Kate Steciw is an artist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. Born in Bethlehem, PA, Steciw received a BA in Sociology from Smith College and an MFA with a concentration in Photography from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her first book, The Strangeness of This Idea, was published by Hassla in June 2010. She currently has work on view at Hungry Man Gallery in San Francisco, Gregor Staiger Gallery in Zurich and a solo exhibition opening this May at The Composing Rooms in London.

Springtime Entropy, 2009
C-Print, 50 x 40″
© Kate Steciw

Lucas Blalock: Over the last few years your work has shifted from a sculptural space within the frame of the picture to sculptural objects partially made of photographs. Can you talk about this turn in your work?

Kate Steciw I would like to be more eloquent or philosophical about this transition but really a lot of my explorations in three dimensional work have developed out of having access to studio space for the first time in a few years. Having the ability to literally take up physical space rather than virtual or implied space has led me to the realization that it is not so much the space of a photograph as confined to two dimensions and the problematic presented therein, but the ways in which that representational space enacts certain psychic and ideological demands on our physical world that interested me. That is, I found that the conceptual drive in the work had more to do with the ways in which photography creates appetites for physical objects that are then fulfilled to varying degrees of success or failure by the objects themselves – in particular, commercially manufactured objects. In a way, I see the objects and materials I use in the work as images themselves.

“antelope, ancient wisdom, all-seeing eye, arizona, background,
canyon, color, effect, flame, glowing, heat, illuminated, image,
important, iridescent, light, luminosity, nature, navajo, orange,
order, orbs, page, pattern, red, riverbed, rock, sacred spaces,
sandstone, shadow, shiny, silk, spring, stage, texture, upper, usa,
yellow”, 2012
Duraclear print, Household Items, Dimensions Variable
© Kate Steciw

LB: I remember talking to you a little while back about this and you drew a relationship between .jpgs and commercial products like those produced for IKEA. I walked away thinking about qualities of exchange and interchangeability, as well as about surface. Here you seem to be thinking more in terms of the body of the object, frustrated by its inability to always “put it’s best face forward,” or that our desire is not for the material but instead it is the material that, in the end, interferes with our desire?

I want to return to what you said about space as well, that having a working space clarified the spatial considerations in your practice. I feel like you are saying that contemporary physical objects act greatly the same way as photographs do, as representations of desire, and maybe that a photographic universe not only informs but creates the terms of these new objects? Maybe this is closer to what you were actually talking about regarding the .jpg and modular products?

KS: The relationship I was interested in at the time was not so much between “.jpgs” and commercial ephemera but images in general and their relationship to manufactured objects. In a social system in which so much culturally relevant information is transmitted via images, it is in the form of images that we most often encounter the objects of our desire. The image is representational of both the desire and the desired, and if/when the object does materialize it is often represented and disseminated again as an image (documentation). No only that, but due to the objects origins in mechanical reproduction it too behaves as an image unto itself – an image both of it’s representational intention (a mold injected decorative sconce as an image of a hand hewn wooden sconce) but also it’s ideological function (a chair acts as an image of or stand-in for romantic love, casual whimsy or intellectual integrity). Images and objects function as delivery systems for commerce-driven ideologies. That said, such systems are entirely reliant on context and composition and are fatally disrupted by even minor interventions.

The assumed rigor of this relational system of symbolic language is what drove me to experiment with re-contextualizing objects and images in an effort to create new or alternate ideologies, or simply disrupt the delivery of the intended ideology. I think of images and objects as words that can be arranged to form a sentence, and that sentence can be didactic or absurd but must always point back to the nature of the elements comprising it. That is, the strategy is to reveal or rethink what is said and how it is being said via the increasingly complex visual schema with which we have become so accustomed. Much in the same way as in our day-to-day lives, omission, repetition, and juxtaposition become the primary creative gestures or points of agency over an otherwise highly prescribed matrix of use. 

To get back to your question: I agree that, in this way, a photographic universe creates the terms of the objects represented. The photograph or grouping of photographs used to initiate a desirous response dictate not only the prescribed use but the emotional/psychic intention of the object as it exists in that perceived space. You are no longer being sold the chair but the concept of everlasting love and the chair is simply an element in the larger constellation of products or objects that represent that elusive concept. All images exist in an implicit relationship to the production of desire whether it be for a chair, the past, a person, or a feeling. 

“black, bokeh, celebration, color, cool, copyspace, decor,
decoration, defocused, deliverance, design, elegant, element, eve,
event, feast, festive, flakes, flash, gala, garland, gleam, glint,
glitter, glittering, glow, intuition, light, magic, magical, new,
night, occult knowledge, purple, space, stars, symbol, text”, 2012
Duraclear print, Household Items, Dimensions Variable
© Kate Steciw

“abstract, assistance, bed rest, biology, blade, botanic,
clean, clear, close-up, closeup, detail, dew, dew-drop, drop, droplet,
flora, foliage, fresh, green, grow, harmony, hope, leaf, life, light,
macro, morning, mourning, nature, organic, pure, purity, purpose,
rain, reflections, scattered, spring, survival, water, warning,
weather, wet”, 2012
Duraclear print, Household Items, Dimensions Variable
© Kate Steciw

LB: I want to push further with these ideas about transmission and specifically “resolution.” I am really interested in the way that both the image and the manufactured object deliver these promises in terms that privilege the ease of the delivery system over the integrity of the delivered. This is what I meant by the “interference” of the material, that the actual existence of the object or images gets in the way and becomes a limit in both the efficiency of exchange and the fulfillment of desire. I feel like your sculptural impulse addresses these failures of objects but in the positive – developing a formal or libidinal economy for the very material concerns that interrupt or drag in the commerce model. 

I also want to try and to get to something about materiality that is proving sort of slippery. 

I am wanting to approach these sculptures in terms of photography and the kinds of material solutions recent photo practice has proposed. I think we can say that there has been a widespread reconsideration of the photograph (both materially and conceptually) of late and that each practice exploring these questions hinges on an implicit definition of what the photograph’s material “is.” These investigations have been fraught with dead ends and potholes and I think that considering the image’s material in terms of a container for manufactured desire (that needs not be photographic at all but simply act “like a photograph”) is a really inventive solution. I want to relate what you are doing in these sculptures to the implications addressed by the advent of the collage in Cubism, except here it’s not the representational economy of painting that is being expanded and undermined, but instead you are shifting the implications of the image as carrier of desire/information onto the object. Both situations propose a movement from “within” to a solution of “on.” I was wondering if you could talk a little about the object language and formal vocabulary in the pieces. Maybe I am too hung up on Cubist collage as a starting point, but I find myself wanting to relate to them as figures.

KS: I like that you used the word “slippery” because I feel that we are living in a time that materiality as such is a rather slippery concept and I think you are absolutely right to address the ways in which both photographs and manufactured objects “privilege the ease of the delivery system.” I think that this may be exactly why the photograph and photography have been reconsidered so extensively in recent years. Working from the attitude that photography, a product of the industrial revolution, presented a machine to match humanity’s newly formed appetites for both mechanical efficiency and a kind of anomic abstraction (I see a relationship to the death drive here), it is not a big leap to conceptualize the medium as an extension of our relationship to industry and, in turn, commerce – the perfect mode of production for a culture enslaved by modes of production. 

Cubism: I think this is an apt connection to make to a lot of the conceptual and formal investigations (perhaps even your own!) occurring in and around contemporary photography, not only because we find ourselves at a similarly challenging aesthetic junction but also because new technologies again have created new spatial and perceptual potentials that must be considered from the vantage point of the current artistic paradigm. I think this is what is most compelling about both Cubism and recent photographic trajectories is that they represent a kind of conceptual bridge between movements.

This would probably be as good a time as any to introduce the fact that, in general, I view much of contemporary human experience through the lens of either the user or the consumer, or a conglomeration of the two. As consumers of media, It is almost as if we are no longer concerned with the content so much as the stylistic elements of the delivery system itself. Not that style privileged over substance is a new concept, but that it is perhaps more pervasive than ever and, in my opinion, reaching a tipping point into the realm of style as concept, or style as philosophy. This is where I think Flusser’s ideas about image literacy are more poignant than ever. There is a kind of fractal world of meaning embedded in these photographs and objects whose very aim is to remain hidden yet, as I said earlier, sometimes the simplest shift in position or association can lay bare otherwise arcane information. 

Commodity Derivatives, 2012
Silver Gelatin Prints, 40 x 30″
* Also available as C-Prints, Ink Jet Prints, Giant Wall Stickers,
Duvet Covers, Couch Throws, Personalized Kellogg’s® Rice Krispie®
Treats, Chenille Photo Pillows, Photo Tote Bags and Custom T-Shirts…
© Kate Steciw

LB: I am curious how you see choice fitting into this? I mean the word to simultaneously refer to both the “choice” of the marketplace as well as the very specific “choice” or selection that often constitutes the work in contemporary art. I am thinking of your works where you have “photographed” weapons designed for 3D gaming environments and made traditional black and white prints. On your website these works are captioned as, “Silver Gelatin Prints, 40 x 30″ * Also available as C-Prints, Ink Jet Prints, Giant Wall Stickers, Duvet Covers, Couch Throws, Personalized Kellogg’s® Rice Krispie® Treats, Chenille Photo Pillows, Photo Tote Bags and Custom T-Shirts…”

KS: I see choice as a mechanism that is both liberating and oppressing in contemporary culture. On one hand, we can do whatever we want whenever we please with whomever we want. On the other, there are so many choices so readily available that it seems like there is little time left for anything other than choosing.

The body of work you are referring to is a series called Commodity Derivatives and represents an investigation into the evolving concept of the commodity in the computer age. Using the economic concept of the derivative (essentially an investment tool that allows investors to profit from certain items without possessing them) as a starting point, I was interested in investigating the similarity between these kinds of ephemeral financial products and objects rendered for online and/or manufacture using online services. The idea was that an element (a sword, a diamond, or some chain) in the form of a 3D digital file, purchased at a nominal fee, could find its use in any number of online or computer-generated media as intended, yet that initial purchase could render additional objects or commodities that would enter the market at different points. Depending on qualities like rarity, material, size, and longevity, these objects would then command a certain monetary value – acting as derivatives of the initial purchase. Regardless of the fact that the “original” is immaterial and belongs to me, the material derivatives generate value based on their own circulation in the market. Certainly not a new concept in the discussion of photography, but one thrown into relief by digital culture. 

  1. Kate Steciw has truly become a prominent Brooklyn based artist. I just love her idea of Cubism!

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