April 2020

We understand that you have an exhibition mounted at Latitude 53, which was installed but ultimately unable to open due to COVID. Can you talk about the experience of installing a show remotely? 

Ironically, I had planned to work out quite a bit of the installation and the details of the freestanding sculptures in-situ. I was going to bring a suitcase of objects and materials. Instead, I sent some reference photos from the works in progress from the studio along with some notes. 

Logistically, the installation process took place via Skype, Facetime and email. Moving through a gallery space on Facetime is not ideal: the person on the other end is moving your eyes, and moving at their pace, putting ‘you’ down on the table because they need their hands, and you are left staring at the ceiling sort of shouting at each other. It’s pretty ridiculous. 

It was hard to explain how to do things that I’ve never had to explain how to do before, because I usually do them myself: instructions like  “throw that piece of fabric a few times and see how it lands” or “Try leaning that roll against the wall, but, unravel it a bit until it looks neglected, but not sad.” or “that looks terrible, please take it down.” 

We changed a lot of things, but also worked really hard to maintain what we set out to do, and I really appreciate the flexibility and patience of everyone at Latitude 53. 

Karen Kraven – Latitude 53 – “Lull”
Karen Kraven – Latitude 53 – “Lull”

Can you describe the exhibition for us? 

Lull evokes both presence and absence of the body through a series of sculptures that in a way refuse to be complete. The first exhibition space has five wall-mounted denim sculptures. These works use a methodology of cutting out all the pattern pieces to make a pair of jeans or overalls. and then, using the off-cut skeleton as a starting point, sewing the pieces back into this new form, creating a sort-of non-wearable garment-looking thing. Installed in the second space were three oversized ‘thread stands’. Thinking about the apparatus that sits beside the sewing machine, servicing the thread spools so they feed into the machine. The intention for the installation was for it to feel like interrupted work. Like a sewing room, halted in the middle of production, or possibly closed, or possibly liquidation had begun or something like that.

The oversized ‘thread stands’ as I call them, were partially covered with dust covers. I was also thinking about the state of the studio, how it is in various stages of mess and tidy and in between one thing and making room for the next thing, shuffling leftover bits of this there and putting that away for now. Also, the feeling of packing up works that never seem to be ‘finished’ and calling them ‘finished’ by sending them to a gallery. I really avoid ‘fixing’ the work and want to work towards having more flexibility and changeability in the works. That they are not the same each time they are installed. 

There was also a giant spider web, tucked into the rafters of the entrance to the main gallery. I like the metaphor of a spider that is always working. But, also, I think I am followed around by these spider webs, these sort of time-makers.

Karen Kraven – Latitude 53 – “Lull”
Karen Kraven – Latitude 53 – “Lull”

Can you discuss other ways in which the current situation is affecting your practice, particularly given that you are in Montreal, the “virus epicentre” of Canada, as Trudeau described it yesterday? 

Ugh. Well, I rode the subway for the first time since March 11 today. NO HAND SANITIZER ANYWHERE! In general, at least in my neighbourhood, the majority of people are not wearing masks and it was only just suggested by our premier earlier this week. Furthermore, he keeps back-peddling and saying it is only ‘recommended’ and not ‘mandatory’ for all kinds of reasons. Anyway, it’s a mess. Sometimes Montreal is so broken from the inside, it’s what makes it so beautiful, but, also so dysfunctional. 

ANYWAY, I’m lucky that I can get to my studio very easily. It’s not that far from my house. I felt, ethically, that I shouldn’t ‘go to work’ at first, because I wasn’t deemed ‘essential’. I felt I should stay home, so I was working on other things at home. But, then I realized I also needed to look after myself, and the studio is a private glorious place with lots of west-facing windows and it feels good to be there. I’m not making much ‘work work’, I made some masks for friends, but, I’m slowly testing things, meandering quite a bit, pulling out old unfinished things to have another look at them, building a workbench/shelf thing, moving furniture, reevaluating, clearing some cobwebs, dealing with some stuff that hasn’t been dealt with. I opened a suitcase yesterday that I brought home from New York City after my residency there in 2016. So, there’s that. 

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Do you have predictions for ways that the pandemic will alter the art world for the foreseeable future? Any potential positive outcomes?  both positively and adversely?


I’m hoping the effect will be that funding bodies, patrons, galleries and museums will emphasize the value of their support of artists and the art world as supporting a culture of ideas, not just objects. And supporting the institutions that create programming, content and collections that are expansive and accessible. 

Imagine if the mall didn’t re-open before museums?? 

I think artist-run centres are going to have a huge role (and burden) in cultivating sensitive responses to the growing hunger for community connection and spaces of inquiry. Maybe commercial galleries will consider adding depth to their programming as well?

I’ve been really enjoying having virtual access to talks and performances that I would normally not be able to attend, because they are taking place in other cities.  

What are you reading right now? listening to? 

I’ve been reading so much during these days. I’ve been re-reading Garments Against Women by Anne Boyer. This book of poetry/prose/genre-bending writing, I have been revisiting some of the ideas that influenced Lull at Latitude 53 and Dust Against Dust, last fall at Parisian Laundry. With Latitude 53, led by Kim McCollum, we created an online book club to discuss the book. Here is a quote from a part of the book titled What is ‘Not Writing’:

“There are years, days, hours, minutes, weeks, moments, and other measures of time spent in the production of ‘not writing’. Not writing is working, and when not working at paid work working at unpaid work like caring for others, and when not at unpaid work like caring, caring for a human body, and when not caring for a human body many hours, weeks, years and other measures of time spent caring for the mind…” 

I’m also listening to ASMR podcasts of rain, birds, rivers all day. There’s one called “the quiet harbour”. I put these on full blast on headphones to block out the stomping guy who lives upstairs.

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If you weren’t an artist, what might you be doing instead?

I’m not sure I’m capable of doing anything else. 

To see more of Karen’s work, please visit https://karenkraven.com/