Katya Tepper

Katya Tepper, “Hysteric Sign: Ribbed Tomato ‘n Grapes,” 2018 [courtesy of the artist and Carlos Monino]

Art Papers: Where do you look for inspiration?  

Katya Tepper: Before anything else there’s my body and the ways in which chronic illness shapes how I experience time, space, and form. I look to my body as a source of knowledge, and I’m inspired by my sick body’s intense commitment to expressing its discontent with this world. Via a rash or diarrhea or fatigue—I think these creative expressions of my body are rather punk to be honest, and I’m interested in them formally.

I’m really satiated by contemporary poetry, a form I can experience from bed. I love hearing poets talk about their practices, which I access through podcasts and Youtube. I’ve listened to this C.A. Conrad interview at least five times. My work often deals with a kind of somatic reimagining or reclaiming of the built environment of capitalism, so I feel a kinship with C.A.’s practice, especially the “somatic rituals” they are doing in Walmarts across the country.

There’s also my deep appreciation for the haptic qualities of things that have been tenderly “hand made” with found materials (though really I mean “body made,” because not everyone has or uses hands), from a bird’s nest, to these dolls my grandmother built around old plastic mayonnaise bottles.

Lastly, I look to Florida weirdness.

AP: What do you wish for people to know about your work?

KT: I’m preoccupied with questions of how bodies absorb and translate their environments, or at least, how mine does. There are some didactic ecological implications, and this comes through in my work in various ways with toxic and synthetic materials, and references to the objects and landscapes of industrial consumerism, medicine, and agriculture. But I’m also just really excited by digestion as a metaphor for processing the world through your body as an artist, scrambling everything you’ve taken in and putting it back out changed.

I grew up swimming in pesticides on the family farm, driving past the big colorful Olive Garden signs of Florida’s suburban sprawl, and now spending hours waiting around in the matte beige rooms of doctor’s offices. I can’t disentangle myself from these materials, objects and spaces, so I try to locate erotic qualities from these experiences and formulate an ecstatic language out of them. My labor has to serve my body, so even my large works are made mostly from modular units that I work on slowly, tactilely.

It’s very important that my work is available to other sick and disabled folks. Expanding modes of access for different bodyminds should be a priority for art organizations.

A detail shot of a large, densely packed wall sculpture. This imade shows a funky organic shape containing toilet plungers emerging from and sinking into a pool of latex rubber. One of the toiler plunger heads is filled with plaster and different colored eggshells. Spent toilet paper rolls create decorative orifices in the latex rubber mass, and hints of a harsh electric blue color are created with collaged nitrile medical gloves.

Katya Tepper, “I, Infected,” detail shot, 2018 [courtesy of the artist and White Columns, NY]

AP: Which artist(s) would you most like for your work to be displayed next to? 

KT: Recently my work was included in a group show called Sick Time, Sleepy Time, Crip Time: Against Capitalism’s Temporal Bullying, curated by Taraneh Fazeli. The show deals with the politics of health and care—“…Mindful of the fact that failures in public health and biomedicine are felt by some disproportionately more than others (due to race, ethnicity, class, disability, gender, sexuality, etc.) and that the processes of colonization, displacement, and extraction have negatively impacted the health of generations of various populations, Sick Time, Sleepy Time, Crip Time is a platform for exploring collective forms of healing the way these traumas are produced and held in the body and environment.”

Many of the artists in the show were critiquing able-bodied assumptions about art production, or working in social practice or around access. My work felt almost contradictory in this framework, with its physical labor and convoluted maximalism. I appreciated the chance to coexist with these other artworks under a shared exploration of healing.

I’m excited by a lot of different approaches to art making, from institutional critique to craft oriented making. I’m interested in the ways different contexts amongst different artists shift the focus of the work.

AP: Why did you choose to support Art Papers by participating in the 21st Annual ART PAPERS Art Auction?

KT: I support Art Papers because they cover artworks and topics that don’t get enough traction in larger art publications. Many of the participating artists from the Sick Time show were also featured in Art Paper’s recent issue “Disability and the Politics of Visibility.” A whole issue of an art publication devoted to disability, that is rare! I appreciate the coverage of international art and affairs as well as focusing in on the underrepresented art of our region. Where else will I read about Beverly Buchanan’s public sculptures on the Georgia coast?

AP: What are your plans for 2020? Do you have upcoming shows or projects you’d like to share?

KT: On February 15, my friend Valerie Hsiung’s new book of brutally visceral poetry You and Me Forever comes out through Action Books. I’m honored to have contributed the cover art!

Otherwise my practice is slowing down, as necessitated by my health and the ways profit-based-medicine sucks up my resources. Sick temporalities resist ableist schedules for art production, but I certainly was pushing beyond my limits the last few years under the pressure of being an emerging artist. One way this played out was choosing between making my work and affording my healthcare, and it has cost my health too much. I’m still interested in making and showing ambitious work, but a sustainable model for me requires having a lot more time in between projects.

AP: Read anything good lately?

KT: Also from Action Books, Kim Hyesoon’s poetry books translated by Don Mee Choi enthrall me—my favorite is All the Garbage of the World, Unite!

Joyelle McSweeney deepens my interest in landscape with her book The Necropastoral: Poetry, Media, Occults. A very different investigation of landscape can be found in White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism by Kevin M. Kruse, an unflinching account of how white supremacy shaped the formation of American suburbia.

Some recent works of auto-theory about illness that have meant a lot to me are Carolyn Lazard’s newest essay “The World is Unknown,” published through Triple Canopy, Eli Clare’s Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure, and poet Anne Boyer’s The Undying: Pain, Vulnerability, Mortality, Medicine, Art, Time, Dreams, Data, Exhaustion, Cancer and Care.

From two of my favorite sci-fi writers, Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis series is blowing my mind, and Ursula K. Le Guin’s non-sci-fi essay “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction” makes me so excited to make sculptures.

Anna Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins stirs in me a feeling resembling optimism more than anything else has in a long time.


Learn more about Katya Tepper on katyatepper.com.
Learn more about the 21st Annual ART PAPERS Auction here.