Kara Walker: Hirshhorn Twitter chat transcript

Do you guys like chats or talks hosted via Twitter? The jury is still out for me. If you're looking for an example on how to do it right, you should check out @Hirshhorn. I love how they pair a well-moderated online chat with a series of other artist events to allow you to engage with artists on a number of levels.

I'm rambling! What I really want to share is a transcript of today's @Hirshhorn Twitter chat with Kara Walker. I was stoked to hear that she was going to be showing there. Her pieces are so powerful, political, and convict you. I seriously enjoyed her responses today and appreciated how she seemed more than willing to cut through the crap.

Caveat: I transcribed the chat to share here. It's entirely possible I missed things. Also, I only included the Q&A portion (no comments to KW that weren't addressed).
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@CanningMichael - What effect did the Whitney show have on your studio practice afterwards?

KW - That show traveled for about a year and a half to different venues, and during that year and another year beyond, I was in a slump and a quandary about how to keep my work moving forward. Part of the difficulty had to do with not feeling capable of escaping my "fame". And I found myself trying to avoid making large silhouette installations.

@CityAthena - What is the most unexpected reaction you have gotten to one of your art pieces?

KW - Is having your work removed from a gallery "unexpected"?

@amhill - Why does the silhouette have such power?

KW - Our shadows have a lot of power because they are abstract representations of our bodies. And the silhouette, an a cutout, is an abstraction of that. In some ways the silhouette cutout is an attempt at objective truth. 

@MetEveryday - What are the most unsettling and inspiring aspects of the art world for you as a contemporary artist?

KW - The most inspiring - or let's say the best thing - about my experience in the art world so far is having the opportunity to try out all my ideas and find audiences for them. Perhaps the weirdest aspect has been working with institutions with big PR departments. Being followed by photographers.

@RA007THOMAS - In your process, is it first a mental sketch or a pencil drawing?

KW - Usually I begin my process with a combination of reading, writing--a kind of quasi research-based process--and from there I start sketching in a sketchbook and work my way up from there to larger work, sometimes film and video and sometimes the large silhouette installations.

@aziza - 1st, i love your work. here's the question: what do you hope ppl take away or learn from your work?

KW - I don't think that I'm setting out to make work that solves problems in a cozy and narrative fashion. If anything my work poses lots of problems about the way we mythologize race, the way those mythologies carry over into our daily intercourse.

@BlaireGoesToNYU - What do you do with all of the extra paper that you cut the silhouettes from?

KW - Usually the mice in my studio eat it.

@suzisart - Do you have plans for the 150th Civil War/Emancipation anniversary?

KW - Isn't that over with?

KW -  I've just been asked in the studio about the 2006 exhibition I curated at the Met in New York called "After the Deluge." I was given the opportunity in late 2004/early 2005 to put my work in one of the smaller contemporary galleries at the Met. After about a year of hemming and hawing it occurred to me that having this venue was kind of an outlet for a semi-political set of questions. Shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the city was flooded, there was a lot of talk among artists, as usually happens in the face of catastrophe, about what an artist can do. So I chose that venue to be the site where I could ask questions, present images, and maybe try to visually contextualize the tragedy we saw unfolding in New Orleans. 

@vmfa - Civil War commemoration ongoing until '14. As a topic, it is still alive.

KW - I've been working with the subject of the Civil War since 1994. My work's been shown in Atlanta once in that time, and for the most part the reaction in the South to the work that I've been doing has been tepid or timid.

@jennygolightly - What was, in yr opinion, the most politically-charged work you've ever created? What work is most near & dear to yr heart?

KW - For the most part, the reaction to the work is politically charged, because it's charged material, but I can't think of one piece specifically that stands out from the others. As for the near & dear question, there's the first piece I made at the Drawing Center, "Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as it Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart." Partly, this was because it was the first time I had the opportunity to make a large-scale piece. I wasn't sure I could do it before that moment.

@suzisart - AW's shadows is large scale spectacle, as are your installations.Are you as intrigued by pop culture?

KW - A lot of the work is a direct reaction to pop-cultural representations of slavery, race, racism, etc. Warhol's kind of blunt honesty, his ironic distance was a point of departure for my thinking about how I wanted my work to be read.

@LadyTerror - i love hearing early stories of childhood exposure to art and art processes of kids. what are your early memories of making art?

KW - Hi, LadyTerror! My earliest memories of making art were when I was probably about two-and-a-half. My dad's an artist and he was always giving me materials to work with, chalk, acrylic paint, etc., so we have lots of pictures floating around of little me drawing on the sidewalk in front of the house. There was a lot of effort to hold on to my early abstractions.

@MusNightwalker - what other artists do you like to see your work exhibited with?

KW - I really prefer to be exhibited alone.

@ablackgirl - Re: The End of Uncle Tom Any connection to it and the way you see yourself in conversation with other Black women artists?

KW - If you're talking about the piece I made called "The End of Uncle Tom and the Grand Allegorical Tableau of Eva in Heaven," it's really a work that's in conversation with Harriet Beecher Stowe. I was specifically asking myself, "What is the author's relationship to the characters she creates? Does she have a responsibility to them or do they operate as free agents outside her control?"