All images from Katie's portfolio.
Words Zarah Cheng
When you first look at the images produced by Queens-based artist, Katie Torn, you are immediately drawn in to the colours and shapes of your childhood: pinks and turquoises, flowers, and My Little Pony’s. But upon closer inspection, the works take on a darker tone. You may be able to notice floating limbs, eerily hollow gazes from the Barbie-like heads, and sometimes even excremental traces that are reminiscent of Robert Rauschenberg. Commenting on the effects of consumerist culture and excess, Torn creates unnerving, seductive images that oscillate between a physical and virtual reality.
What inspires your work?
Environmental degradation, the buildup of plastic waste in the ocean, toxicity, and an oversaturation of images and information. I look a lot at modernist painting and sculpture that depicts a deconstruction of the human figure: The Italian Futurist Umberto Boccioni, the Cubist Fernand Léger. I love the French Surrealist, Yves Tanguy. I am inspired by postmodern architecture, ads, Ikebana, Disneyland, David Cronenberg, Photoshopped female bodies in magazines, real dolls, cosplay, the way females are depicted in video games, and my daily experience of navigating through virtual spaces.
How do you produce your images?
It really depends on the specific piece. Sometimes I start by building physical sets in my studio, which I photograph and videotape, bring into the computer and manipulate using 2D and 3D special effects programs. Other times, I’ll create an image or video entirely in the computer using a combination of programs. The main programs I use are Maya, After Effects, Real Flow, Blender, Final Cut, Photoshop, and Unity game engine. It’s the fluidity between these programs and the physical and virtual that enable me to produce my images.
There are some nostalgic elements in your work, such as My Little Pony figures and Barbie-like heads. How does this tie into the dialogue of your works?
As a child, developing my identity and creativity was entwined with the plastic toys I played with. I used to be so involved with these toys and now, they are a just a pile of plastic junk. They were created to be discarded and outgrown. They are part of my narrative of growing up in a consumerist culture.
Your piece, Dream House, uses 3D simulation technologies to produce real-time, randomized animations. Why did you decide to leave the narration of this piece up to chance?
In Dream House, a monument-like female character, whose body is a high-rise condo, shoots household objects out at random which build up on her body. I was interested in using code to make the work generative but instead of using abstraction as most generative art pieces do, I wanted to use an autonomous system to depict the generative buildup of waste that is part of everyday life. A city’s consumption and output of waste has the quality of an autonomous system, so it made sense to use that technology for this piece instead of animating each occurrence ahead of time.
Many of your works comment on capitalist culture and the consequences of excess. Why do you feel that this is an important topic to discuss?
I have a love-hate relationship with capitalist culture and excess. I find it beautiful and enticing but at the same time, repulsive and dangerous. I’m in awe of a chemically enhanced orange sunset over an industrial wasteland, yet I know it’s toxic. I think many people don't want to give up their lifestyles, which are inherently wasteful. It’s hard to do because we’re born into it. I just wonder what the long-term consequences will be.
Totems is pretty visceral and shocking when you first see it. What inspired this piece?
The idea behind those two video pieces was, “What would a totem look like as a representative of American culture?” I made the pieces during my first year in grad school. At the time, I was building a lot of sculptures in my studio, wearing them like costumes and video taping myself performing simple gestures. I was also thinking a lot about digital materiality and building virtual sculptures out of working with digital media as a plastic material.
A lot of your images are actually pretty dark and eerie, despite the bright colours you use. What draws you in to this aesthetic?
I’m interested in using the mechanics of seduction that one sees in advertisements, especially commercials or television shows for young girls, to present observations on the outcome of consummation and excess.
You were a student of Claudia Hart. How did she help you discover your voice as an artist?
Claudia taught me 3D animation in an art context, which was perfect for what I wanted to say, and that was life changing. But it was the overall education at SAIC that helped me discover my voice as an artist, not just one person. I made Totems and another piece called Defunct before I started advising with Claudia. Those pieces were a breakthrough for me. Everything that I am making now stems from what I learned making those works. At the time, I was studying with Jon Cates and taking a performance seminar with Roberto Sifeuntes. I also took courses in the painting department, working with Scott Reeder and the German painter, Albert Oehlen.
What was your experience like curating The New Romantics exhibition?
A lot of emotions went into creating that exhibition, which was fitting of the show’s statement. Nicholas O’Brien, Claudia Hart and I spent about a year planning The New Romantics. Nicholas and I installed 22 artworks with the help of Eyebeam staff in less than a week and with a very tight budget. It was crazy, but we pulled it off and it was an amazing feeling to see a year’s worth of planning materialize.
What creeps you out the most?
I hate sleeping alone and I’ve met a number of very creepy doctors.