Competition: US & Canada
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Artist, curator, activist, teacher, and writer, Kathy High is well known for her videos, sculptures, and installations that explore the relationship of people to science and of both to the animal world. During her Guggenheim Fellowship term, she will be further developing her Vampire Study Group (VSG) projects, which seek to raise awareness of man’s dependence—often for life itself—on animals and our competition with each other as we race to avoid human extinction. She first developed the idea of VSG during a residency at SymbioticA in the School of Anatomy and Human Biology at the University of Western Australia, a program that brings artists and researchers into biology labs where they conduct actual experiments, or “wet biology practices,” in an effort to engage nonscientists in the life sciences. In February 2011, in a tribute to SymbioticA on its tenth anniversary, the Science Gallery, Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, mounted an exhibition entitled VISCERAL: The Living Art Experiment, in which Ms. High participated
Among her VSG projects are Blood Wars, where in a battle documented by stop-motion microscopy white blood cells from different people are pitted against each other in a tournament, complete with a play-by-play announcer who in his commentary emphasizes, as Ms. High explains, “bloody war analogies, blood sucking, and tribal alliances” to bring to the fore “the ideas of racial superiority, kinship, intra-species competition and domination.” Another project is a video documentary entitled Death Down Under, documenting a SymbioticA project about death and decay, and eco-friendly or “green” burials. Death Down Under was shot in Western Australia and follows the collaboration of a young fashion designer/artist, Pia Interlandi, and a mad forensic scientist, Ian Dadour. An experimental research project was created between them, allowing Pia to test out her fashion-for-the-dead and Ian, an entomologist who studies human homicide, to research clothing decay on dead victims. Pia and Ian had to amass a team to wash, dress and bury twenty-one dead pigs on a kangaroo reserve. Then they dug up the remains to examine the decay of the ritual burial garments. Death Down Under follows the entire process from gathering the slaughtered pigs to the results in the laboratory. This video looks at our care for the dead—be they human or non-human animals. Ongoing projects include Touching Transgenic Lab Rats. For part of this project, she will present stuffed and mounted specimens of transgenic rats, for which she herself was the taxidermist, for exhibition, as well as recordings of lab rats’ ultrasonic communications in order to produce “musical soundscapes.”
Ms. High’s deep interest in animals, particularly lab animals, and our arguably vampiric relationship with them, has been developing over more than a decade and is evident in such earlier works as her video Animal Attraction (2000), which premiered at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, received an honorable mention at the Black Maria Film Festival, was screened at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, among many other venues, and was broadcast as part of the PBS series REEL New York; and Embracing Animals, a mixed media and sculpture installation with live rats, which was featured in the group exhibition Becoming Animal at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. She has also participated in the group exhibitions The Animal Gaze (London and Plymouth, U.K.), Becoming Animal/Becoming Human (NGBK Gallery in Berlin, Germany), and Intelligent Design: Interspecies Art (UC Riverside’s Sweeney Art Gallery), Corpus Extremus (Exit Art, NYC) to name a few. More recently, she made the video Lily Does Derrida: A dog’s video essay (2010), in which in the character of her dead dog, Lily, she expounds on the man-animal relationship, and reflects on the propositions of various philosophers, with an especial tip of the hat to Jacques Derrida, all from the animal’s perspective.
Other works include I Need Your Full Cooperation (1989), which examines women’s relationship to modern medicine through its dramatic adaptation of the nineteenth-century story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilma; Underexposed: Temple of the Fetus (1993-94), a depiction of how our perceptions of new reproductive technologies are shaped by the media; Zero Visibility (2005), a video commissioned by REEL New York, which, in Ms. High’s words, “explores an imaginary scenario of a city that is being destroyed through secret experiments.”
The common threads running through her oeuvre are science, technology, and art, and in her current position as Associate Professor of Video and New Media at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in The Arts department she specializes in integrated electronic arts practices. She teaches digital video production and post-production, documentary studies, science fiction, and media arts history and theory. Now she also teaches courses in living arts/biological arts. She started the BioArts Initiative at Rensselaer in 2007-2008, a collaboration between the Arts Department and the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. The BioArts Initiative promoted exhibitions and artist residencies encouraging collaboration and dialogue between the areas of art and biotechnology.
Ms. High was founding curator of the video program of the Hallwalls Gallery in Buffalo, New York; the curator of the Microwave Festival in Hong Kong; and programmer and curator of REEL New York. In addition, she founded and for fifteen years was the editor of FELIX: A Journal of Media Arts and Communication; is coauthor, with Sherry Miller Hocking and Mona Jimenez, of TOOLS: Analogues and Intersections: Video and Media Art Histories, a look into the archives of the Experimental Television Center in Oswego, New York; and is coeditor, with Helen di Michael, of Hidden Histories (2006).
In addition to her Guggenheim Fellowship, she has been the recipient of grants or fellowship support from the Rockefeller Foundation Intercultural Media Arts Fellowship, the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Jerome Foundation, and the NEA.