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#81 - Feb. 2001

GETTING NAKED WITH KATHERINE CHRONIS

Interview by Edmar

Katherine Chronis is truly fucked up. If you were lucky some of you may have seen her feel-bad Skapegoat Unlimited performance series where she portrayed a myriad of bad women roles. Or perhaps you may have bumped into her at a subway platform offering salvation for a dollar. Others may remember being served slam poetry with their fritatas at the one time Division St. diner, Twilight.

My history with Chronis goes back a few years and I always knew her as the embodiment of freak. She was always working on something. Our conversations went into a million tangents and post "that problem" she became a prolific psychotic and driven ball of energy. Sadly it was probably these very traits that became a bit too disturbing for the isolated art-clique mentalities that emerged in Chicago post gentrification. Turned off, Katherine moved to the other big city, New York, and has been popping up on the radar screens of many a major media outlet while working on her new performance piece. The photo above merely attests to the fact that Chronis is turning heads (or not) in New York City.


Ed: Over the past year, you've been seen walking in the streets, shopping malls, subway stations and train stations of New York City without your clothes on. This, uh, exhibit, you've been working on is ostensibly titled, "Get Naked." Now, I've seen the video footage of your project and "Get Naked" is more than just taking your clothes off and walking around in public. It's about the notion of stripping down all the barriers or masks or armor we have on as individuals and trying to get an honest reaction from people of this image you are portraying. Can you explain how you got the idea for the project?

Katherine: Well, I've had body issues for a long time, as I'm a female. Puberty really slapped me hard and it was difficult for me to adjust from going every day and being a swift Indian brave to a lumbering, Casaba melon-toting gatherer. I was like, "I am a hunter." I was very confused. I was really into unisex, so with puberty, and tits and hips, I felt I couldn't really be unisex anymore.

I come from a very old culture. I'm the first generation born in the U.S. So I'm the alien. I'm the transitional one. I'm the one who's not acting right in the place that I am acting right but can't be perceived because it's from light years ago-these people, who I love dearly. So that messed me up a lot.

I did experiment with my breasts — I hid them for years. As soon as I hid my breasts, men would try and expose them. As soon as I discovered that they were trying to expose what was hidden, and put them out — they couldn't see my tits. Hardly any, except for jocks, but you know jocks are the rapists of the world. So, you know it's very interesting.

And I also found that I was hiding myself from everybody, and I started to examine myself and wonder why I was hiding. What was I hiding? I couldn't figure out what I was hiding, but I knew I was supposed to hide. OK, so I started to come out. I received a lot of opposition and a lot of problems.

Do you remember the woman that you saw in the Grand Central station video segment who was screaming, "Police" and was very vehement against what I was doing? You must understand that she is a representative of people I've encountered my whole life. I may have been wearing apparel, but I wasn't acting the way that they wanted me to act. So the more I started to experience repercussions of a negative nature, I started to focus on them. But then I realized, once again, that I have to focus on the positive and I realized I was reaping a lot of benefit and a lot of the true golden nectar of life as a result of the negative repercussions because the balance came in.

Ed: So this woman acting as a "cop" is an example of a person reinforcing society's notions of what is appropriate...

Katherine: I'm acknowledging them...

Ed: You're acknowledging them and you're actually engaging them. I see your work as an act of engagement with people's programmed attitudes about what is acceptable in our common space and lives and asking them to "strip" these attitudes away. What are the things that have kept people from understanding what "getting naked" can be? What are you confronted with when you meet these people?

Katherine: It's fear. It's fear that keeps people hidden. And I don't think there is anything wrong with masks or dressings or playing roles at all. I think it's very useful. But we all are limited as individuals and only together can we get a full viewpoint. I'm here to say that my rawness and my not willing to accept what I am supposed to be from anybody else makes me a target for others. So it's basically just showing myself.

If you notice in the video, I don't do anything. I'm just there...

Ed: And that's the beauty of it. You're just doing the everyday, public and mundane things that people do in life... walking to the subway, shopping for groceries, strolling down a street.

Katherine: But it's my image that people are perturbed by. Not my actuality, not my actions, it's not what I'm doing. It's not my belief system, really; although, an act like that kind of implies or infers. But still, nobody knows why I'm doing it.

Another thing is that it's been very interesting for me to find out that I am very protected as a creature in this capacity, in this world, living this way. I am protected. People are not sure if I'm crazy or not. And they do get away from me. But I look for connections. But you know what, it's very clear and it's very direct, who my people are.

Ed: Right, you can actually divide the "actors" in the video pieces into several camps For example, the groups of people I was most enamoured with were the ones that were trying to help you when the cops were on your trail.

Katherine: They were great. They stayed the whole time. It was a lot longer than what you saw. They stayed the whole time. And people do that to make sure that the authorities know that there is support for people like me and god bless those people. I love those people.

Ed: What other types of humans did you encounter? What were the operating systems that people behave in when they witness you?

Katherine: Well, I've noticed that black women, let loose and start screaming laughter-not every black woman-but I'm just saying that there are some kind of threads that connect this. I've also noted that the Hassidims usually cannot see me. And they are really good. They are on it. And I've noticed that no man will say anything derogatory to me on his own, but if there's three men, they'll say something like, "Hey, you're ass is fucked up." It's true, it's only groups of men that feel comfortable to say something like that. I've also noticed that older white women are very pissed off at me. But some of them are cool. Some of them have come up and expressed total support and think that it's beautiful. A lot of people, all across the board, different cultures, will say, "You know what, you loosened up my day. I had a really uptight day and that image just totally made me feel comfortable, and it was funny, it took me out of my reality." The Chinese people-I went to China town-generally just giggle and are very polite, but they will giggle. It's very soft. However, they did not clutch their children away from me.

You know it's weird. I have to really sit down and study it. I've been cranking for a long time, and it takes a while to sift through this information. So I'm studying it.

Another thing I'm noticing that's very interesting is that the police are supportive of me. Like they don't want to arrest me, and I treat them like people too. If someone is upset by my image, I just say, "Well, I'm not what I appear to be anyway, so what's the big to-do about?" I have to deal with advertisements for movies, for products that I'm not interested in. I listen to people talking about television shows and credit card bills all the time. I don't have that kind of reality and I'm surrounded by it all the time. And I have to watch myself, and be diligent, and be careful not to get sucked up into it, because it is so prevalent and innocuous that I know I have programs in me that I can't even fathom. I'm really into eradicating programs. Some programs that I know are not mine, I want to keep-but I don't want all of them. And I do want to know what's in me. It's a very arduous task. The more distractions or things that are not important to me that I can keep out of my life, the better. But, you know I say to the people that are disturbed by a naked person, people are disturbed by them too, that this is the beauty of living with a whole bunch of different people together.

Ed: How do you encourage people to "get naked"?

Katherine: You know, I don't think "getting naked" is for everyone. And I would say if people are hiding and if they question themselves and wonder, "why am I hiding who I am and why am I keeping myself down, when I don't necessarily want to?" I would say, just try revealing yourself in any way that you can. You know, I'm sure that you'll have a lot of glitches and you'll appear like a big asshole and make a lot of mistakes, but at least it's living.