Undressing the Mind-Body Connection: Kit King’s “Playgrounds” at Athen B. Gallery (NSFW)

We exist in a society that is increasingly obsessed with the physical form. We inspect other people’s bodies and scrutinize our own. Yet as our complicated fascination flourishes (hi Instagram), we simultaneously  find ourselves more detached from our physical selves than ever before. We speak of our bodies as if they are an entity separate from us, removed from who we really are. We examine our bodies more than we examine our minds. There are times when you can feel a deep and true connection to your body (sex and exercise come to mind) but for the most part there is a gaping disconnect between the physiological and psychological aspects of our humanness. What would it look like to bridge this gap? What would it look like to accept our bodies as we accept our minds, with all of their detailed memories, inexplicable nuances, and strange depths?

Canadian artist Kit King has set out to answer these questions, confronting the void between mind and body in her new solo exhibition, “Playgrounds,” which opens August 12th at Athen B. Gallery in Oakland. King, who says she has always felt “a strange detachment from my physical self,” began to explore the subject matter of body image, the way we mentally perceive the physical and vice versa, and how it affects the human condition, after reaching out on social media and asking people for the first words that come to mind when they thought of their bodies. She was overwhelmed by the resounding detachment of the massive response, realized that this is a universal struggle, and found herself inspired.

The result is “Playgrounds,” a raw and evocative collection of achromatic paintings, drawings, and photography, all of which depict anonymous bodies in otherworldly and inhuman shapes, or dissected and cut up and reconfigured. Visually illustrating our disconnect from our bodies, each compelling and detailed piece causes the viewer to pause and consider the nuances and strength we carry in our physical forms. Undressing , reshaping, and recontextualizing the naked body until it more closely resembles the mental form, King’s intimate and unflinching work offers a stunning celebration of the human form freed from the scrutiny of the mental gaze.

We chatted with the artist about her creative process, whether it’s possible to free yourself from insecurity, and what she hopes the viewer will take away from the pieces in the exhibit. “Playgrounds” is set to run at Athen B. Gallery  August 12th – September 1st. Don’t miss it, and stop by the opening party this Friday at 7PM if you’re in the Bay Area!

Q&A

LF: Hi Kit! Thanks for chatting with us. What is the inspiration behind your new exhibition, “Playgrounds?”

KK: I actually started a whole different body of work originally for this solo show, and ended up scrapping it entirely when I fell into a major depression. The next day my younger sister was over and watching some Netflix documentary about body image. While I was in the back trying to brainstorm a new body of work that resonated with where I was at that moment, the woman from the documentary asked, “What are the first words that come to mind when you think of your body?” I heard my sisters’ reply and was so saddened by it. She asked me what words came to my mind, and though her response was about physical appearance, and mine was more an existential disconnect, my response was no less disheartening. It struck me how disconnected we all are from our physical selves. I wasn’t alone in my answer and neither was she. I took to social media and asked people for their words and the response was overwhelming. I knew I had to touch on this. I was inspired by the curiosity of how large of a role this could be playing in our metal health, and how we see ourselves as people. How much of how we see our bodies affects who we are? Who we become? If our physical self can be held accountable for playing a role in our cognitive self, then why do we continue to separate it from ourselves?

LF: What are you hoping the viewer will take away from your work?

KK: I would absolutely love if people took away what I got from creating… A sense of clarity. A deeper appreciation for our physical selves. I kept the figures anonymous, because though they were mirrored after my models’ bodies and struggles, they are the struggles of so many others. These figures could be anybody. They are me, they are you, they are all of us. We’ve all been here before. We are all fighting the same war, yet feel so alone in it.

There’s something that changes your perception about the human form when it’s suddenly an art piece. For this body of work, all the same elements we hate about ourselves are there, but we view artwork differently than we view ourselves. I didn’t paint ‘perfect bodies,’ I painted our ‘flaw’ and what I learned while doing this is how incredibly beautiful they really are. Our bodies really are works of art. If people walk out of this show with a new respect for their bodies and the people they interact with, that would make my soul smile.

LF: What drew you to examine the disconnect between mind and body?

KK: I’ve struggled with a sort of existential depression my whole life. I’ve always felt a strange detachment from my physical self. It’s only gotten worse the older I became. I’m very much a recluse and the isolation leaves me living in my own head a lot. Of course, this disconnect between these two parts – though seemingly so human – isn’t easy to cope with. I’ve often wondered how different life could be if that gap between the two could be bridged. Living in Western society exacerbates it, it seems. I paint for myself first and foremost, as selfish as it sounds. I never imagined I would be a professional artist. Art was always something I did to cope with life’s burdens, and help me navigate this life, and I’ve carried that into my professional artistic career. Given that this disconnect between the physiological and psychological aspects of our humanness has been so prevalent in my own life, it seemed like a natural course for me to examine, and was just solidified when I realized how far beyond my own self it goes.

LF: “Playgrounds” aims to be a celebration of the human condition, freed from the restraints of insecurity. Do you think it’s possible to unshackle ourselves from the insecurity that feels seemingly ingrained in us?

That’s the question! I don’t think so – and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Just as ‘preservation’ and ‘security’ are inherently ingrained in the human condition and species, I think we need that insecurity in order to be held accountable for our actions, choices, and thoughts. I think without some level of vulnerability that insecurity provides us, we would be far less human, and far less secure, ironically enough. It’s the constant questioning and scrutiny that directs our thoughts and ultimately our actions and how we choose to live our lives. Though it feels horrible, insecurity can be a helpful tool to progress. I think the problem isn’t insecurity in general, it’s where we are placing it, and how much validation we give it in certain areas of our lives.

I believe we have it a bit backwards right now. We are scrutinizing our bodies more than our minds. We care more about what’s on the outside than inside, and this pattern is what I’d like to see unshackled. As for whether that’s possible, I believe, with a ton of work, it may be. I’m by no means free of it myself, but I have come a long way. I suppose elimination isn’t the goal, so much as improvement.

LF: The pieces in the exhibit are dissected and reconfigured to the point that they take on an inhuman yet still hyper-realistic quality that is simultaneously compelling and disorienting. What inspired you to portray the body this way?

KK: I wanted to find ways to visually articulate things myself and others are struggling with, and the dissection was a perfect way for me to showcase feeling jumbled and messy. Feeling not good enough and torn down. Feeling like you’re that insufficient first draft that goes through a shredder. It touches on the disposability of our society, and how this mindset is affecting how we see ourselves – treating ourselves and one another as though we too are disposable. People’s response when I cut up a work is, “Oh my gosh! Why would you do that?” That right there is why I do it. People are so much more connected to objects than people themselves, that cutting up an object based on reality is worse for them to witness and harder to understand than to tear down the actual person in reality. So these cut up works are not just a visual articulation of a problem, but serve to point out a major problem in our mindsets in hopes to get people to question their values.

LF: The pieces in Playgrounds undress the physical body beyond the point of recognition, removing any context we may be familiar with. What is the effect on the viewer?

KK: If we see a gallery full of bodies how we always see them, it can be difficult to find a new narrative. Figurative work is nothing new, and how we view figures hasn’t changed course. So I’m hoping the context I’ve exhibited them in forces people to examine form in a new way. Hopefully it gets them asking questions, and thinking about what they are observing since it is a bit more obscure.

LF: What is your creative process?

KK: Finding something that ignites my soul and just going for it, and painting until I can’t paint anymore, or until something new floods in and takes over. My artistic practice is just my life practice. I paint every day, it’s how I navigate life, so my artistic practice is messy, such as life is. It’s full of experimenting and following my gut, failing and getting back up. It’s consistently inconsistent, which I know is terrible for an art career, but it’s damn good for the art soul. So I guess you could say my artistic practice can be boiled down to honesty. Just me sort of haphazardly slopping bits of my soul and life on a canvas everyday trying to make sense of it all the best way I know how.

LF: Your work feels powerfully rooted in challenging our cultural norms and shifting perceptions. Do you feel that this is the role of the artist?

KK: Not necessarily. I feel the role of the artist should be speaking a truth that is earnest to themselves. I feel challenging societal norms is certainly my role, as it’s something I feel passionately towards. Being an outsider, and observing the world how I do, and it seeming so ass-backwards to me, I can do one of three things: ignore it, accept it, or challenge it. And I’m a shit disturber, so I vote for option three.

LF: Who or what inspires you?

KK: Everything! Life is inspiring. I could live a thousand lives and still have a surplus of inspiration to use for creative works. Everything from peers, to philosophers, to the beetle crawling across the window, to a shadow on a wall, or the weave of a rug, or language, to every emotion I feel – all of it separately and collectively inspires me. As cheesy as that sounds, it’s not “something” that inspires me more so that it feels like inspiration lives in me?

LF: What advice would you give to your younger self?

KK: It wouldn’t matter. My younger self would be too damn stubborn to take any advice.

LF: What’s next for you?

KK: An uncertain art career. I have two more solo shows booked, and more group exhibits. So, just a whole lot more exploring, fumbling, and soul slopping.

LF: How fast do you live?

KK: I live turtle-paced. But I art hard.

It’s All Gucci…