Katie Hovencamp, a resident artist at the Banana Factory Arts Center and Artist Collective member, currently has a solo exhibition at the Bradbury-Sullivan Center. Her exhibition, titled “Fracturing Gender: Beauty and the Body Politic,” is eye-catching and subversive, cotton candy that’s not so sweet. Hovencamp’s work speaks to beauty, bodies, gender, and space, and the interplay between physicality and perception. In this interview, Hovencamp discusses the way she thinks about, and reacts to, the relationship between feminism, politics, art, and hope.
Hovencamp splits her time between Keystone College, where she teaches, and South Bethlehem, where her studio is located. Because of this, she spends a lot of time driving, but she says, “I really like the community down here, so it’s worth it.”
Kelsey Stratman: “What do you like about the Bethlehem community?”
Katie Hovencamp: “Well, everybody’s really friendly and a lot of the artists I’ve met around here are just really encouraging. It’s a great place to bounce ideas off each other.”
We took a minute to talk about some of the local art for sale in Lit, the Third Street coffee shop where we met to chat. Katie pointed out some fiber arts pieces by Mallory Zondag, who also teaches workshops at the Banana Factory Arts Center.
KH: “I just can’t get over how great that place [the Banana Factory] is. Hillary Harper, Stacie Brennan, and Nicole Gencarelli [the Visual Arts Staff] are all doing a really great job.”
KS: “So, you’ve shown your work a lot of different places, different countries even. While looking at your work I was thinking about how it fits into the space at Bradbury-Sullivan. How did you come about showing your work there?”
KH: “Well actually they sought me out. Adrian Shanker and Deborah Rabinsky contacted me and invited me to show with them. They liked the fact that a lot of my self portraiture was kind of unapologetic and a lot of my work is just embracing who I am and trying to make other people comfortable with that too. It’s okay to be yourself and just go for it, so I felt that that worked really well with what the space was all about. I was super excited they thought of me and I was really honored.”
KS: “Can you talk to me about how and why you choose the mediums that you do?”
KH: “[In] a lot of my work I talk about femininity and what’s considered feminine, so I’ll use a lot of materials that are stereotypical to what’s associated with girlhood. That’s why you’ll see a lot of images of bows, or fabric, pearls, even garments. For example, the parochial collars that are in the back of the gallery, those are all based off my Catholic school uniform and I just remember, I used to be really, really shy when I was younger, and wearing that uniform, that Peter Pan collar, just always felt really restrictive and I always felt like I was being choked by it. I wanted to make a version of that but in metal so it felt like, if you were to wear it, it would really make you stand in place.”
KS: “They look pretty uncomfortable.”
KH: “Yeah, they are. I wanted that feeling to come across to my viewers. So that’s what informs a lot of my material choices, I think a lot about what the materials actually do, and then I think about the concept and how I can convey that to my viewers.”
KS: “I was curious about the bows, I don’t know if that’s clay they’re made out of…?”
KH: “That’s actually cast iron! I do a lot of cast metal work. Those collars are totally metal except for the lace.”
KS: “I was also interested in the choice to display photographs of a performance alongside the collars. Can you talk to me about that?”
KH: “I like having that relationship, seeing how the piece functions on the body. That’s also why I crop out a lot of my face too, you typically don’t see my eyes or other heavy signifiers that it’s about me. That way the viewer can really put themselves in that position.”
KS: “So that’s important to you, then: being physically in front of a piece of art?”
KH: “It’s a lot of what I talk about with my students. Art and design–it’s everywhere you look. It’s the chairs we’re sitting in, the space we’re sitting in, the color choices. We wouldn’t have a lot of imagery, a lot of signage, a lot of things around us, without art. I think of art as a means of creative problem solving. What you can do with the arts is you can visually lay everything out and assess: what does this mean? How is this communicating? As an artist it’s important to be able to step back and see how other people are reading it, and especially when you’re working with conceptual art, you can use that to make it really powerful.”
KS: “It seems clear from how you talk about art, and your work itself, that there’s a strong political valence to your art. Can you talk to me about how you see the relationship between art and politics?”
KH: “For me, I’ll read a lot of things in the news and get upset. I know it’s very disheartening, and a lot of people are just getting beaten down by what’s going on. I’m still hopeful that things will get better, but I think it takes everybody working together to help make that happen. And I feel like I need to keep making my art during this time to keep being cognizant of what’s going on, and so I can contribute to the dialogue of making things better. I think feminism is extremely important right now. And I’m going to keep fighting, for sure.”
KS: “People can be so jaded… it’s reassuring to hear someone say that they have hope and that they want to be a part of that. It’s nice to hear.”
KH: “You just gotta dig your heels into the ground and keep fighting.”
Hovencamp’s art will be on display at Bradbury-Sullivan until March 29.
Feature photo credits: Kelsey Stratman