Katie Schaag

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My work references and revises cultural histories of witchcraft, fairy tales, and gender. Immersive, multi-sensory aesthetics (textures, scents, tastes, sounds) activate situations of mystery, melancholia, juxtaposition, and play. Camp, melodrama, fantasy, artifice, and the grotesque aesthetically and tonally inflect my queer feminist deconstructions of the hysterical feminine archetype.

My text-based erasure project The Infinite Woman excavates the voice of “the infinite woman” encased within a male-authored first person fictional narrative. The project – which includes poems, prints, a diptych collage, a sculptural artist’s book, and a web app – is based upon Edison Marshall’s novel The Infinite Woman (1950), a first person fictional narrative based upon the life of the historical figure Lola Montez / Eliza Gilbert. My nine-part lyric poem excerpts and rearranges sentences from the book containing the word “I.” A series of prints letterpresses an excerpt from the poem on fine art paper. A diptych made from balsa wood collages text from the book and found images. A sculptural artist’s book hollows out the original book and adds text, gold leaf, a crystal urn pendant, bone ash, and lavender moss. An interactive web app remixes the book with Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949), and invites users to create their own erasure poems. With a melodramatic stylistic, tonal, and affective range, the project asks how, and what, is the text performing?

The Sadie and Vedette Penny Arcade, a looping performance tableau for private viewing, creates a live, life-size 19th century nickelodeon or penny arcade. The parlor is red and saturated with lilies – suspended with wire from the ceiling and strewn across the floor. The room contains two floral-patterned chairs at a table set with two goblets and two plates of edible flowers, a gargoyle with two mirrors, and a writing desk holding a red feathered egg. Opposite this scene is a fainting couch for the viewer and a table with a bowl of edible flowers and a red velvet coin machine slot box. Bare light bulbs hang from the ceiling, an electric fan blows air toward the couch, and hidden speakers project droning noise. When the viewer drops a coin into the slot box and eats a flower, the lights flicker on and action begins. Illuminated under harsh, artificial lighting, two women in elaborate Victorian costume are seated at a table, rigid and unmoving like wax museum dolls. The women “awake” with jerky movements like wind-up robotic figures. For the duration of the 2-minute viewing, the two women guzzle wine and milk and eat flowers while plotting the murder of an unnamed man. Manic, hysterical, and melodramatic, they shriek and gesture wildly. The lights occasionally flicker on and off until the final blackout that concludes the show. The performance creates a saturated, immersive, sensory experience with sound, scent, taste, touch, and lighting, an explosion of many senses at once, in one resonant moment that “pops.”

I recently curated the Madison edition of the global Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever event, a mass re-enactment of Kate Bush’s iconic dance in her 1978 “Wuthering Heights” music video. The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever is an homage to Kate Bush, but it’s also a collaborative artwork, an act of community that materializes a shared fantasy world. The aesthetic and affective experience of the collective performance is created through the projected relationships the dancers have with Kate Bush and with other dancers across the world, and the embodied relationships they have with each other in their shared kinesthetic landscape, dancing across the moors of James Madison Park and elsewhere.