Marie Christine Katz’s installations, performances and videos take their cue from the body-driven work of artists Carolee Schneeman and Kiki Smith, but her foundation is abstract painting drawing and sculpting. Since 1999, Katz, who had earlier studied at the New York Studio School, began to also study acting. Combined with her growing interest in performance art and the birth of her daughter, Katz shifted her visual practice from a primarily canvas based activity to one where she became the protagonist of an increasingly performance based body of work.

Katz uses the passive/aggressive relationship between viewer and artist to construct a social incident that questions or challenges personal and historical rituals. Her work often takes place or retrieves information from public circumstances, recalling the conceptual strategies of artist Allen Kaprow and the Happenings of the 1960s. But unlike Kaprow, the final product for Katz is the video, not as documentation, but as the stage for her performance art. Other projects include drawings or sound pieces that are created from responses and information gained from friends or strangers. This strategy is especially present in the body of work called Maps that began in 1997 and gained further meaning after 9/11. Maps was completed in 2002 and is organized according to the following components: Mapping Memory, Maps of Displacement, Spinning My Web, The Other. The work began as a direct response to the Cups project where the artist began to question daily habits and patterns, first in relation to the panhandlers she saw on the street. Maps used a similar tracking system as its organizing method. It was extended to track other people’s journeys as well.

Katz’s installations often rely on domestic-based materials, from thread and rope to used ticket stubs, bits of fabric and even her own breast milk. Her work has been exhibited in series of shows from Hunter College’s Time Square Gallery, Galerie Duque Pirson Bruxelles to Exit Art, The Work Space and The Silk Mill. Katz’s relationship to the audience is essential to her projects, though much of her work is formed in the more isolated environment of her studio. Her projects depend on observations or responses to socio-political situations that are then filtered through private personal performances. These acts often appear in the form of tantrums, regressions or merely lying still on a public street. Like performance artists from Yves Klein to Marina Abramovic, Katz is increasingly interested in work that involves endurance especially where the body becomes the vehicle for art. In the performance video Domesticity, Happy Birthday and Eating My Heart Out, Katz uses the “fit” — a classic childlike acting out or a bio-physical convulsion to engage the audience. These performances question whether this act is a natural or unnatural one, created either out of madness or misbehavior.

Performance art has historically linked endurance to an expression not only of physical pain or states of exhaustion but has given the audience permission to view acts they would otherwise not see or engage in, or at least not publicly. Whether as a strategy or a natural evolution of her training, Katz enacts these fits and other physical expressions in her art as a way to alter how the viewer experiences art. Her installations, performances and drawings allow the viewer to unsettle and expose hidden aspects within themselves.

While her earlier work used beauty as its subject, either as large gestural paintings or carefully crafted objects, increasingly Katz is interested in pushing that balance between comfort and dis/ease. Dis/ease being also a metaphor for a failing world without borders between them and us that aggressively questions what is normal in the first place.) The ultimate performance or display is not so much an object of art, despite Katz’s continued interest in sculpture, installation and drawing, but a way of presenting and re-presenting that which used to remain in the home and was regarded as a private dysfunction. CUPS, 1996-1999, began as a response to New York’s homeless population. As Katz explains: “I decided to reverse the traditional pan-handling relationship by changing the “giver-taker” connection: I asked each homeless person if I could buy their cup for a dollar. I explained that I was doing an art project.” At the end of three years, Katz had collected 128 cups, and the stories of these panhandlers, creating an installation from her research.

In the performance video Roadkill, 2005/2006, a project thematically related to CUPS, Katz dresses up as a homeless person. She lies down on the street, police, alerted by passersby, approach asking if she needs help. She shrugs off the cops and other friendly passersby, politely responding that she’s ok. This episode goes on as Katz tracks responses, despite warnings to move on. Roadkill takes place throughout New York City during one morning in each of the four seasons during a one year period.

The performance video Happy Birthday finds Katz singing to herself, her voice doubles back as if she’s her own best friend. The expectation that others will arrive is quickly dissipated as Katz, like a bad child, dabs at her cake, destroys it and eventually paints on top of the chocolate with cans of Williamsburg paint, left-over from her earlier years as a painter.

Throughout her work, Katz presents a changing lexicon of situation tragedies, from life as a homeless person in Roadkill or Cups to private failures, like the totaling of the family china in Domesticity or what it’s like to be displaced in your own city, which is the subject of the video/sound installation Still Here. Katz surveys and re-presents humiliation and loss, exposing and mirroring their often repetitive cycle.

Artist Profile and Project Profiles © Copyright Cheryl Kaplan 2007. All rights reserved.