This is 5 Questions. Each week, we send five questions to an artist featured in Under the Radar, our weekly email highlighting the best art on the ArtSlant network. This week we seek answers from Katrina Majkut.
What are you trying to communicate with your work?
At first, I wanted to push the medium of embroidery itself by incorporating observational painting and freeform techniques. This enabled me to challenge notions of fine art as they relate to stereotypical “domestic crafts.” Simultaneously, in researching for my book, The Adventures and Discoveries of a Feminist Bride, I started to understand how social traditions embedded with obsolete gender roles influenced both social, domestic and textile traditions. For example, how the white wedding dress relates to virginity and the wedding cake relates to fertility and procreation. This awakened me to how the stereotypical subjects in embroidery promote outdated and biased gendering that affects women’s private and public parity. Ultimately, I want to modernize the medium in process, content, and impact.
By stitching every modern product related to women’s health, bodies, and family planning, I’m also raising awareness as to how complicated these issues are. Most people have a preexisting personal opinion on the matter, but when they are confronted by my unbiased, medical still lives, I’ve observed that many viewers realize they know little to nothing about the medical scope of products, medications, and items women and their doctors must contend with on a daily basis (and sometimes this educational moment happens to the women themselves). I hope the artwork starts a conversation about the importance of sex education, control, and learning to be empathetic with the medical or physical needs of the people who use them. I’m also thinking a lot about how objectivity can actually incite intersectionalism.
Nursing Pads, 2017, Thread and nursing pads on aida cloth
What is an artist’s responsibility?
This may sound dark but the reality is that an artist’s responsibility is probably to themselves, but not limited to it. What an artist makes is just a response to the world around them and their feelings and their beliefs about their subject or medium. Otherwise, art runs the risk of appropriation and being inauthentic. Or if artists make work to meet someone else’s demands (say the market’s or their gallerist’s, etc.) for saleability or to be popular, they are accused of selling out.
Commissioners are hopefully completely on board with the artist’s vision and authority. BUT, sometimes the id is tied to important issues of the day and then that responsibility to the self suddenly becomes selfless, for the benefit of others beyond the artist. Then, one’s art takes on a cause greater than oneself, even if the self instigated or motivated the origins of the artwork. One could argue this paradox, in the case of socially engaged art (like my own).
I often think about what type of art I would make if I weren’t compelled to modernize biased mediums or subjects and wasn’t devoted to feminist causes. Then I wonder if artists who can make art irrespective of social causes, who make art for art sake, are they exclusively creating from a seat of privilege? What would I be making in that situation then? I’ve been debating this concept of art-making and content for a while now and no matter what idea-path I follow, it seems to ultimately come back to the self because the questions begin with: What does the artist want to make? What does an artist need to create to feel fulfilled—emotionally, physically, and spiritually? Like an artist? To make a mark on the world?
Show us the greatest thing you ever made (art or not)?
From the series In Control, Detail and installation view of Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit Installation (A forensic rape kit deconstructed step by step), 2016–2017, 15 Artworks, Found objects & thread on Aida cloth
What a loaded and pressure-filled question! I think artists are more likely to have particular milestone artworks that represent a significant shift in their ideas, skills, and work so it’s hard to nail down just one, but here goes nothing. I will say my entire series In Control, which I mentioned above. It currently stands at over fifty artworks and continues to grow. I can’t even adequately comprehend what the sheer volume of artwork and the time and effort it took to make each individual artwork means. Stitching is laborious and tedious! And I’m excited that its momentum continues to grow. It’s developed in ways that I hadn’t anticipated like having a narrative component to it. I wanted people to consider the importance of the objects I’ve embroidered and to not push my own experience with them. Instead, viewers started sharing their own stories with me and other viewers and that has created a powerful dimension to the still life artwork. I also aim to be bipartisan and research-based, which I think is crucial in this post-fact and divided country.
I’m also still pretty blown away by how I created a kid over a year ago—the science behind creating life is just mindboggling. And, I’m proud of the book I wrote.
Consent Is Asking Every Time Condom, 2017, Thread on aida cloth
Tell us about a work you want to make but never will:
I think it’s better to phrase this in terms of what’s on my wish list to make. I’d like to make a to-scale cross-stitch of a mammography machine. All women will have to have a breast cancer screening at some point and those with breast cancer will experience this very uncomfortable machine. It’s a huge piece of machinery that is anything but a pleasant experience. I’d love to stitch it but the sheer magnitude of it presents both physical and time challenges. It’s an important tool, but presenting it as part of this series would help raise awareness about the need for more amenable testing options, the importance of prescreening, and hopefully more empathy towards what women (and some men) must endure through it.
UpSpring Breast Milk Alcohol Test Strips, 2017, Thread on aida cloth
Who are three artists we should know but probably don’t?
Cobi Moules: He’s a thoughtful and masterful painter, and I love the humor to his work. www.cobimoules.com
Cayce Zavaglia: I’m blown away at how she proves thread is as powerful as paint. www.caycezavaglia.com
Ari Eshoo: She’s doing innovative things with found material that really push comfort zones. ari-eshoo.squarespace.com
Lindsey Kocur: She really pushes the conceptual limits of architectural and designed spaces. lindseykocur.com
—The ArtSlant Team
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(Image at top: In Control 5, 2017, Thread on aida cloth)
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