"We're All Going to Die": Our "Work of Art" Exit Interview With Kathryn Parker Almanas
On last night's episode of "Work of Art," Bravo's insidiously amusing art-based reality TV show, the judges, unimpressed with Kathryn's second installment of gooey organ-based artwork, sent this morbid Lisa Loeb doppelganger packing. Fresh from watching the broadcast of her own elimination last night, Kathryn — whose full name, Kathryn Parker Almanas, is top-secret in Bravo materials but can be found on her site — chatted with ARTINFO about the influence of her debilitating digestive issues on her art, the irony of getting kicked off an episode so preoccupied with pooping (or "elimination," as the dainty call it), and what was flowing through her at the time.
How did you brace yourself for watching your elimination episode?
It's hard to see yourself on TV anyway, and I already knew how very sick and in pain I was. I wasn't sure what would be shown and what wouldn't. It was hard. I watched it with my family, and a lot of my friends were texting me support, so it was good. My mom is a nurse and really kind of protective, and she'll see a clip of me turn around and say, "Oh my god, I can see how much pain you're in."
I don't think this episode really conveyed your being in pain as much as being emotional. You're saying you were really physically struggling through it?
In the first episode I was, too, but I really hid it from the cameras. I was way struggling. I have a tendency to be kind of a soldier and try not to complain too much. I try to not let it be over-apparent. I was in a lot of pain. Physical pain. I was really curious how others would view it. For me, I was there. I could fill in the blanks in my head.
So there were a lot of blanks?
I don't think that you saw, really, what I was feeling and experiencing physically. The body and the mind are one, so physical and emotional are one. So of course the emotional comes out. The physical was a definite component to show why I was losing my shit. No pun intended.
Do you feel comfortable talking about your condition? You mentioned that it's the basis for a lot of your work.
I have various autoimmune issues. The predominant issue is Crohn's disease, which is a digestive disorder. It can be quite painful and debilitating. It's kind of funny how much the show was really about digestion. The theme kept coming up! There must have been something in the air. Digestion is like a really complicated — it's the seat of all our physical health. It's an important aspect of your vitality. To be challenged with that, it can be complicated. My work really stems from this personal experience of pain and confusion of the body. But you know, I've said it before and I'll say it again, I aim to make work that's more about universal themes of the human condition and this shared experienced of living in the body, this idea that we all have this anatomy under our skin. We're all going to die, but it's this appreciation and celebration of the body, and also this recognition of suffering, being able to look at it square in the face. Perhaps finding the beauty of something can transform it, being able to have a dialogue of the anatomy of our bodies. That's why my work comes from that place. The materials I use are intentional — dough, pastry, jelly. I'm using these kind of sweet materials as metaphor, and as surrogates.
In the episode you mention looking to Francis Bacon as a guide.
Yes, his work very much ranges in scope and dynamic, but he was really meditating, again, on this idea of the human condition and things people would perhaps see as quite ugly. There's one quote that I have taped to my studio wall of his that is "I'm just trying to make images as accurately as possible off my nervous system as I can. I don't even know what half of them mean." It's this idea of making things as an artist and channeling your vision from your nervous system, from your life, from your being. I think I really relate to that. I feel kinship with Francis Bacon, like a number of artists I respect and look at. This his how I'm making my work right now because it's what's coming off of my nervous system
Despite Simon de Pury's warnings, you had a very strong attachment to your vision for this assignment. His critique that it was too close to last your piece was the reason the judges sent you home. Looking back on it, what would you have changed?
I can't completely answer the question, if I would do things differently on the show. It's hard to kind of navigate and decipher in my head. If I was well, would I make a different decision in what I was making and yada yada? Yeah. I made a video, and, sure, that wasn't something I'm familiar with.
It was a suggestion of Young Sun's, wasn't it?
It was a good suggestion on his part, to try and shake it up. It was exactly what Jeanne [Greenberg Rohatyn] said — it's not all that different, video from photography. I was making work that was flowing through me at the time, and I don't regret it. But I don't think the work was up to par as to what I would make. It was definitely just a sketch, an experiment, and not something I would write home about. I was actually grateful to go home at the time. I did not feel well, and I don't feel that I'm cut out for reality TV in regards to the competition or any of it. I don't think I would've wanted to cater my vision to a weekly assignment. That's hard because jeez, of course you want a hundred grand! Of course you want a show at the Brooklyn Art Museum!
By now, I think we've grown accustomed to the workings of reality TV. Were your expectations somehow different?
In part yes, and in part I also don't think I was completely prepared for what it would be like. I have no regrets. I'm glad I did it, but I definitely would not do it again.
What have you been up to since?
I've continued to work in dough and pastries and jellies. I'm making these weird organ photos and thinking more about issues of the body as a vessel, and spirituality and sexuality. I'm also experimenting with collages I'm making with toilet paper and floss, recreating these sexual positions from this '70s anatomy book. I study a lot of anatomy. I collect a lot of anatomy books and models. I'm always really meditating on these issues of the medical world and the body, you know. And toilet paper and floss.