Art

A Performance Artist’s Grotesque Femininity

Katya Grokhovsky, "The Lovely Immigrants" (2013), mixed media (all photos courtesy Katya Grokhovsky)
Katya Grokhovsky, “The Lovely Immigrants” (2013), mixed media (all photos courtesy Katya Grokhovsky)

My memory finally caught up with the ephemera of a familiar artist when I went to go see Katya Grokhovsky’s show Bodybeautiful at Galerie Protégé.

I first saw Grokhovsky perform earlier this year at Performance Anxiety, a show held at CultureFix on the Lower East Side. That night, January 17, she walked around the space wearing a headdress made of mixed media and interacted with the audience. The piece was called “The (Lovely) Immigrant” and lasted two hours, with Grokhovsky performing between other pieces throughout the night. The same headdress is on display in Bodybeautiful, now titled “The Lovely Immigrants, Lover D.”

Katya Grokhovsky, "Unfamiliar" (2013) (detail, video still), performance for video (click to enlarge)
Katya Grokhovsky, “Unfamiliar” (2013) (detail, video still), performance for video (click to enlarge)

Bodybeautiful, which was curated by artist Peter Gynd, is Grokovsky’s first solo show. It features, in addition to the head sculptures, which are her post-performance ephemera, collages, an installation, and two looping, simultaneously playing 27-minute videos of a performance by her.

Grokhovsky’s head sculptures are grotesque and laced with feminine motifs — splattered pink paint, ribbons, strings, and plush stuffed animals sewn together — to create post-performance ephemera that have an exaggerated, almost circus-like feel to them. Looking at them, you never get the sense that they were an attempt to create feminine objects; rather, the intent seems to have been to apply a superficial idea of femininity to grotesque objects.

Concealment of identity is an important part of Grokhovsky’s work, and it stands out as a prominent theme in the show, particularly in the head sculptures and videos. The latter, displayed side by side, are meant to be viewed as a whole, with each one cutting to differing angles of the same performance: close-ups here, views from a distance there. The effect plays with the idea of women under continual gaze. The performance in the video was shot in the gallery, and it shows Grokhovsky draped in a long brown fabric from head to toe, obscuring her identity. Throughout the performance, the artist tries to complete tasks such as pulling a rope or playing the piano, yet in each she appears to be struggling, somehow hindered in the action.

Katya Grokhovsky, "Untitled" (2013), mixed media
Katya Grokhovsky, “Untitled” (2013), site-specific installation, mixed media

The installation, meanwhile, features a mannequin lying on the floor, buried under a heap of clothes — bright wigs, spontaneous fabric, a cushion used for a bed. Only solid white limbs protrude, leaving the mannequin’s sexual identity to the imagination of the viewer. It’s an effective sight that shows the burden of dressing the part, and it again brings forth Grokhovsky’s flair for exaggeration, with the bright, energetic chaos of the wigs and oversized clothes strewn about the floor.

Katya Grokhovsky, "Untitled" (2013), beet juice and collage on paper (click to enlarge)
Katya Grokhovsky, “Untitled” (2013), beet juice and collage on paper (click to enlarge)

“I was really interested as a woman, and what it means to be always visible, looked at, commented on,” she told Hyperallergic. “What do you do to negate that? But also, a lot of performance artists just stand there and, like, ‘know who I am,’ and I’m sort of negating that by, ‘you don’t know who I am.’”

Grokhovsky’s collage work is also on display at Galerie Protégé; she uses unconventional painting mediums such as beet juice and coffee, giving the pieces a watercolor look, but she says all of them are non-archival and will fade over time. “They’re actually disappearing as they age, which is what women do.”

Katya Grokhovksy: Bodybeautiful continues at Galerie Protégé (197 Ninth Avenue, Chelsea, Manhattan) through October 10.

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