Artist Statement

In light of our climate changing, I am uncertain and concerned for what the future holds; this is reflected in my work, which explores themes that range from the impacts of climate change, to sustainability and excessive waste production. I work predominantly in socially engaged performance and site specific installation, creating sculptural objects, survival architecture, and wearables that dually function as props in performances or elements in an installation.

My socially engaged performance is often site-specific. And my method for engaging a public involves embracing the absurd to engage the everyday; I do this by performing actions or employing duration and props that are noticeably out of place so people become curious and compelled to talk with me. I also use duration to generate scale and convey endurance. The best example of this, is with my piece, One Year and Twenty-Four Days of Fishing, for which I carried a fishing rod and wore rubber boots everywhere, every day, for over a year. The range of experiences and interactions I had increased over time, so the extended duration made the project more enduring and ultimately, transformational.

Working with salvage is also a significant aspect of my work. This began with my building docks as platforms for socially engaged performance projects and creating a series of survival objects, such as this life ring, for my Provisions for Buoyancy project. When creating elements that stand alone as sculptural pieces and dually function as props, it is important to me to use refuse as material and to make the elements appear as true to life as possible. My reason for this is twofold – a realistic appearance of the element helps to emphasize the absurd nature of the action I am performing and also demonstrates one can create impeccable objects out of refuse.

When the pandemic struck and I could no longer safely work with salvage or carry out socially engaged performance pieces, I started experimenting more with lens based media and created Superimpositions: Wildfires In My Landscape. Superimpositions is a series of conceptual animated photography that involves my overlaying found images that document recent wildfires onto photographs I took in rural Ontario, CAN. The overlays unfold over a prolonged period to convey as premonitions, reflecting my thoughts and fears that similarly devastating fires could easily happen in regions I have strong connections with. And, now sadly, just two years after creating this body of work, we are witnessing a tragic increase of wildfires across Canada.

Shortly before the pandemic was upon us, my socially engaged performance practice expanded to incorporate additional performers, choreography, and structured dialogue, while continuing to engage specific sites and cultivate opportunities for public engagement. In Harbinger, I directed and led a group of 13 performers through areas that would be flooded with a 6 foot rise in sea levels (and in fact, is already flooding frequently). The performance incorporated choreography that utilized prop, signalling gestures, and conversational prompts to engage participating performers as well as the public who was present, to reflect on our experience with extreme weather, climate change, and survival. More recently I began using social engagement as a means for taking action that contributes to mitigating the effects of climate change. For example, in 200 Trees, I presented a performance piece inspired by my planting 100 native trees in rural Nova Scotia, Canada, which was followed by a socially engaged tree planting action I facilitated in Northern Virginia that involved planting 100 native trees while engaging participants in related conversation and reflective exercises.

Recently, during an artist residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute, I created wildfire shelters in direct response to the increase in wildfires resulting from climate change. This body of work began with research, material studies, and the creation of small models. I then designed and constructed 5 portable wildfire shelters for people and 6 shelters for small animals, documenting these both in a gallery like setting as well as installing them site-specifically where the largest fire in New Mexico’s recorded history burned just one year earlier.

Katie Kehoe, artist studio, Santa Fe Art Institute, NM