Max Berman:You approach feminism in a non-traditional way with your writings as well as social networking platforms, can you tell us more about your Women as Objects tumblr project?
Kate Durbin: I started Women as Objects in 2011 after I encountered all the brilliant, culture-shaping art that teen girls were creating on tumblr. It wasn’t exclusively their artwork that I was interested in, which was richly embodied in a complicated way that most net art isn’t. I was also fascinated by the way they performed their identities in a public forum, the way they dealt with coming of age really bravely and openly in that space. I didn’t want this information—both visual and textual—to be lost, or solely co-opted by corporations (or taken credit for by men) so I chose to make Women as Objects as a real-time archive of these young women’s important work.
Max Berman: I know that Gaga Stigmata has been one of your ongoing projects and has just recently entered the archival stage. Can you tell us more about Gaga Stigmata and why you chose to center an entire collaborative critical writing journal on Lady Gaga?
Kate Durbin: Back in 2010, Lady Gaga released her video Telephone and the Internet blew up. There really hadn’t been an epic music video on that large a scale in a long time—it harkened back to Michael Jackson’s videos, only it was more meta and conceptual and now (or, 2010, rather). After that people were writing critically online about Gaga and her work and yet there was still this kind of sluggishness and resistance to her project in the critical sphere due to the fact that she was a pop star. I thought: you know what, all these scholars are going to be writing about Gaga in five, ten years, but by then it will all be over. What if I create a space where people can write about the phenomenon as it’s happening? What was incredibly exciting about Gaga Stigmata was that because our writers were able to respond to Gaga so quickly, in a highly visible forum, Lady Gaga and popular culture at large started to use our work in a sort of symbiotic way: in other words, just as Gaga shaped our writings, we shaped the arc of her project. She started making statements in interviews that were taken line for line from our journal, using our ideas in videos and performances, and suddenly a bunch of writers for major newspapers like The New York Times were elevating their discourse about her, effectively stealing our ideas (this wasn’t super cool, but still interesting as it shifted the conversation from “who is this crazy pop star” to “Gaga is a meta pop star, a trickster of American pop culture.”) In other words, Gaga Stigmata showed that it is possible for critics and the avant garde to directly penetrate and shift popular culture. That is the stigmata effect. But you can’t just be complaining about something in order to do that, and the artist has to be open to your ideas too (as Gaga was, being an excellent cipher). This was all possible of course due to the Internet, which is filled with stigmatas (holes).
Max Berman:Your forthcoming book, E! Entertainment deals with the medium of pop culture in modern American society. Why do you believe pop culture is important to discuss and critically analyze? Along with this, why do you choose to create art centered around pop culture? ￼ ￼
Kate Durbin: I think anything that is so everywhere as popular culture is important to analyze but popular culture seems to me especially so because of the ways in which its foundational ideas and tropes hide in plain sight. We think we know it but we don’t. There are some pockets of resistance in the art world to popular culture as a theme for art, unless your art directly criticizes the popular—but I’m not incredibly interested in any direct critique. I feel that’s boring and obvious. Instead, I want to take these repeated narratives or characters of popular culture—like the wife in the reality tv housewife shows—and turn them into art, or literature, via the method of showing the ways in which they are already art or literature. Through that experience any sense of critique the reader experiences will be their own, and will have a kind of depth of knowing to it that true critique (as opposed to knee jerk critique) requires. It’s really about perception for me. If I can alter a reader’s perception, ever so slightly, of a thing he or she thought she knew and had dismissed already, then I will have created a work of art. All good art does this. It doesn’t matter if you are putting a urinal in a museum for the first time like Duchamp or transcribing an entire episode of The Hills, as I have. And then you go out of the museum or you shut the book and the world has expanded for you, just a little.
Max Berman:Is there a particular person/family in pop culture that you find yourself most drawn to/ interested in? I.e The Kardashians, the Lohans, etc.
Kate Durbin: The project I’m working on now moves from the Hollywood royalty of E! to royalty royalty, our cultural obsession with the mostly defunct monarchy. So I’m obsessing over Kate Middleton, Princess Diana, Marie Antoinette, the Countess of Bath, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey.
Max Berman: Your published book of poetry The Ravenous Audience dealt with varying themes ranging from learning how to read to coercion and rape. Should we expect to see a wide scope of topics in E! Entertainment, or are you solely focusing on reality television and pop culture?
Kate Durbin: I think E! is more compact in form and concept than Ravenous (although it’s a much longer book) but I see the books in conversation with each other. And of course both deal with cinema, women and/as screens, repetitious (disturbing) cultural narratives and archetypes. The fairy tales in Ravenous show up in E! in Kim’s “fairytale” wedding, the ways in which the wives in wives shows want to be princesses. Also in the ways in which these stories are told over and over, like fairy tales.
Max Berman: E! Entertainment is set for release in May of 2014, is there anything you feel readers should know before cracking open the first page of this innovative conceptual concoction?
Kate Durbin: This question made me smile. I would prefer readers go into the experience with an open mind, and that they read the book through to the end. I sometimes liken the experience of reading E! to slipping a drug into your drink. You won’t feel the effects at first, but by the end, you’ll be somewhere else entirely.
by MAX BERMAN / contributing writer