Kate Durbin

upfor.digital launch + exhibition online, Oct 1 – Jan 31

30 September 2016

Portland’s Upfor Gallery is launching online exhibition space upfor.digital with a group exhibition, opening October 1 to January 31, 2017.

Curated by Valentina Fois, the show features work by Morehshin Allahyari, Leah Beeferman, Kate Durbin, Faith Holland, Brenna Murphy and Megan Snowe, and explores the tensions of functioning within an online space; its transience and eternity, freedoms and limitations.

Connected by a running commentary written by Kimmo Modig between all of the works, the exhibition explores these paradoxes and juxtapositions through work exploring the way we portray ourselves online and to others.

The website for the exhibition is designed by Fois and Beeferman, and additional text written by Fois, Snowe and Modig.

See the upfor.digital website for details.**

Kate Durbin, 'Hello Selfie Men' (2016). Photo by Anna Jacobsen. Courtesy the artist.
Kate Durbin, ‘Hello Selfie Men’ (2016). Photo by Anna Jacobsen. Courtesy the artist.

Header image: Brenna Murphy, ‘CorridorShiftExtrude (extract)’ (2016). Website. Courtesy the artist.

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Aram Bartholl’s LA Speed Show, Feb 18

17 February 2016

Artist Aram Bartholl will present a Speed Show in Los Angeles, the first of the series to be held in the City on the evening of February 18.

In 2010 Bartholl initiated the series of Speed Shows in Berlin. Its set up is an exhibition that can take place anywhere in an internet cafe displaying for a moment (or evening) works that already exist online, leaving the job of the curator simply to find a good harmony of things to channel into the cafe space.

“A lot has happened since 2010”, as Bartholl, who aqnb interviewed in 2013, states in the press release. He talks about how manifestos work and interestingly seems to be writing one as a press release that undoes a worded relationship between screens, the internet and artists.

This group Speed Show, at iPC Bang Internet Cafe includes work old (‘classic’) and new by the likes of JODI, Ann Hirsch, Parker Ito, Kate Durbin, Daniel Keller, Yung Jake, Petra Cortright and Nadja Buttendorf and many more.

Despite the dated format, the show’s premise is a moment pulled together in a room, and it kind of works to see and feel what it all looks like now, in one place -especially in a city like LA.

See the FB event page for details.**

Petra Cortright, Petwelt (2014) @ Société installation view. Courtesy the gallery.
Petra Cortright, Petwelt (2014) @ Société installation view. Courtesy the gallery.

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Porn to Pizza — Domestic Clichés @ DAM Gallery, Sep 4 – Oct 24

4 September 2015

DAM Gallery is hosting the Porn to Pizza — Domestic Clichés group exhibition at its Berlin space from a preview on September 4 until the closing on October 24.

The group exhibition bases itself on the acknowledgement that the 4Ps of domestic clichés—porn, pets, plants, and pizza—have left their realm of domesticity and started to exist in the virtual space of the internet.

Inviting over 20 international artists to participate, Porn to Pizza — Domestic Clichés play with today’s domestic spheres and personal comfort zones, revealing “how daily life has changed with the internet and how the conflict of the “real vs. virtual” invades our personal comfort zones”. Some of the participating artists include Petra CortrightKate DurbinFaith Holland and Angelo Plessas.

See the exhibition page for details. **

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A critique of Kate Durbin’s ‘Cloud Nine’

11 June 2015

Kate Durbin claims the ambition of her recent performance piece, ‘Cloud Nine’, is to help, as she states in her broadcast, “draw attention to the financial difficulties of the lives of female artists.” She attempts this by crowdsourcing stories of “what [women] do for money,” removing the identifying details, and performing them in a simulcast commissioned by New Hive, an art site, and Cam4, a sex cam site for $1,000. As the use of the latter platform might indicate, the project relies heavily on the idea and imagery of being a cam girl: in an interview with Konbini, Durbin states: “the cam girl aspect of the project means I am also playing with gender and the idea of the female fantasy ‘object’… basically, I’m interested in how women’s bodies are commodities in both the art world and the sex industry, how those bodies are both hyper-visible and invisible.” Except that Durbin herself is not a cam girl, nor has she ever done sex work–she is simply “performing as a cam girl… collapsing the cam girl into the female artist.”

There is some precedent to ‘Cloud Nine’ – that is, sex work or cam girl-based art – in works like Sean Dunne’s Cam Girlz’ (2015) and Pablo Garcia and Addie Wagenknecht’s Webcam Venus’ (2013). The former, according to Dazed Digital, is a documentary interested in a “frank portrait of the business”, with Dunne interviewing actual cam girls and elucidating “empowerment from an unexpected source”. The latter, featured on VICE’s Motherboard, is a curation of “high-art n00dz,” soliciting cam workers to “replicate iconic poses from Western art,” emphasizing that, to quote Garcia, “we are artists and that they are posing for our artwork.” These projects are similar in that they both included cam workers in very direct and identifiable ways. ‘Cloud Nine’, by contrast, has only the veneer of inclusion, as crowdsourced experiences of sex work are anonymized and performed by a non-sex worker, thereby removing the workers from their own narratives. And while ‘Cam Girlz’ and ‘Webcam Venus’ arguably work to humanize and normalize camming, Durbin’s work relies on the stigma-spectacle of the cam girl to draw attention to the project.

This was central to ‘Cloud Nine’ even before the New Hive/Cam4 simulcast. Photographs included in Durbin’s Konbini and Huffington Post interviews depict the artist in specific states of semi-undress. There’s one in which she wears nude, see-through panties and a sequined shirt that reads “SEX”. There’s one in which she wears a shirt patterned with dollar bills and angel wings. In another she wears a bikini-top designed to emulate naked breasts while holding a dildo. A sea-green wig and gauche makeup accompanies each outfit, which does carry over into the broadcasted performance. Durbin’s setting is complete with a bare mattress, laptop, and the phrase “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR MONEY” scrawled on a wall in the backdrop. Coupled with the appropriation of “cloud9”, which that artist presents as a “common cam girl name,”’ it is clear that Durbin aestheticizes herself as the stereotype of a cam model.


Paradoxically, this performance appears to insist on some kind of authenticity. Durbin wants her participants – as in, those whose narratives the artist has crowdsourced as well as those who are present in the Cam4 chatroom – to “confess what they’ve done for the almighty dollar”. Yet, ‘Cloud Nine’ is curated in such a way as to align itself with preconceived notions of what camming is and could mean. Similar to Angela Washko who works to “mobilize communities and create new forums for discussions of feminism where they do not exist,” Durbin claims to be bridging two audiences – the “art world” via New Hive and “sex cam world” via Cam4. But Durbin departs from the productive model proposed by Washko in how she constructs her interactions in that her audiences are more or less silenced by the work. Laura A. Warman, in a review for Queen Mob’s Teahouse, describes an experience of viewing the work on New Hive as “helplessly watching a stream.” And, though Cam4 participants could comment more actively, only specific users and their content were acknowledged, namely wherever they fit the agenda of Durbin’s project: either providing answers to the question of “what have you done for money,” or else soliciting the artist sexually. Users who offered legitimate critiques of her project were dismissed or even blocked from the chat room: user “blocked_by_u” asked how Durbin “plans to support [contributors] to the project” at around 53:45 to which the artist responded “What do you want me to say?” User “dreemcumtru” was removed from the chatroom by Durbin at 51:33 after they criticized her motives. To paraphrase an exchange between two users in chat, Durbin did not “read the room” as much as she “used the room”.

It should be noted that sex work is more common among marginalized demographics, and is arguably a facet of marginalization. This is indicated by the fact that little to no research exists on the sex working population itself, and what statistics are most available deal with criminalization by race and class. Sex workers of color, for instance, are disproportionately exposed to arrest and police violence in comparison to their white counterparts, with the greatest disparity existing between the treatment of black and white sex workers. The National Center for Transgender Equality reported in 2011 that 11% of transgender respondents had done sex work, as compared to an estimated 1% of women in the general population. And a comparative study of sex work by the University of California (2014) states that “childhood poverty, abuse, and family instability [are] independently associated with adult sex work, as [are] limited education and employment experience.” As such, sex work is often racialized, gendered, and classed in ways that Kate Durbin, as a non-sex working cis white woman in academia, does not and cannot account for; the tropes of female artist and cam girl are, in this case, irresponsibly “collapsed”. Though she acknowledges the laundry list of minorities in her Konbini interview, stating that ”women artists, artists of color, queers artists, and trans artists have a harder go of being seen and celebrated in the art world, just as these same groups have a harder time being paid fairly in the workplace”, her project lacks cognizance of the hierarchy of oppression that exists – in the art world, the sex industry, and society at large.

 ‘Cloud Nine’ is centered on Durbin and her specific performance of anonymized narratives; her presumption of authority over them. Part of the ease of her visibility on Cam4 is due to the fact that, in nearly every sex-working context, white bodies are more highly valued, effectively whitewashing these narratives twice over. The sex industry exploits in alignment with, to paraphrase sex worker and advocate Rebeka Refuse in her interview with City Paper, the “system of commodifying sexual labor… inherent to patriarchy and the sexual division of labor which occurred at the dawn of class society”. ‘Cloud Nine’ ignores this reality and caters to these inherent interests of white patriarchal sexual consumption, thereby contributing to the disenfranchisement of workers and effectively “ignor[ing] the humanity of the cam girl”.

During the broadcast, at around 33:26, Cam4 user “meatcheetah” wrote to Durbin, “this is my fantasy” to which the artist replied, “this is my reality”. Except it isn’t. ‘Cloud Nine’ is as much a fantasy of Durbin’s as her image is a fantasy to “meatcheetah.” It is a fantasy to assume that the artist is making subversive art. It is also a fantasy to assume that she is creating an authentic experience, rather than contributing to its continued stigmatization. Instead, Kate Durbin is a voyeur in a context she has failed to compassionately represent and understand.

Kate Durbin’s ‘Cloud Nine’ can be viewed on the broadcast’s YouTube page.

Header image: Screenshot from Kate Durbin’s video performance piece, ‘Kate Durbin reads “The Hills” at Salvation Mountain. 

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Kate Durbin @ Transfer Gallery, Oct 10 – 11

7 October 2014

Transfer Gallery is hosting a second iteration of Kate Durbin‘s HELLO, SELFIE! performance piece at NYC’s Union Square on October 10.

The “passive-aggressive” performance both mocks and iconises the consumer gaze of teen-girldom, inspired by the culture of surveillance today’s teens are growing up with, as well as everything from Hello Kitty and Apple products to Miley Cyrus tongue lashing.

The public performance consists of a group of woman performers crowding into Union Square to take selfies for an hour straight, something not un-heard of within the privacies of bedrooms and luxe bathrooms, all to be uploaded and shared in real time.

Following the performance is a reception with the artist and performers at the Brooklyn gallery space that evening, as well as a one-day exhibition of the selfies taken on October 11 at Transfer.

See the HELLO, SELFIE! exhibition page for details. **

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