3 Questions with Kate Durbin
Writer, performer, and artist Kate Durbin on disobedience, collaboration, and pursuing what scares you.
3 QUESTIONS is a series of brief, three-question interviews with PNCA’s visiting artists and lecturers. Each year, PNCA attracts innovative, thoughtful, and creative makers and thinkers who share our belief in the transformative power of creativity. In three short answers to three short questions, these artists offer perspectives on career, motivation, and transformation. When available, we include links to audio recordings, transcripts, slideshows, or video.
The Philip Feldman Gallery + Project Space welcomes Kate Durbin, founding editor of cult web-journal Gaga Stigmata for a digital performance lecture with Meghan Vicks, facilitated by PNCA alum Larissa Hammond, MFA AC+D ’12. You can also watch a video of Durbin and Vicks’ web-lecture.
“The greatest art is totally, completely disobedient.”
What advice would you offer current students about to embark on a career in the arts?
You are the only person who can give yourself permission to make the art you want to make. The greatest art is totally, completely disobedient. No one is going to tell you it’s okay to do that, not even other irreverent artists. So you have to give yourself that.
How do you maintain your creative practice? What keeps you motivated and engaged?
My practice is an obsession. I don’t have a life outside of art—in fact, I often trick myself: “You can start going to parties again once you publish this book, once you finish this performance, once you’re done with this interview.” I suspect this is how my life will unfold, and that’s okay. My work is everything.
As for motivation, pop culture is a constant source of inspiration and energy for me—it moves quickly, so in order to participate in it I have to keep running. I also find it motivating to bring in partners to work on certain projects with me, like working with Meghan on Gaga Stigmata. Success is doubled when shared!
Could you describe a moment or experience that profoundly changed the nature of your work?
I can pinpoint two. The first was when, during my MFA graduate experience at UC Riverside, my teacher Chris Abani told me to write what I was afraid of. That advice shook the trajectory of my work, inspiring my first book The Ravenous Audience. I have since moved toward that which makes me uncomfortable or uncertain and my career has been better for it.
The second is when I saw Lady Gaga perform at the 2009 VMA awards, her bleeding bodysuit performance of her song Paparazzi, wherein she turned the cultural platform of MTV into an art performance on par with Abromovic, Schneeman, Beecroft. That kind of radical act in a totally pop, totally unexpected space—it blew the top of my head off. The wheels for Gaga Stigmata started spinning in me, and I knew I not only wanted to create a space where discussion of Gaga’s project would be central, but that I wanted to facilitate a space wherein the nature of criticism could shift to affect the zeitgeist directly. Like Gaga, I wanted to blow up the platform!
KATE DURBIN is a Los Angeles-based writer, performer, and transmedia artist. She is author of The Ravenous Audience (Akashic Books), and co-author of Abra, forthcoming in iOS and artist’s book editions. She has also written five chapbooks, including, most recently, Kept Women (Insert Press). Winner of an &Now Innovative Writing Award, she recently received an Expanded Artists’ Book grant from the Center for Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College Chicago. She is founding editor of Gaga Stigmata, and teaches literature and writing at Whittier College.