My sculptures are the result of discovering life in objects that have outlived their intended functions. I am interested in the potential of everyday objects to communicate with us, through us, and to help us communicate with others. I draw from my own experiences, relationships, and emotional growth to find new ways to communicate with old materials.
Our daily routines depend on an assortment of items. Our reliance on these objects becomes a source of both strain and neglect, causing us to value them less as they break down, and eventually discard them. Although they become forgotten, they remain imprinted with our memories. For this reason, my chosen materials originate from the 1950s to the 1980s, which coincides with; my parent’s lives and my early childhood. Old tools remind me of helping my dad in the garage or gardening with my mom, and vintage cookware reminds me of my grandmother’s kitchen. These recollections are triggered by both material and color. I use mid-century pigments, plastics, and fibers to create common ground between the dormant object, its past function, and the present viewer. As I discover the messages embedded in my objects, they transform into vessels of communication, each one bringing its own story and culminating with a larger abstract message. Instead of acquiescing to the end of their usefulness these items embrace their beauty, captivate our attention, and incite our memory and imagination.
I gravitate towards things that have or had a function; they are not purely decorative. Though they are no longer actively used, they continue to speak about our habits, and by giving them a new purpose they can simultaneously communicate their history and embrace their future.
I begin a sculpture with only an idea, or expectation, of its final form. I give myself the freedom to change the materials and alter them in a way that is unpredictable yet satisfying. By exploring how individual objects fit together and interact expectedly and unexpectedly the sculptures can begin to take form, and become redolent with growth, life, and even evolution. Mirroring our posture, they speak about vocation. Connecting and fitting together, they mimic human contact. Seemingly natural in character, the transformations reveal the meaningful relationship between objects and the entanglements of material and memory.
We followed up with Katie 6 months later.
What events led to you becoming a metalsmith?
I discovered metalsmithing while I was an undergrad at Northern Illinois University. I took a class with Jamie Obermeier, and I really got drawn into the way that Jamie’s intro class balanced traditional metalsmithing with contemporary methods like carving acrylic and working with found objects. I always had an eye for detail and an interest in working with my hands, so I was hooked. I transferred to Eastern Illinois University to finish my BFA and studied with David Griffin, where I became enamored with hand die forming, powder coating, and enameling. This exploration of color and surface, in combination with my existing interest in found objects, is really what lead me towards my current work.
What is the tool you love the most? If you could have one tool, that you don’t have already, what would it be?
It may sound simple, but the most important tools in my studio right now are drill bits. My work is fabricated completely with cold connections. I try to use found items like old bolts and screws, plastic hangers, or old knitting needles to make connections. Since I need to perfectly match the diameter of these objects I can never have too many bits! Ironically, given all that drilling, I really need a flex shaft in my home studio, since right now I’m doing all this with a hand-drill.
Who are some of the artists you admire and why?
There are some artists that will always be important to me because they were so influential when I was first realizing that I wanted to be an artist, women like Tara Donovan, Judy Pfaff, Lisa Walker, and Susie Ganch. Lisa Walker’s work in particular really helped me see the importance of spontaneity in a studio practice, and encouraged me to break out of the traditional wearable mold into a hybrid jewelry-as-sculpture/sculpture-as-jewelry space.
After receiving the EM award, how have you considered ethical practice?
Obviously maintaining an ethical studio practice has always been important to me, but this award has really motivated me to reevaluate how that practice is being represented in my classroom. I’ve thought more about how I can encourage my students to be conscious of the impacts of their practice, and to show them how simple it can be to reduce waste. A few basic examples are that I’ve replaced our studio’s paper towels with shop rags, and set up a drying rack for sandpaper so that used pieces can be rinsed clean and used again. In my own work I’m working more purposefully with using found objects as elements of cold connections. I’ve begun to largely phase out manufactured hardware and metal rivets, trying instead to create pieces that are 100% found and recycled plastics.
What is the significance of wearability in your work?
Because my work recontextualizes functional objects, I think a lot about how my forms interact with the body. I like to take advantage of objects or parts of objects that we have prior experiences with—handles, spoons, or toys, for example—and use those memories to make something new or strange seem familiar. Everyday fashion has not been a major factor in my recent work. Instead, I’m thinking more about moving everyday objects into an elevated position, and experimenting with how literal or implied interaction with the body is necessary for that to take place.
How do you select your materials?
Although I use all types of plastics depending on the piece, I am most drawn to mid-century plastics. A major reason for this is the unique and vivid colors of plastics from that time-period. Color and surface are some of the first things that I consider when I’m selecting materials, since I work with pre-made materials and rely heavily on their original attributes. Size and weight of the objects also play into my decisions. Beyond their physically attractive nature, there are additional benefits to working with these materials. I can use older objects that may not be functional any longer. I find a lot of cups and plates that may be considered unusable because of a small scratch or crack, but are perfect for me. Also, a lot of the plastics from this era are not very easily recyclable– materials like Bakelite, Melmac/melamine, and polycarbonate– so taking them out of the waste stream is appealing to me.
What do you listen to while you work?
I enjoy listening to podcasts while I work, since it feels more like I’m accomplishing two things at once. Mostly I listen to podcasts about art, but I’ve also been listening to more about teaching. 30 Rock and The Office also keep me company while I work.
What are you reading right now?
Similar to the podcasts, I’m primarily reading for work rather than pleasure right now, so mostly books on teaching or metalsmithing. The Handouts from the 21st Century series has been a really nice combination of both, and is an amazing collection of information.
Like a lot of artist-educators, I think my dream job is to have a tenured position in metalsmithing. I’m currently a visiting faculty member, so I get to teach, work with students, and still have time for my own work. I am trying to be open to other possibilities though. Metals has really impacted my life, and I want to help others have the same access to this field that I had, and to encourage young people to develop and embrace their creativity. Right now I’m making that happen through my teaching practice, but depending on where things take me I would also be really interested in bringing my ideas to a gallery, co-op, or community center.
What’s next for Katie Kameen?
I’m excited by the ways that additive manufacturing can help minimize material usage, and by the ability to make whatever form I want out of bio-based and bio-degradable plastics like PLA. Right now I’m primarily working on creating small wearable pieces that compliment larger sculptures, and the idea of bringing my own 3D computer modeled forms into conversation with my found objects has been really exciting.