Kimberley Zak The process of creating is a methodical and reflective, and sometimes meditative process.
By Mary Truong September 15th, 2020
Kimberley Zak’s interplay between subjectivity and objectivity in her artwork questions how perception creates experiences. In one manner of Zak’s practice, the viewer is reduced to a body that simply reacts to stimuli: the body becomes an object. Zak sometimes manipulates the physical process of perception (similar to Op-art) by forcing dissonant elements into her work: garish colors that pulsate to the eyes, acrylics combined with oils to craft disharmony in how the two materials reflect light. Sensation through perception becomes an objective experience (if such a paradoxical term can be used). To treat the body as an object means that all eyes that view Zak’s works will respond similarly to loud colors or incompatible media, and this interchangeability suggests a corporeal truth.
“For me, there is an intuitive intersection between art and psychology.”
More often, though, Zak engages with the psychological aspect of perception and how art can be used to document subjectivity within experiences or uncover subconscious associations within ourselves. She recalls painting a series of portraits and arranging the finished works in various formats, a continuous line of portraits or a grid of faces. Upon exhibition, she discovered that the viewers uncovered associations she hadn’t consciously intended: similarity in poses, colors, and positions within the arrangement. Was the audience exposing Zak’s subconscious, or were they projecting themselves by “constructing a narrative” from an otherwise arbitrary collection? Zak speculates that it could be both.
“Art is a way for me to revisit and re-examine and work through my own personal history.”
Zak’s interest in subjectivity is not limited to her audience; she frequently centers her psyche as the subject of exploration in her work. She says, “The process of creating is a methodical and reflective, and sometimes meditative process.” The most relevant example of this may be her recent thesis work, “In Conversation with Madison,” a text painting containing barrage of aggressive accusations. Zak notes that this work was primarily a diaristic means of working through a traumatic event. “Art has been important for navigating personal trauma and personal experiences and my own wellbeing.”
Despite this claim, Zak uses obvious aesthetic restraint in rendering such emotional text. She justifies it through a pursuit of objectivity. As a publicly displayed artwork, Zak questions the right to display such an intimate, emotional event in a forum where the other party has no voice. Her solution is to render objectively, and objectivity is determined by what the body senses. The words, the color, and the font are copies from the original instigating text. This approach pares down immediate artistic choice in the process of painting as well as Zak’s subjectivity.
An obvious question arises from Zak’s methodology for this single work: what is Zak’s intention? If it is to work through a personal, traumatic experience, then why focus so much on the representation for an outward audience? Pursuing objectivity gives the museum-like impression of impartiality, but that stance evidently cannot be true for Zak: these are violent words inflicted upon her by someone who might have been once considered a friend. Furthermore, within the realm of contemporary painting (since Harold Rosenberg), audiences have become accustomed to the presence of an artist’s hand. There’s no obvious need for her to constrain her aesthetic choices for such a personal painting. The ideas of subjectivity and objectivity directly conflict with each other, bringing about a dissonance in the work.
But all these questions suggest a measure of success in Zak’s practice: any ideological gaps in her painting brings forth psychological examinations. Am I an audience member stringing associations and theories that may be a projection of my subconscious onto her art? Or perhaps through my writing, Zak will uncover new subconscious feelings she hadn’t known while painting. Although Zak primarily uses art as a “privileged” means of self-exploration, her art reaches further, navigating the psyches of audience, artist, subject, and object.
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