Katie Torn is a New York-based digital artist whose preferred medium is 3D animation. The work speaks for itself – gushing liquids mixed with disembodied heads, little ponies, barbies and rainbows meant to comments on American consumerism and its impact on nature and culture.
Katie studied studio art at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, graduating with an MFA in 2012.Most recently she performed a live video piece at VIA Music and New Media Festival in Pittsburgh, screened work at SPACE 1026 in Philadelphia, and exhibited work at Platform gallery in New York City. Visionaire sent Carlos Saez out to meet the talented artist.
Carlos Saez: Katie, where are you from? Where did you grow up and how did you decide on making 3D video your medium?
Katie Torn: I’m from New York City. I grew up in lower Manhattan in Greenwich Village. My parents are both in the arts so they were very supportive of my creativity when I was a child. I studied painting all through my teens and into my early 20’s, but my dream was to be a filmmaker. I found 3D animation to be the perfect marriage between painting and filmmaking. You can work alone in a studio setting with the same amount of non verbal control as a painter, but the visual language and tools of 3D animation are borrowed from filmmaking. I create sets and lighting schemes to be captured by a virtual camera and then edit my footage using film editing tools.
CS: The way you make use of naive elements such as dolls or flowers creates a confusing atmosphere that walks on the edge of cute and creepy. Can you talk a bit about this?
KT: Looking back on my childhood, I realized how seduced I was by commercials, television shows, and toys aimed for female children. The dolls and colors of the 1980s and early 90’s are intertwined with the development of my creativity. These toys were the stars of my imagined universe. At the same time they are artifacts from a wasteful consumerist culture. I’m grappling with the contradiction of consumerist culture being something I love that is part of my personnel narrative, while also being extremely destructive. Im interested in using the mechanics of seduction in adverting and films to pull people in, while confronting them with outcomes of our collective waste.
CS: As many digital artists you make use of elements available online, but in your case you seem to enhance the idea of internet as massive dump. Do you also generate your own material or is it 100% digital diogenes syndrome?
KT: The elements I use are a mix of models and images scavenged from the internet, models I’ve built in the computer, and videos and images of physical objects I’ve made or found IRL. In my process there is a lot of cross over between virtual and physical image making. I might find a toy in a thrift store, paint on it, take a photo and then search for similar toy as a virtual model on the internet and manipulate that in the computer. In the present moment you can usually find a virtual representation of just about anything that you can find in IRL. I like mashing these versions of things together- differences in their physicality emerge. Sometimes the virtual objects seem more real and the images of real things seems flattened and fake. Formally its really fun to play with.
CS: How do you decide the elements you include in your videos? Do you follow some search pattern or story telling?
KT: Coming from a figurative painting background, my videos are like portraits of a character which is also a sculpture machine. When I’m making a piece I focus on building this structure and the narrative emerges from the way the character functions and interacts with its environment. When I am searching for elements, I look to meld things together that are in opposition- Natural and synthetic, alive and inanimate, soft and hard. Im inspired by the history of the grotesque in art. Paintings and sculpture of animals, plants and human intertwined. I see this happening in real life. Our plastic waste becoming intermixed with our geology and eco systems.
CS: What’s your favorite web, social network or platform to scroll down in terms of image collecting, research or inspiration?
KT: I find inspiration and images from multiple sources- Tumblr, youtube, playing a game on an iPad, watching TV on my laptop I sometimes take image grabs of lighting setups and compositions I find inspiring. I look at a lot of painting online and images from news articles about the environment.
CS: Do you fear an “infocalipsis”?
KT: I wouldn’t say that I fear it. What I’m more afraid of is a natural disaster destroying our energy systems so we have no access to information.
CS: Inside the 3D art scene your work has a notable feminine evidence. In a world where people operate in many ways as avatars, how important is gender differentiation in art? Do you feel part of a feminine video art scene?
KT: Gender differentiation depends on the concept of the artist and if its important to what they are saying in their work. My work has a lot to do with how female stereotypes are used to seduce consumers. I use elements of this seduction juxtaposed to a female body that is being weighed down or manipulated by consumer waste and imagery. My work uses the female body because its about my personal experience with media and navigating the virtual and physical world. I’m inspired by surrealism- its about expressing my inner world.
There are female digital artists working with similar themes as me, but I wouldn’t say that I’m part of a feminine art scene. My network is multifaceted.
CS: April 23th was the 10th anniversary of “Me at the Zoo”, the first video ever uploaded to youtube by one of its creators Jawed Karim. How do you think video art scene has been influenced by this video platforms?
KT: Youtube has been influential is so many ways, not just for sharing work, but as a resource for creating work. I’m inspired by the idea of a communal documentation of the world and everything in it. It allows artists to view culture through the personal and everyday experience of others.
CS: Many of your pieces offer a clear view from mechanical totems at work. It feels like contemplating a machine. What do you think about the deification of machines?
KT: I’m interested in the deification of the machine seen Modernist art, especially in Italian Futurism where it is connected to war and nationalism. Corporate America is still tied up with archaic ideas of industry and progress, we’re having a hard time moving into the future. The machines I make are about that.
CS: “Mind Uploading” may allow us to convert our minds to digital code, transfer it to some computer device and live there forever in a digital metaverse. How do you imagine this world?
KT: I think “Mind Uploading” could work if we figure out how to create harmony between organic materials and the digital. I imagine a soft machine that can be updated and renewed, but still maintains its independence. A complete cutoff from the physical world as we know is frighting, and would be too easy to control.
CS: If you had to choose a digital artwork (net art piece, digital landscape, video game) to live in?
KT: Definitely Ryan Trecartin’s video “A Family Finds Entertainment”.
CS: Any super hero in real life?
KT: I’ve been obsessed with the films of Fellini since I was 15 years old. His level of control of his films are like that of an animator, he treated his actors like puppets, controlling their every move. It was horrible for the actors, but because of this he was able to fabricate the world that was in his imagination without interference or compromise like an artists working alone in their studio.
CS: You are showing at XPO Gallery in 2016, can you advance us something about this show?
KT: Ive been thinking about creating a character that includes some kind of self documentation. Viewers would see the character through its own device which is part of its body. Its still in the very beginning stages, but it may be a central piece.