Luscious Insides, Unhomely Homes and Intimate Outsides
By Harmaa & Kate stone| Images Kate Stone
HARMAA interviews Kone Foundation artist-in-residence Kate Stone. Stone is a Brooklyn-based artist working across photography, sculpture, installation and animation. Her work explores the domestic uncanny, psychological space and the ways in which both natural and mythological forces shape our environment. Invited by the HARMAA work group, Stone works at the Red Villa of the Lauttasaari Manor from August to October 2022.
Pauliina Mäkelä: First, can you tell us something about your work process? You use a lot of different forms of making art but it seems to me you are always telling a story or giving us a fragment of a narrative. You literally create stages for something to take place in your animations. I’m also interested in the mediums you use for your sculptures and what makes you gravitate towards them. I am especially interested in what movement, narrative and materials mean to you in your work?
Kate Stone: Narrative has always been really important to my work. I’m interested in storytelling and fiction, mythology and superstition. It may not be “true,” but it reflects something very real. I also want to put the viewer in the role of a detective. I provide clues but don’t tell the whole story. I want them to put the picture together.
My background is in photography and I’ve always built miniature sets for my images. Animation seemed like a natural next step and a way to expand on the storytelling. The animation process involves a lot of play. I start with a loose idea (an image of a room, a type of movement or a conceptual framework) and then I build a set. Then within the set I mess around and see what happens. It eventually develops a life of its own. Some things go as planned and other things occur as happy accidents or random discoveries. Those are the parts that excite me most and make me want to keep going. If all I do is execute a meticulously laid out plan it can be really tedious work so those little surprises are what make it really fun.
Both the animations and the sculptures are labor-intensive but in different ways. I like working in different formats because when I burn out on one, I switch to the other.
For the sculptural work I gravitate toward hardware store or home decor materials because I want the pieces to feel like they exist in reality – a natural phenomenon or artifact discovered in someone’s home. I started working with fiber in recent years because I had been using a lot of carpet in my architectural installations. I started researching how to make my own and that led me to the latch hook sculptures. I’m attracted to carpet because it’s soft and has beautiful colors, it’s very inviting, but it’s also gross. I like that duality. Carpet absorbs everything. It has a kind of petri-dish memory.
Erika Ruonakoski: It is characteristic of your work that a part of it deals with “insides”, and often this part is realised in a very minimalistic manner, and another, exuberant part of it deals with “outsides”, which consist of photo collages of luscious vegetation. How would you describe the relationship between these insides and outsides – and the same time line drawing and photography – and their function in your work? Also, both the inside and outside spaces are empty of people. How would you describe the meaning of this emptiness?
Kate Stone: My work has always been focused on spaces and interiors. I’m specifically interested in domestic space because it’s so familiar to us and there’s an opportunity to distort that familiarity to create fictional places that are out of the ordinary and unsettling. I think my rooms are often minimal because I’m more interested in the space between things than the things themselves.
During the 2020 pandemic lockdown, I created an animation called “Insides” that deals directly with the intersection of interior and exterior, both of the architecture of home and of the body. One scene depicts a lush forest landscape. It was the first time I built something really maximalist and I had so much fun. I wanted to crawl into the set and live in that world. After the animation was complete, I just kept building sets that were filled to the brim with rich vegetation. They were partially inspired by the paintings of Henri Rousseau. He painted exotic jungle scenes but never left France. In my case, I constructed these verdant landscapes without ever leaving my studio in Brooklyn.
“Insides” was also the first time I incorporated drawing into my work. Combining the drawn animation with the stop-motion sets gives me another dimension to experiment with. I enjoy the play between two-dimensional planes and three-dimensional space. For example, the line drawings have shadows that situate them in the space, turning them into an object with mass. Drawing also separates the imagery in a way – like it exists in another reality. To me it feels more abstract and subjective. In “Insides” the drawings are from the perspective or imagination of the protagonist (or the viewer).
The viewer is always the protagonist in my work. I don’t include people because I want the viewer to feel like they are in the environment themselves, alone. Often when there’s a figure present, they steal all the attention and I prefer the attention to be fully focused on the space.
Irina Poleshchuk: Speaking of “insides” and “intimacy” – what is your most intimate place? Your individual secret topos?
Kate Stone: My most intimate place in reality would be my studio in Brooklyn. It’s my favorite place to be alone and one of the only places where I’m totally present. I’m the kind of person who’s always worrying about tomorrow but when I’m working in my studio that all disappears. I also love that, as I make more and more large fiber sculptures, it’s slowly transforming into a kind of alien, otherworldly place.
The secret topos in my mind is my childhood home. It was an old farmhouse – the creepy house at the end of the street that all the kids were afraid of. It had hidden staircases and doors that led nowhere and inaccessible attics and ruins in the back yard. It was magical. I dream about it often. Sometimes when I have trouble falling asleep, instead of counting sheep, I imagine walking from room to room and I try to remember as many tiny details as possible. I’ve been back to visit the house as an adult and it’s not the same as the one in my head. The one in my head is mine and mine alone.
Jaakko Vuori: To return to the theme of your creative process and the nature of the fragment: You have been going to the island of Crete for several years and worked on an evolving animation, which seems to deal with labyrinths, ruins, and “fragments” of the past in general. The island is the home of the mythical Minotaur and the labyrinth, where the creature resided, but also of the Minoan civilization, which has left the so-called Linear A writing system, which remains undeciphered.
I really like the manner in which the animation presents its subject matter: it does not give “answers” but rather deals with the themes in an associative manner. There is, for example, a jug which pours a line of black ink, which turns into undecipherable writing, which turns into a ruin of a house. Also, the materiality of pencil drawings is present. I also like the idea of a slowly evolving “work in progress”, which might not ever be finished – a “fragment” in itself. In the end, the quite minimalist animation turns into a meditation on our ability to understand history through the traces of the past.
How would you yourself reflect on the animation, the process of making it – as I understand only few weeks each year? What draws you into these themes? Am I on the right track in my reflection?
Kate Stone: Your reflection is spot on! I love what you said about it being a fragment in itself. That definitely comes from it being a project that I work on in chunks but I’m also really interested in fragmentation in general and the way the viewer has to fill in the gaps. At The Heraklion Archaeological Museum in Crete they have these incredible frescos. Small parts of them are more raised and textured. I realized that those are the parts that they discovered and the rest (a huge amount!) was completed by archeologists. Sir Arthur Evans, who unearthed Knossos (a possible site of the mythical labyrinth) is also notorious for having gotten carried away with his recreation. Fragments are like puzzle pieces and I like when they’re put together incorrectly to create something new.
I was drawn to Crete in the first place because I love the mythology around the labyrinth and the minotaur and the different interpretations of the reality of the place (maybe it was Knossos, maybe it was a stone mine, maybe it was a dance or an ancient conspiracy theory). And since I’ve been going there for the last few years and staying at a residency in a remote village, I’ve been creating my own mythology of the place, which has helped inspire the animation.
The animation started as a way to practice the technique of hand-drawn frame animation. I began with short loops. The more I made, the more a narrative started to appear. In a sense I’m like an archeologist of my own loops, connecting the fragments to create a fuller picture that may or may not be “true.” That picture describes a labyrinth full of imagery and symbolism related to the original myth and to my own. It’s also about an apocalypse (or the end of a civilization) and the looping of history.
Kate Stone received a BA from Bard College and an MFA from Parsons the New School for Design. She has been awarded the Tierney Fellowship, The Lotos Foundation Prize, an FST StudioProjects Grant and a Kone Foundation Grant. Her self-published book, “How We End,” was shortlisted for the Aperture Foundation Photobook Awards. She has attended residencies at NARS Foundation, Artists Alliance LES Studio Program, Kone Foundation and Mudhouse Residency in rural Greece. She also has an upcoming residency at Mass MoCA in Spring 2023. Her work has been exhibited at 601Artspace, bitforms gallery, Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space, Dinner Gallery, FiveMyles, Ortega y Gasset Projects, Rubber Factory, Spring Break Art Show, South Bend Museum of Art, The Museum of Broken Relationships and Transmitter Gallery, among others. During her stay in Helsinki, Stone is a Visiting Artist at Aalto University.