Author | Annie Malamet | Visual Arts Editor
This week I had the pleasure of speaking with photographer/filmmaker Katrina Del Mar about her show Summer Sang in Me at Strange Loop Gallery, which features photographs, videos, and zines made over a 20-plus year period. The name of the exhibit comes from a sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay, which could not be more appropriate; the works in this show, like in the poem, address themes of romanticism, nostalgia, and non-linear memory. “[The poem] is about hanging onto your youth,” says Del Mar, “It’s about remembering and forgetting at the same time.” The whole exhibit from the wall of collaged snapshots at the entrance, to the way the photographs are hung, to the handmade zines, speaks to the theme of a stream of conscious memory, of hanging on to memories but also losing them.
Although the show is certainly nostalgic, Del Mar’s work is far from being overly sentimental. Her sensibility is definitely punk rock; her aesthetic is incredibly informed by both traditional 80s punk, and the riot grrrl movement of the 90s. “That’s what I grew up with, that’s when I came of age…that’s the time period when I started to make work.” The collaged wall with images, including polaroid photos, Xeroxes from journals, pictures of paintings Del Mar took when she was a teen, poems that friends have given her, all speak to the DIY feeling the work evokes. That, and the tough, fearless, pierced queers that populate Del Mar’s imagery.
Another way that Del Mar has represented the trajectory of her life is through the use of vintage film prints mixed in with photographs taken with digital cameras and phones. “I wanted to show memory, sex, love, damage, loss. It was fun to go into the archive and dig out prints that feel as current as todays.” Del Mar told me of this stylistic choice. In fact, it was almost impossible for me to tell which photographs were current and which ones were new. An image made with an iPhone carries the same weight as a black and white print produced in the 80s. Similarly in the zines, Del Mar has included collages made in 1986 and photos of her first girlfriend blended with snapshots and scrapbook materials from the last year. “It’s a bit about continuity of relationships. Relationships that change and last.” For example, two photographs of the same woman taken 20 years apart demonstrate Del Mar’s lasting bond with her subjects as well as how we as people change and grow and yet at their core, remain the same.
Of her choice to use different kind of cameras, Del Mar said “I think that’s very punk rock, making use of what’s available.” There is also a frantic, obsessive, in-the-moment feel to all the work in this exhibit. “Spontaneity informs my process, I get bored easily.” Indeed, this attitude definitely shines through. For example, a film included in this show is a really fun lesbian vampire flick that Del Mar made with her friends in one day. The combination of quick, one off projects shown in an exhibit that examines the same themes over and over through multiple decades creates an interesting and complex narrative about the nature of photography itself.
Speaking of lesbian vampires, another motif running through the show is that of abandoning conventionality through pain. I asked Del Mar if it was her intention to explore kink dynamic. She said her intention was more to show the toughness of the people she photographs; it’s another way to expand on the punk sentiment the work embodies. One photograph shows a girl’s busted lip after a surfing accident. Another the stomachs of Del Mar and a friend after the slapped each other hard enough to leave hand prints. A video projected on the wall shows another friend in a motorcycle race. Del Mar’s women are tough and frankly, cool as hell. I asked if showing women in this way was a political statement. “It’s not really my intention to make a political feminist statement. [The work] is very personal,” Del Mar explained “But really I think it’s all political. Any lesbian feminist making art is a political act.”
This exhibit made me nostalgic for something I’ve never experienced. As a young queer woman making art today, it was incredibly moving and important for me to see the work of an artist who started making art about queerness at a time when being an out lesbian was a risky thing. Since then, Katrina Del Mar has been living her life exactly how she pleases. Who wouldn’t be inspired by that?
Summer Sang in Me runs through March 28th at Strange Loop Gallery on 27 Orchard Street. Go check it out while you can because this queer gallery will be closing it’s doors next month. Also keep an eye out for some of the events Strange Loop is hosting surrounding this show, including “Tough Girls and Lucid Dreamers” at 7pm on March 22nd featuring live music, readings, and a short film screening.