A talk with Kate Cox
By Blainor McGough
Kate Cox is a Portland artist and designer who creates fantastical, graphic sculptures out of fabric and beeswax. Her pieces resemble dead things, such as the half-eaten zebra she made for this year’s Sacred & Profane festival at Battery Steele on Peaks Island, and the “meat” she installed in the back of a U-Hall truck for a traveling art exhibit this past summer.
Originally from Mount Desert Island, Kate is kid sister of Sara Cox, the renowned Portland singer/songwriter, and twin sister of Rachel Cox, who now lives in Taos, New Mexico. Like both her sisters, Kate is a musician and performer. She appeared at this past summer’s Casco Bay Cabaret, and most recently performed at Space Gallery with Teatro Pirato, a local, avant-garde, pirate theater group. Cox also has her own swimsuit line, The Beachfront Community.
Cox and her partner, accordionist/juggler/unicyclist/librarian Matt Rock, are taking over the High Street performance space formerly known as Stillhouse Studio Theater next month.
The Bollard: You created a ‘room’ for the Sacred & Profane this year. What was the concept?
Cox: Zebra guts. The Battery was perfect because it was so dark, but I was able to use a lot of really bright light in the room itself. It created this stark image of the guts… it gave the effect of when you’re driving down a road at night and your headlights catch road kill and you just see this really quick graphic image of something splayed. That was unexpected. The zebra was made out of spandex and stuffed with the beeswax and fiber guts. [Sniffing the zebra.] It blows my mind how it still smells so good.
This summer you did a piece in the back of a U-Haul truck. What was that about?
I used a big wall, four-by-five feet of this fleshy thing. I created a hollow torso that had sort of a muscular case, and created a hide like a little baby cow out of wool and beeswax. It was fun, because Tarpigh [the avant-garde world music group] was playing at the same time. It seemed like a good match.
Why do you like to make animal guts out of fabric?
The stuff I’ve been doing the last two years is the inside of animals. It’s an imaginary or fantastical understanding. I’ve never actually taken anatomy or biology or physiology, but I watch a lot of nature movies, so I have seen a lot of guts. It totally sparks my imagination, because it’s a part of the way we all work. As an artist, I think mostly about my brain, not the rest of my body, so it’s interesting in that way.
Let’s talk swimsuits. Tell us about your clothing line.
I started Beachfront Community in spring ’06 – hand-made bathing suits and screen-printed organic cotton clothing. It was exciting because I had never really sold anything before and I just sort of pretended I had a business and it worked. Carrie Hoage and I went down to the Renegade Craft Fair in Brooklyn this spring. It felt like flying by the seat of my pants, but two New York stores picked up my stuff at the fair.
Does being a twin affect your style?
When we’re living near to each other, I’m conscious all the time of trying to not look like her. It pisses the shit out of me when Rachel comes to visit and she puts on something of mine, because it’s like an identity thing, I think. But that’s actually the only thing we fight about. In high school, we would just fight fiercely about clothes. When we used to shop, we’d have to call dibs on things. But when she’s not around, it’s more subtle.
I mean, it’s fucked up that Rachel and I are genetically exactly the same thing. I think it influences everything. I’m really interested in the moment that we became two people from that one little zygote. That whole biology of my life and the mutation of that early part of my life is what really influences everything, as far as being interested in guts and anatomy.
What are your plans for the former Stillhouse space?
It’s still in the early stages, so we’re just going to try to have fun and be creative. We’re going to run it as a music venue and art gallery that’s open to the public. Matt is really excited about playing accordion. I’ll also use it as a retail space for the clothing I make.
Do you have any new projects coming up?
Probably some more animals. I’m kind of into the bird thing right now. Their postures and habits are interesting for painting with wax and fibers.