REVIEW: Local Artist Kathryn Fink Stuns With Provocative Exhibit TRIGGER WARNING

Published on April 9, 2016 by   ·   No Comments

Trigger 04I’ve known Kathryn Fink for a long time.  When she was young (maybe still in high school, or fresh out) she worked with me for a season or two at Waldenbooks before leaving for the Twin Cities to go to art school.  I’ve been in Grand Forks since I came here for college, and so that’s nothing new: so many young, talented, and creative people leave to find opportunities elsewhere and I thought that might be the end of my story with Katie, the budding artist who was full of laughter and big ideas.  Lucky for me, and for the Grand Forks community, she brought some of those big ideas back with her and has not only been creating powerful artwork of her own but has also been holding workshops and community events to help aspiring artists develop their talent and advocating for a stronger arts community.

When I saw that Kathryn would be opening an exhibition of her work at the Third Street Gallery, I was intrigued.  The title, Trigger Warning, was compelling to me.  I get Facebook updates from Everyday Feminism and I find them to be a mixed bag of inspiring ideas for social change and self-indulgent, whiny millenial crap (and I realize that statement makes me officially an old grump).  And they have a lot to say about trigger warnings.  Or preferably “content warnings” since apparently even the word “trigger” might be enough to…well, trigger someone.  You can guess which end of the spectrum I felt that particular piece fell into; for all the good things they are doing in the world, young activists have a lot to learn about resilience and grit.  But outside of my feelings about those articles and the continuing cultural discussion about trigger/content warnings, I was intrigued to see how Kathryn would use that idea to shape her works.

Trigger 01

So on April 7, Amy D and I met at the Urban Stampede to get warm drinks to fight off the cold and then walked up the block to the gallery for the opening.  I’d never been to the Third Street Gallery before, one of my personal failings, and found the space intimate without being claustrophobic.  The exhibit was primarily photographic with some “found object” pieces included.  Here is the description of the show from the event page:

Trigger 03Kathryn Fink’s Trigger Warning exhibit is a collection of artworks, which represent an anonymous victims story-timeline of an attempted rape. Many survivors of rape often note the sense of disorientation or confusion during and after their traumatic experiences; this series echoes the presence of uneasiness by introducing unnatural color, composition, and subject matter. Even though images and topics like these are shocking, art can be utilized as a channel for raising awareness to such issues and assists some victims in overcoming their internal distress. Fink examines the grotesque artistic style, which is influenced by contemporary American artist Cindy Sherman.

The exhibit is quite powerful; many of the photos are extremely saturated with color, especially deep blue and violet, and the contrast of these with the more naturally colored photos next to them is striking.  One of my favorite contrasts is a piece called “Garden (1)” that shows a woman lying curled up on the ground; her face appears bloody and there are smashed flowers around her.  The color has been manipulated with deep shades of blue and violet so that the light parts of the photo, primarily the model’s skin, appears like a glowing turquoise.  Next to that photo is a piece titled “Unclean” which has a white background with a piece of soap (the turqoise-y green of the soap is very similar to the skintone in the previous photo) lying in a pile of dirt.  The simplicity of that photo is striking, but it underlies how victims of sexual violence can feel stained, especially because of how their stories are often received when they seek justice.  The two pieces together were a fantastic combination.  A third photo in the triptych, “Garden (2),” returns to the color saturation and goes in close to the broken flowers, working with “Garden (1)” to create a frame for the powerful middle image.

TRIGGEr 02Another piece I particularly enjoyed was called “Reclamation” and featured a female model in a long layered dress and boots facing away from the camera, loosely holding a hammer in her hand.  There was something about the image that brought me back to the Empire Theatre Company’s production of Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom (if you want a blast from the past, read the review of that show HERE) and gave the piece an eerie, horrific quality that the artist may or may not have intended.  I guess it all depends on how you interpret the photo and what the model intends to do with that hammer.  The flowy garment juxtaposed with the harder elements like the work boots, the paved road, and the hammer are skillfully done and the photo has a deep texture that I really appreciated.

I was also very interested in a smaller piece located by itself one side of a doorway, near the Garden triptych.  It was a small photo titled “Rapist,” and features a man sitting in a chair in a lightly wooded area.  You can see his body and clothing, his hair, but his face is obscured by a violet dot.  I started to wonder about him, why we couldn’t see his face and why he wasn’t part of any of the other photos.  I also wondered about the size of the photo; most of the pieces in the show were large posters, approximately 3 feet by 4 feet, but this photo was maybe an 8 by 10.  And I was trying to puzzle it out, I realized that I was doing what so many people do in these situations – I was making it about him.  Think of prominent rape cases of the last decade and how often we hear about how bright and talented the young men were, Trigger 05how these accusations or their conviction would ostensibly destroy their lives or careers.  So little is paid to the victim and what her experience must be.  Whether it was intentional or not, hiding this photo in plain sight and refusing to give it the same space as the other pieces forced me to confront the insidiously unconscious way that rape culture functions.  It also gives me deeper insight, and lends more power, to the unsettling image at the end of visual narrative, “Reclamation.”

If you missed the opening of the show, fear not Dear Readers: Trigger Warning will be showing at the Third Street Gallery for the next three weeks.  The gallery is open 4-7 on Thursday and Friday, 1-4 on Saturday.  If you haven’t taken the chance to check out the exhibit yet, I strongly recommend that you do.  Kathryn has been a resolute advocate for the arts in Greater Grand Forks, and this exhibit demonstrates that her artistic vision is just as potent as her ability to organize for a more robust and dynamic arts community.

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