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Artist Kat Wilson on Personal Space

Personal Space is a focus show that considers how the objects we surround ourselves with, and the relationships we build, tell stories about our lives. Through various depictions of space, real and imagined objects and interiors, and people, this exhibition acknowledges the importance of the personal meaning of place—to artists, and to ourselves. At Crystal Bridges, as we continue to explore an individual’s relation to space, by interviewing people connected to the exhibition we want to explore what personal space means to them.

Here, we’re talking with artist Kat Wilson, who has two photographs from her Habitat series featured in this exhibition. Wilson is a Northwest Arkansas-based artist whose work has been exhibited, performed, and published both regionally and internationally.

Kat Wilson pictured above in Self-portrait with Unicorn Emoji Painting, 2018
Kat Wilson pictured above in Self-portrait with Unicorn Emoji Painting, 2018

Wilson’s Habitats series of digital photographs explore the lives and personalities of her sitters through elaborate orchestrations of their possessions and spaces that constitute their everyday environment. Employing centuries-old compositional devices, Wilson’s theatrically conceived portraits transcend the quotidian familiarity of the personal belongings and spaces they depict, casting her subjects as both intimately vulnerable, and heroic.

CB: How do you choose your sitters?

KW: “You could see Habitats as one giant self-portrait. As my life changes my sitters change.”

CB: Is there a difference between photographing someone you know versus a stranger?

KW: “Not really. I usually choose people that I know will give a good performance for the camera.”

CB: How do you build the trust to be invited into a stranger’s intimate space?

KW: “I tell everyone, ‘I’ll make you famous. If not now, in some history book in the future!”

CB: Do you provide guidelines/information on the types of objects you want your sitters to include?

KW: “No, I let them curate their own iconography. We talk about the symbolism of their stuff and what their stuff says about them or who they want to be.”

CB: Is there a difference between shooting an individual’s personal space versus an entire family or a couple’s?

KW: “Everyone is still an individual in Habitats, but the plot thickens when I try to drape multiple people with my light.”

CB: What is your favorite personal space shoot that you’ve done?

KW: “My favorite is the Habitat of my dad and his two cronies titled, 1411 Towson. I shot dad’s Habitat the day he finally signed the papers to divorce my mom. He was never a big drinker, but he was so heartbroken that he started this day with a bottle of Crown Royal. You can see the bottle in the Habitat.” Wilson goes on to explain the process her father went through to “heal his heart.” Wilson said although he was in a very vulnerable time of his life, she was still able to capture his strength within his personal space.

Kat Wilson, 1411 Towson, 2004. Wilson’s father (center) pictured with two friends in an automobile repair shop.

CB: What does personal space mean to you? How would you define your own?

KW: “I don’t call my series Households or Studios or Workplaces because I recognized early that “personal spaces” is very broad. My art studio is my happy place. My home is a warm, loving place that I share.”

CB: What would you say plays a larger role in your photographs of personal spaces, the bodies or the objects?

KW: “That’s a good question…I’ve shot a Habitat without a person in it before,and it looked like an Anthropologie ad [curated retail magazine.] My talent is in my ability to connect with people and the performance I can get them to give my camera, with my lights, my stage.”

CB: What role do you think change plays in personal spaces? (Change i.e. aging, movement, tragedy, sickness, marriage, birth)

KW: “I want to visit his question personally. I’m waiting for funding to redo at least 10 Habitats. I have reshot my sister’s Habitat three times now.”

Kat Wilson, 3617 Boston, 2004. Wilson’s sister (right) with her husband and son in the pool at their home surrounded by personal objects.
Kat Wilson, 3617 Boston, Jack and Leland’s Room, 2013. Wilson’s nephews pictured above in a room filled with toys.
Kat Wilson, The Boys, 2018. Pictured above are Wilson’s nephews by the family pool.

The three works pictured above show the same family, Wilson’s sister’s, over a span of fourteen years. The residency is the same, but changes are captured as their personal space and family size evolves with time. The trees in the background of 3617 Boston (2004) have overgrown over the years. As you can see in The Boys (2018,)the walkway is now littered with new objects and the sitters featured are no longer mother, father, and son like in 2004, but instead, Wilson captures a photograph of the three sons surrounding that same pool (2018).

CB: And lastly, if you were being photographed in your own personal space, what are some possessions you would be sure to include? Why?

KW: One day I will shoot a new Habitat of myself, but until then I use my installation series “Selfie Thrones” to exploit my personal objects into my personal throne.

Kat Wilson, Art Gun #selfiethrone, 2015.

Written by Crystal Bridges’ intern Alexis Rolle.

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