Q&A : Caitlin Lapena

by Matthew Kyba

I think my perception about art has been influenced somewhat from education, but I have spent more time unlearning what I was taught. I believe my best work is created when I am not thinking about rules or lessons, or what an institution might perceive as good art. Rather, I practice my art as a form of self-understanding and internal progression that, in turn, may resonate with others.
2) You usually employ a number of faceless figures, like flattened silhouettes and ghostly forms that haunt the white backdrop. What is the reason for this loss of identity? The impossibility of seeing each subject teases and confirms our curiousness about the narrative behind them.
There is a struggle for identity in a society that seems to be losing its sense of self. The media’s messages are frightening and give me a sense of contemporary unease within life. I know who I am, yet I am often lost within the tunnels of my dreams where reality and fantasy blur. My fears and worries translate through the images I choose to piece together. These figures live in my subconscious, another version of me.

Q) Within your work, unnerving aesthetics involving knives, teeth, fur, and stilettos all co-exist to amalgamate into a collage of altered humans. What inner consciousness fuels this process to pervert the human form in such ways?

Exploring dark imagery is a way I can create a sense of control in a world where I have none. Humans are often the cause of terror. I can animate the human form in any way I like in these collages—distorted or seductive. I feel powerful when I can participate in the creation of these fantasies and fears through piecing together collages, where it is safely contained.

Q) The relationship between the delicate and dangerous is a prominent theme within your pieces. How do notions of femininity involve themselves into your practice?

Femininity and the voyeuristic desire for the female body is an issue I explore specifically in my collage series. The “perfect” version of a woman is put on a pedestal in our society. The female body becomes an object to be looked at, an attractive and mystical entity. That version of the female has little physical power. When I use violence, strangeness, and sexual deviancy combined with images of the idealized female, there is now an attraction and repulsion, a fear and a fascination. Now the power shifts from society’s patriarchal gaze to the dominant physicality of the female.

Q) Using found materials from old magazines will usually result in the transportation of historic motifs into contemporary production. Can you explain this fascination with older pictures and why you’ve chosen to destroy and rebuild with them?

Two of my favorite sources for collages at the moment are The Complete Beauty Book, a 1985 hardcover from Value Village, and a 1955 magazine called Hats and Bags I found at Dead People’s Stuff in Prince Edward County. The women pictured in these pages are all painstakingly posed and painted. They are objects to be displayed and played with. I find myself drawn to these images because as much as they attract me, they also terrify me. I see the same glazed eyes in every photograph, like a china doll in a horror film. Their identities are removed through these photographs and the passing of time.

Q) Where do you see your practice going? How do you see your themes and aesthetic evolving into the future?

The exploration of different mediums is something I have always thought to be valuable. I have been painting again recently, working abstractly with spray paint and oils, as well as experimenting with short video clips. I am also continuing a series of fur and nylon pieces. This series involves scraps of fox, bear, and rabbit fur I have been given or found second-hand, wrapped on canvas with nylon stockings and other found materials. I have always been attracted to the luxury of fur and how there is still a living spirit to it. The nylon acts as the constrictor to the alluring softness of the fur.

What I know will continue to translate through the work I make is the dichotomy of the grotesque and the beautiful, the feminine and the fearful.

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