for the family, that was my mother’s showpiece, everything covered in plastic. I hated it, but now I can’t help but find it all a bit funny. This was truly Americana, just through an immigrant/ethnic lens. But, beyond funny, I am intrigued by the metaphoric possibilities of covering everything in plastic. This “prophylaxis” is functional because it protects, but it also isolates. Also, there is a decorative element in the shine, the “bling” of the plastic, which subverts notions of taste. The “layerness” of the plastic is also very important to me, and stems out of my painting where I work very much with plastic layers, revealing and concealing…
The fabrics you use are really interesting to me in a cultural sense. We have money fabric (bling), plaids (prep), united nations (international politics). Could you talk about how you go about choosing these fabrics and what you want to communicate with their use? Also, I would love to hear you talk about painting as well, knowing that this is your background. It is very clear that the fabrics come from a similar language.
Exactly. My paintings are layered physically, and metaphorically. This has carried on to the sculptures using fabrics loaded with cultural metaphors, as you have correctly identified. I tend to favor plaids and patchworks initially because they are visually intriguing to me, but also because they are themselves embodiments of pattern, order, organization: constructed systems. The systems may be formal, interplays of line and pattern, but also “loaded” (in a cultural sense), where the fabrics suggest the tastes, identities, and also aspirations of various communities, ethnic or economic. Earlier you mention Americana, and a lot of my fabrics play with codes often specific to American or Anglo taste. I love the contradiction of covering preppy fabrics with the plastic layer. There are prints, sometimes abstract, sometimes with images such as money, huts, fake patchworks (the simulacrum of a system!). Interestingly, there are records of Plato and Aristophanes using the word “fabric” as metaphor for construct, so that is an ancient as well as contemporary meme. Examining issues of taste exposes constructs and systems as well as questions how we understand beauty, quality, and even universality.
How do you make these sculptures? There is so much process involved with these—as they look so soft and cuddly, but in reality they are hard and tough!
The sculptures have a steel armature that is then covered with foam, fabric, and plastic. You are right, there is so much process at different levels. I work with Caliper in Williamsburg for the armatures, and Estevez Plastics in Mott Haven for the “upholstery.” This is a departure from my previous art making, I mean, I’ve employed assistants in the past, particularly for the large-scale pieces, but hiring someone to actualize a design is new territory for me. I do love this process for its collaborative aspects, such as idea- sharing and problem-solving, as well as the shared excitement of finishing a work that’s taken several hands to fabricate. This “collaborative” arrival is also conceptually intriguing for me as it questions the hierarchies of how we understand and evaluate the artistic process.
To follow up on this…Could you talk about gender in relationship to this body of work?
My work questions gender assignment through its materials, process, and or allusions to taste. Gender to me is yet another construct. I understand gender as fluid and evolving, if not outright arbitrary. “Power” demands that gender is solid and binary, but limiting gender to exist in an anachronistic construct, denies individual potential, as well as collective. I’ve seen a lot of progress on this in my lifetime, and I hope my work can contribute to the softening of gender boundaries, in a playful and abstract sense.

Kate Gilmore is a fine artist working in multiple areas of mediums, including video, sculpture, photography, and performance. Born in Washington, D.C., Gilmore attended Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, graduating in 1997. Gilmore received her masters of fine arts in 2002 from the School of Visual Arts in New York. Gilmore has exhibited at the 2010 Whitney Biennial, the Brooklyn Museum, The Indianapolis Museum of Art, White Columns; Contemporary Arts Center (Cincinnati), Artpace, The J. Paul Getty Museum, The Rose Art Museum, and PS1/MoMA Contemporary Art Center. Gilmore currently lives and works out of New York City, NY.