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Spotlight on Paradox: Catherine Sullivan

Catherine Sullivan, <i>Ice Floes of Franz Joseph Land</i>, production still, 2003. Five channels shot on 16 mm film transferred to video, projected from DVD, 21 min 48 sec per channel, black and white, silent. © Catherine Sullivan, courtesy the artist.

Catherine Sullivan was born in Los Angeles, California in 1968. She earned a BFA from the California Institute of Arts, Valencia (1992) and an MFA from the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California (1997). Sullivan’s anxiety inducing films and live performances reveal the degree to which everyday gestures and emotional states are scripted and performed, probing the border between innate and learned behavior. Under Sullivan’s direction, actors perform seemingly erratic, seizure-like jumps between gestures and emotional states, all while following a well-rehearsed, numerically derived script. Unsettling and disorienting, Sullivan’s work oscillates between the uncanny and camp, eliciting a profound critique of “acceptable” behavior in today’s media-saturated society. A maelstrom of references and influences -from vaudeville to film noir to modern dance- Sullivan’s appropriation of classic filming styles, period costumes, and contemporary spaces such as corporate offices draws the viewer’s attention away from traditional narratives and towards an examination of performance itself.

Sullivan received a CalArts Alpert Award in the Arts (2004) and a DAAD Fellowship (2004-2005). She has had major exhibitions at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota (2007); Tate Modern, London (2005); Vienna Secession, Austria (2005); Kunsthalle Zurich, Switzerland (2005); Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut (2003); UCLA Armand Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2002); and the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago (2002). She has participated in the Prague Biennial (2005), the Whitney Biennial (2004), and La Biennale d’art contemporain de Lyon, France (2003). Sullivan lives and works in Chicago, Illinois.

Watch a clip from Sullivan’s Art:21 segment:

About her work, Sullivan says,

“For me, politics is a choice. I don’t live in a world where I’m forced to align myself ideologically with a particular regime or think on a daily basis about where my soap is coming from. So, engagement with these issues is a choice. And my choice is to reveal that freedom and privilege to think about certain things without having to suffer their consequences…My imagination can bring together a lot of very painful things and a consideration of different kinds of consequences. I’ve thought a lot as an artist about what it means to operate with any information I want and with the privilege of using that information in any way I want. If I were to make a different choice, then I would be a journalist…But I’m an artist. I’m interested in these things in an artistic sense. The end result is art.”

(taken from the companion book Art in the Twenty-First Century 4, p. 162).

Read more about her work and watch additional clips on her Art:21 webpage here.

Have you experienced Sullivan’s work in person, or did you have an opportunity to view her segment in one of the hundreds of Art21 Access ‚’07 events that have been taking place all month? Share your thoughts on Catherine Sullivan by leaving a comment below.

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