Interview: Kate Bonner Shares Her Photographic Sculptures at Luis De Jesus Gallery

We caught up with a standout photographer from Paris Photo LA who inverts the idea of perception and sculpture.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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At last weekend's Paris Photo LA, many works stood out to us for their ability to talk about photography in fresh, captivating ways. One such artist at the helm of sculptural photography pieces is Kate Bonner, who showed two of her works at Luis De Jesus Gallery's booth this year.

Bonner's works typically combine photography, sculpture, and installation for pieces that appear to come out of walls and corners. At the fair in particular, one seemed to be trying to leave the fair entirely, as it was positioned at an exit. 

Kate's work reflects many of the explorations happening in photography today. We caught up with her to ask a few questions about her pieces and learned about her upcoming exhibition at the gallery in LA from May 17 to June 28.

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My work is simultaneously an attempt to expand space and to bar entry.

How do you prefer to describe your works? They seem to be at an intersection of photography, printmaking, sculpture, and installation without being completely tied to one of those mediums.
The quickest way to describe my practice is to say that it rests somewhere between photography and sculpture. But there is an installation element as well, because the work is structural, and it implicates the walls and floors.

My work is simultaneously an attempt to expand space and to bar entry. I use digital tools as well as power tools to create the image and form. My work values perceptual failures and contains real boundaries: literally walls, windows and frames that serve as entry points or that limit access.

Kate Bonner at Luis De Jesus, Paris Photo LA

How did you arrive at this kind of art-making and process? Did you begin by painting, doing photography alone, or something else?
I started with painting and drawing. I was interested in drawing abstractions and concealing information, but I couldn’t escape sentimental conversations about the handwork in my paintings or drawings. I kept progress shots and reference photos of my work in my studio, and that is where this work began. It began with off-frame photos, scans, and photocopies of my drawings.

In my drawings, and then later in scans and photographs, I looked for objects that could just operate as objects and not as symbols. This is why I started cutting apart photographs, or folding them, rolling them, and flipping them around. It is an attempt to use representational imagery for formal, abstract purposes—to deny story, to aim for a kind of anti-narrative.

This work is an attempt to see in, around, and under an image.

Do you decide where or how a piece will be installed before you create it? When do you decide to have one lift out from a wall versus in a corner, on the floor, or stacked on top of another one?
This work is an attempt to see in, around, and under an image. Sometimes the forms fold in on themselves. Sometimes there are layers. Sometimes they lift off of the wall. 

Some are hung on the wall or placed into a corner. But other pieces are versatile and can be configured in a variety of ways. So sometimes I am making the installation decisions before I make a piece, and sometimes the installation is influenced by the location. 

I treat photographs as objects and sometimes use them as portals to break through the surface of the piece.

What is your goal in deconstructing (or perhaps reconstructing) and sometimes erasing/cutting out your pieces? Is this a comment on photography, the subjects in many of your images (architecture and nature among them), both?
My work is about viewership, about limits and points of entry. A photograph is a wall. It is beautiful, or it is dim and the surface is too glossy. It contains people and places and things that you don’t know, and you don’t know how I know them (or if I know them) either. 

The erasures, the cuts, and the folds in the images and in the structures break the frame, block narrative, and instead call attention to the act of looking (or trying to look) at the images. I do not use photographs as documents or story builders. I treat photographs as objects and sometimes use them as portals to break through the surface of the piece.

Do you typically want your pieces to divide or unite spaces?
Either. Both. There are frames inside frames in my work. And frames both include things and exclude things.

Have you (so far) put your pieces outdoors? If not, do you plan to?
The work is structural, and I would like to position it outside, without walls or floors for immediate context. Ideas for future projects…

The cuts and folds in the work turn the room into a larger frame.

Do you feel like your works belong at a photography fair? What aspects of your work do you most consider photographic?
Some of the photographic aspects that I explore in my work include framing, staging, and representation. 

Unlike traditional photography, my work has a front and a back. Because it is mounted instead of framed, it operates more like a snapshot—folding, bending, leaning. There are borders and frames inside the image (both around the rims of photographs and around the edge of the digital print). The cuts and folds in the work turn the room into a larger frame.

On the bed of the scanner, I try to give the work as much depth of field or light and shadow as possible. There is an element of staging and lighting.

The work uses representation but for abstract, formal reasons. This is where the work oscillates most between photography and painting. 

What are your future plans? Any exhibitions or projects we can look out for?
I have a show next month at Luis De Jesus. The work in the show is related to the work at Paris Photo LA but revolves around themes of digital painting and splicing. And I will have another show at Et al. in San Francisco in August. In that exhibition, the photograph and the structure will be more at odds with each other.

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