Book Of Shadows

Canadian-born, New York-based artist Kayla Guthrie employs a range of formats and techniques to express herself. Moving to New York four years ago after playing in a band since she was a teenager, Guthrie has since interviewed countless artists, written a few books (one derived entirely of found texts) and created a way to make these disciplines seem connected instead of autonomous. Weaving art, poetry and music with the written word, Guthrie explores the links between some of the oldest forms of self-expression in a new way. An example? She writes press releases for art shows as a form of creative writing. If you have never read press releases for art shows then you don’t care, but if you have, you understand why this is genius.

For her current show, at Young Art in Los Angeles, she utilizes all of these talents in her exhibit “Book Of Shadows.” The show’s title refers to a Neo-pagan religious handbook containing theological texts, instructions for magical spells, and notes on lunar and solar cycles. Traditionally, the book is actually more like a journal with practitioners taking notes and compiling spells and theories. Taking reference from this, Guthrie chose to hang six panels of text on the wall and open the show singing over pre-recorded songs. Throughout the exhibit, audio of the artist singing songs and reading poetry will play. Here, I asked Guthrie a few questions about her many different artistic pursuits and how they intersect.

Katherine Krause: So, what inspired this exhibit?

Kayla Guthrie: I was completing this series of texts which I’d been working on this past year and realized they could be the basis for an art show. I wanted to present them along with some songs which I’d been writing and performing for the last few years. These writings are quite deliberate and complete, in contrast to my music, which actually consists mostly of very rehearsed performances of basically unfinished or off-the-cuff songs. I want these two modes to have a relationship, although I am still figuring out what that is.

Katherine: Can you talk a little bit about the title of the show, Book of Shadows?

Kayla: Taking the title “Book of Shadows” from the name of an occult manual was a playful idea for bringing this concept of the unknown – a form of practical alchemy or ritual to produce a supernatural result – to reflect on both writing and performing musically, while also addressing their presentation within an exhibition: framing them within a “book” fictionalizes their existence, makes them sort of characters in the story of an art show, which also felt appropriate in that these formats are slightly intangible or ambivalent, bodies of work which could almost walk out and have a life outside of the show.

Invisibility (Quarter Moon), 2012

Katherine: Are there any people that inspired this work?

Kayla: If this work was inspired by others it was in an indirect way. The text works are descriptions of my experiences, and they are more focused on depicting time than people. People appear more as background. I’m interested in recreating scenes from my memory which makes me very inwardly focused while working, and it’s a technique I developed more through trial and error, without planning the end result or trying out preexisting models of working.

Katherine: Did you work with any collaborators?

Kayla: I’ve collaborated with others on music before and in this show my performance of “#1 Crush” by Garbage had a background track made by Hunter Hunt-Hendrix. Also, Harsh Patel made the beautiful layout for the invite, and Kate Hillseth at Young Art and her husband Paul were very involved in producing and installing the show.

Katherine: How long has this exhibit been in the making? Was there anything that you cut from the exhibit?

Kayla: We first started talking about it over the winter and originally thought about showcasing a selection of my past writing, displaying a few small books I’ve made. That would have included Rotting Porch and It’s A Funny Thing Alice which I did with Sister (RIP).

Time (Outside), 2012

Katherine: What do you think a modern day “spell” means?

Kayla: I can think of modern superstitions and taboos, but most people don’t seem to weave those into something as ritualistic as a spell. Some people seem able to curse or bless pretty naturally though.

Katherine: What interests you about the links between performance and visual art?

Kayla: These are the formats which seem most welcoming to what I am doing. Performance is temporary while visual art objects are more lasting. I want to dip into this strange void between the permanent and the impermanent, that mystery of reading words written hundreds of years ago or looking at paintings of people who’ve been dead for a long time.

Katherine: Why is poetry important to you?

Kayla: I like the sense of devotion poetry requires and that it is an old form that reinvents itself. It can be exalted and bare at the same time.

Katherine: Who are some of your favorite poets?

Kayla: I still have a lot to read but around the time I wrote the pieces for this show I was enjoying the Henri Michaux anthology Darkness Moves and Beaudelaire’s Paris Spleen.

Katherine: You chose to exhibit six text panels- why is that an important decision for this show and what distinction does that make? Is there any significance behind that number?

Kayla: No numerical significance – that’s just where the text stopped.

Top Image: Installation view courtesy of Young Art Gallery

Kayla Guthrie’s Book Of Shadows is up through July 28th at Young Art in Los Angeles, California.

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