I first learned about Kit Kite while journeying down a rabbit hole through the world wide web, searching for something I can't remember. In a sea full of selfies, Kit Kite's self portraiture immediately struck me as being different, as more deserving of attention. Her work does not pester or persist with the usual demands selfies often scream at us - "Tell me I'm pretty! Tell me I'm worthy! Tell me this hair cut was not a mistake!" The portraits in both her "The X Housewife Portraits" series and "The X Install Portraits" series - simply ask, "What is home?"
Though she admits to taking more than 11,000 selfies over the course of a year (laughably small by the standards of the average tween no doubt), her self-portraits are not merely vain snapshots. They turn the idea of a portrait around on itself, obscuring what is usually the most prominent and most important part of a portrait - the face. The objects become the main subject and the self becomes lost, relegated to the background where it is merely a prop.
I met Kit Kite in person at Smiling Elephant back in March. It was right after our "snow-pocalypse" and she made a funny joke about the potholes that littered the roads. She was incredibly open and kind. In spite of her admitted lack of sleep, she had a fervent energy when talking about her work and before I knew it, she'd taken me on a 45-minute journey through her world that I would have sworn had happened in the blink of an eye. Below are some highlights from that conversation.
VBB | What artists do you most admire & look to for inspiration?
KK | I love Bernhard and Anna Blume, the conceptual artists. Their main work was photography but they were husband and wife and their whole process was in isolation and they did all these vignettes and strange narratives and photography that was amazing and bizarre. They did it all alone by themselves in their studio or in their house, so their life as well as individually was kinda eccentric. It’s a little bizarre, but together I love, love their work. I like Francis Bacon’s paintings, he’s been a huge influence. I don’t know if in my own paintings it would come across, but he’s really impacted me just in how he communicates through the visual and subconscious level. I feel like I can feel him in his paintings. Whether that’s good or bad i dont know. But it’s like it resonates with his work. It's almost like you're there sort of looking inside his head. There’s a lot of painters like that, but him especially. Maybe because it is so in your face.
VBB | So you still paint, right?
KK | Yes.
VBB | Even through the whole X Housewife series, you still found time to paint or is it something that’s kind of on the back burner?
KK | No, I’ve worked a little bit, it’s mainly just in the sketchbook, working that out. How I drafted that last series out was through photographs instead of sketching, I think that’s how it segued into photography and the video because otherwise I don’t think I would have ever done it that way.
VBB | Did you go into making the photos with a plan?
KK | Yea, sometimes there was a lot of intention, like there was a specific object I wanted to use and it would take me between 3 and 4 days to construct whatever device it was out of those objects to then pose with. I was shooting for a year and a half that way. It was always very obviously effected relationally, something would happen and I would be like, "I’m gonna go in my room and shoot." And it was actually very therapeutic. Where I didn’t feel like there was anything present, I could be present with that and know how to execute it. I got real familiar with it. It was like this routine and it was like every other day or every day sometimes or several in a day I would shoot.
VBB | Was there ever a time, maybe early on, where you were like, "Uhh, what am I doing? I have a headdress on made of Q-tips."? When did you first share the work with someone else? Was that nerve-wracking or were you pretty confident?
KK | No, because I don’t think I ever had intention of it becoming anything more than it was. It was like, you know, when you sketch in a sketch book, you don't think about what people are going to think. You’re at your safest.
And posting on Instagram - when I started it, I had just gotten an iPhone, I didn’t really know what that was, so in my head I didn’t even really realize that people could see it. I mean I did, but I was thinking, "Oh, this will be a great way to catalogue my images and then refer back, and neatly organize and keep up with what I’m doing."
And then on Instagram a lot of those Instagram galleries wanted to host it or publish it or whatever which I wasn’t familiar with either. Some of them wanted me to write about the work and others just asked several questions or didn’t say anything at all, they would just post it or feature it or whatever, so in that time it was great because I think it was challenging to me because it was helping me to find what the concept was.
VBB | What is your studio time like?
KK | I probably need a better schedule. I do need to find slots of time and be a little more intentional because I’m literally working on that project [Domestic Smudge] which I haven't even really started, but I wanna really make sure with this next series I develop the concept fully before I even make the first thing, so that I don’t stray away.
With this ex-housewife series, I started drafting before I really even knew what the concept was. Traditionally the practice of conceptual work isn't like that, so I’m going to do it a little differently. There’s a lot of down time that’s not real productive looking. People can’t go visit my studio and really see anything happening because it’s mostly been writing and researching and sketching so it’s kind of slow production at this point.
It’s hard because I’m also writing an art play. It’s a performance piece that’s going to be shot as a short film, so I have deadlines on that to write and then I’m working with this artist out in L.A. on a project that came through Instagram. And then I've been working on another thing in the last 2 months with Burlei records.
VBB | Wow you’re so busy! You have so many cool things going on.
KK | Yea, and I have two children and I work a pub job.
VBB | Do you sleep?
KK | I haven’t lately. I’ve been staying up writing. I’ve been writing so much lately which is really what I love. I think a lot of conceptual artists are really like writers. I love the idea of the research, honing in and just condensing to a paragraph this whole visual study and so I’ve been writing a lot. And I’m really interested in play writing and script writing and film. I love film. So I'm busy and I don’t know how to always manage the time as well as sleep, but I do need to sleep because I have to rise in the morning with my children and be mother.
VBB | You said it takes a little bit of time to produce your work, but you’re sharing your progress throughout that production phase. Are you ever worried that someone in that timespan is going to steal your ideas?
KK | People posed that same question to me when I was posting the drafts on Instagram. I think I’d just really bottomed out and didn't care anymore and was like, "You know, if someone steals it - fine." I think what made me confident going into it and exposing it visually was that my story, the content itself, was unique. I was living it, so I felt that nobody could take that.
The way that I would write about it or the way that I would look at it and interpret it, they just couldn’t. There are people that have put stuff in front of their face and shot a self-portrait. It’s not necessarily an incredibly unique sort of thing, but I think what causes my work to maybe be different is the concept and that’s really it.
The way that you would interpret your idea, even if it’s a concept that someone else could talk about, it’s going to be unique and no one can take that - especially if it’s a real story. When I work on a series, it's usually something I'm living in that moment and I really want to talk about, so it's a pretty fresh, right-off-the-press kind of thing. Right now, it's sort of about accepting the fact that I'm, you know, a single mother and it's loneliness which has been talked about, but in the last series it was isolation and now it's kind of about "How does one look at themselves alone or when they're left on their own and then only have sort of a memory of something that might have looked like their was company kept?" What does that look like? And then translating that and I've been writing about it and trying to figure that out.
I live in the suburbs, so it's visually all around me - the domestic, suburban landscape. That influences me and I'm submerged in that.
VBB | Do you identify with the suburbs or is it more like a world you're living in as an observer, in it but not of it?
KK | Yea, I felt like that as a kid. I'm just observing here. I'm just here for showtime wherever I'm at.
VBB | It doesn't matter where you are?
KK | No, and I'm really easily amused, so anywhere I'm out I can say like, "Let's talk about this very sort of boring backdrop and let's try to pull or find the unfamiliar in something so very familiar, there's got to be something."
VBB | That’s cool to hear you say that because I feel like I hear so many artists say that they have to be in the city near the action.
KK | Individuals can be heavily influenced by their atmosphere and I know that there are certain people that have to have a certain feel that's around them to be able to work. And I guess because I haven't really had that luxury in choosing what that is, it's kind of been like you don't make anything at all or you find something to say and make out of this place. It's been a good practice. I have no surprises and a limited budget or no budget and I don't have any equipment and I live in the suburbs so, "Ok let's make something!" [laughing] "Let's feel that, let's sit in it, absorb it and make things out of garbage or whatever we can find." It's a simple way...I hope I never lose it either if things were to change. I mean everything always does, but even then I hope that I can always touch down in that place wherever I'm at and be present and learn to be content wherever I'm at.
VBB | How do you feel about the idea of investing in art and how would you feel if your art was acquired as an investment rather than for pure enjoyment?
KK | There's a business side of art that I think is important and has its place. That is not the end all and it doesn't dictate what I make. It’s not the fuel that creates the work, but I wouldn’t mind people collecting my work. I ultimately would like people to be moved and interested but it is a business.
VBB | Have you ever made anything to personal to sell?
KK | Yes. I have. I have it hanging in my living room and it's just one painting. There was no series. It's just one painting that I did when I was 22 - so 12 years ago and I've never really painted anything like it. It's very different and I think it hits right where I was at and it’s very personal and it will always be with me. I can never sell that.
*All photos property of Kit Kite and used with Artist's permission.