Katya Grokhovsky’s Rigorous Play

Katya Grokhovsky‘s performances and sculptural works embody raw energy fueled by her rigorous and uncompromising process. Grokhovsky’s work is  extreme, fearless, cohesive, and ambitious. With great agility she combines media like performance, video, drawing, and sculpture to create immersive environments that delve us deep into a chaotic unknown – the complexity of self, the duplicity of social norms, the twilight  zones of life and art. In this interview for Art Spiel Grokhovsky elaborates on her impetus, ideas, and projects as a prolific artist and curator.

Katya Grokhovsky,Bad Woman, 2017, video still

AS: Tell me a bit about what brought you to art

Katya Grokhovsky: I have always been quite creatively energetic and inventive, ever since I was a young girl, drawing and painting on absolutely everything, staging absurd plays, writing stories, making costumes, dreaming up visions of a life I had no idea about. Art has been a consistent presence throughout my life. I tried many other things, but have successfully failed at all of them, and here I am, practicing it fully as an adult.

AS: You were born in Ukraine, raised in Australia and currently based in Brooklyn. Do you think that has affected your art and if so, how?

Katya Grokhovsky: Migration and displacement are some of the main themes I explore in my work and they directly impact both my life and my practice, on cellular and conscious levels. I am a perpetual migrant, having never truly belonged to one culture or place, evolving and adapting consistently throughout my life. I frequently perform and construct identities, characters and personas, employing my observation, autobiographical experience and research in order to craft them.

Katya Grokhovsky,Bad Woman, 2017, found objects, acrylic, clothing, furniture, plaster, paper, video

As: Your practice encompasses several mediums – installation, performance, sculpture, video, painting and drawing. Tell me about your process. How do you start a project?

Katya Grokhovsky: My process seems to radiate in circles, continuously starting from a central idea or an obsession, which might have marinated in my mind and body for a long time, evolving into drawing, writing, material research, and collection. As I am interested in the immediate life and environment which I inhabit, I obtain my materials from a variety of sources, such as the street, internet, other artists’ discarded debris, my own past works and experiments. I then follow that with rigorous play, deconstruction and assemblage, combining and remixing materials, such as paint, plastic, plaster, thread, fabric, wood, toys, masks, and paper. Then I move into staging performances for video and photo, culminating it all into an immersive installation, activated eventually by live actions.

AS: You explore ideas of gender and migrant identity, alienation, labor, and the self—coming from research and autobiographical experience. Can you elaborate on that?

Katya Grokhovsky: As an immigrant myself, I am interested in liminal realities of the in between, the survival and adaptation to new cultures, places, and languages, especially as a woman. The excruciating longing to be understood, when you don’t speak the language, the misunderstandings, the difficult stage of transition from there to here, the alienating effect of being plucked from one’s own native home and transplanted to another dimension – an almost otherworldly site, from East to West, from one ideology to another. What’s really behind the assimilated faces, behind the adopted accent, below the smiling surface?  My work strives to reveal and uncover the darker undercurrent, the loneliness, anger, nostalgia, homesickness.

Katya Grokhovsky,System Failure, 2018, found objects, plaster, wood, acrylic, wall paint, paper, toys, wigs, clothing, video, photo courtesy: Paul Pearson

AS: Your work has a strong activist element—you dissect stereotypes though different characters, underscoring social and political issues. What do you mostly care about in your art?

Katya Grokhovsky: As an artist, woman and immigrant, I care deeply about ability and agency to speak and be heard. I am tired of being underestimated, of being silenced, shushed, and sidelined in a variety of ways.  I care about shedding light onto difficult issues, such as erasure and invisibility of women’s histories, legacies, achievements. As a curator, I care about facilitating a platform of visibility and autonomy, allowing for silenced voices to have a place, to flow, to express themselves.

AS: You say that many of your projects deal with “the liminal space of protest and freedom through failure via radical and humorous actions, personas, and costumes: reclaiming the body through pleasure, chaos, and refusal.” Can you talk more about that?

Katya Grokhovsky: Society tells women to settle down, shut up, be fragile, vulnerable, and cater to what men apparently want. It is exhausting, exasperating and I am not interested in partaking. My work allows for pleasure, ugliness, chaos, fantastical reality, freedom, abandon and abject to form and emerge, through the body, humor and absurdity. Oppression is my drive, rage is my fuel.

Katya Grokhovsky,System Failure, 2018, performance, photo courtesy: Walter Wlodarczyk

AS: How do you see the relationship between your performance and sculptural work?

Katya Grokhovsky: Sculpture to me has always been connected to my body and has been quite physical and performative. I leave imprints on what I make and what I make leaves its’ traces and energy on me. I utilize many mediums in my work as points of departure, as process starters. I don’t particularly separate sculpture from performance or from painting or video or drawing. Ideas take their guiding place and shape the work through combinations of materials and call for their own vehicles of manifestation.

Katya Grokhovsky,System Failure, 2018, found objects, plaster, wood, acrylic, wall paint,wig, photo courtesy: Walter Wlodarczyk

AS: You are having currently a show at Chashama. What can you tell me about that body of work?

Katya Grokhovsky: The exhibition at Chashama, Theater of the Mundane, is a remix of two of my recent 2018 projects: System Failure, a solo exhibition produced in residence at Muhlenberg College and a series of new works, which I have worked on during my residency at the Museum of Arts and Design. It is a site-specific solo installation, involving two video works, and several sculptures and collages made with found objects, paint, plaster, wigs, clothing, toys and fabric, altogether activated by a live performance. The exhibit explores desire, capitalism, consumerism, labor and climate change and how it all disturbs our lives.

Katya Grokhovsky,Theater of the Mundane, 2018, found objects, acrylic, plaster, wood, video, performance, photo courtesy: Walter Wlodarczyk
Katya Grokhovsky,Theater of the Mundane, 2018, found objects, acrylic, plaster, wood, video, performance, photo courtesy: Walter Wlodarczyk

AS: You are also a busy curator. What can you tell me about your current curatorial projects?

Katya Grokhovsky: My current curatorial project is one of the biggest I have ever been involved in and curated. Art in Odd Place: BODY 2018 NYC is a festival and exhibition which explore the body, agency, and public site through a variety of mediums, presenting 45 local, national and international female identified and non-binary artists and collectives. The festival is 14 years old this year and takes place in NYC every October along 14th st, presenting art placed outside mainstream spaces, founded and directed by artist Ed Woodham. This year, I added a visual exhibition component, which will take place at Westbeth Gallery and will be on view from October 4th-27th with a public festival occurring along 14th st in Manhattan on October 11th-14th.

AS: And your own upcoming art projects?

Katya Grokhovsky: My upcoming projects include a solo exhibition in LA, opening at the end of November at LAST Projects, titled Nothing Personal. This will be my first solo exhibition on the West Coast, which will focus on mainly new works, such a series of paintings, soft sculpture, videos and opening night performance. In January I will present an auteur evening of my video works and performances at the Wythe Hotel cinema in Brooklyn as part of my residency there and in February I will be premiering my project The Future is Bright at BRIC Biennial. Alongside it all, I am also very excited to embark on a new endeavor, a large-scale multimedia exhibition, The Immigrant Artist Biennial, which I founded and will direct and curate for launch in 2020 in New York City.

Katya Grokhovsky,Theater of the Mundane, 2018, found objects, acrylic, plaster, wood, video, performance, photo courtesy: Walter Wlodarczyk