Kate Durbin Interview

Originally posted on DUM DUM Zine

DUM DUM Zine (DD): Hihi Kate it’s Taleen! Ready for our txt msg interview? 

Kate Durbin (KD): Hey grrrrl, excited bout this! Thanks for interviewing me!

DD: Here we go: can you send me 3 images that have been inspiring your work lately? 

KD: Here are the images:

The Collyer brothers

Isla Vista killer Elliot Rodger in his BMW (YouTube screen cap)


DD: Rad! Is this inspiring the video footage I’ve noticed you post? Tell me about “The Supreme Gentleman.”

KD: Each of these images is related to a different project; I work on multiple things at once. But the second image is inspiration for “The Supreme Gentleman.” I originally performed this piece for the Yes All Women benefit in Los Angeles, curated by Jessie Askinazi. The piece at its essence is a demon possession piece about Elliot Rodger, the Isla Vista shooter. For the piece, I reenacted Rodger’s final YouTube video. I released the video with Art 21.

It’s hard to describe, but one thing I’m thinking about with the video version is the viral nature of these school shootings, the role the Internet and the media play in perpetuating toxic masculinity, fear, and hatred. And how we participate in that as a culture.


I did it

I watched “The Supreme Gentleman”

I have to tell you, it took me awhile to bolster the courage and I’m so glad I did. It felt safer to watch than to see the actual footage (which I tried to watch but his insidious snark made me want to break my laptop). It felt empowering, really. The farce, the embodiment of his hatred, it was so, so powerful. I’m grateful it exists.

What made you choose to change your inflection from “feminine” to “masculine” at the midpoint?

KD: Man I would brace myself to watch that video, too! Every time I perform “The Supreme Gentleman” is tough, and I always want to avoid it. But it is ultimately healing.

That’s interesting that you read the squeaky voice as feminine; I read it more as pre-pubescent, even cartoon like. I call it the mouse voice. I was thinking of making it whiny, sort of mocking the childishness of these goals: owning a woman, feeling entitled.

The voice switching accomplishes a few things, but one is I think it reveals the danger when these childish ideals are held by adults who can purchase guns. I don’t mean to insult actual children, though, who often have more intelligence and sense that grown men.

DD: Oh that is so interesting!! Initially I thought you were trying to mock his conception of one of the blonde girls as whiny. 

I guess it’s all the same though, right? Because the negativity he projects onto them ultimately belongs to him regardless. That whiny fuck face!

Wow yes, that transition felt grim and foreboding as hell

Could you tell me more about the selfie stick? Selfies at large also come up in your other work, such as “Hello Selfie.” Curious what inspired you to include it in this piece as well.

KD: I think the read of blonde girls as whiny totally works too. I’ve had people hear my valley girl voice in there, and I’m fine with that. As a valley girl myself, I’m all for getting people to rethink their prejudices against valley girls!

He was totally whiny and pathetic but at the same time, I feel sorry for him. None of what he wanted was his own. He totally bought into the social Darwinist model he had observed in the world around him and in his family’s world and online. He could see no value outside of the commodification of everyone and everything, including himself – “the true alpha male.” I’m not excusing his inexcusable actions, which are beyond comprehensible, rather I think that these ideals are like infections in our culture and affect all of us. He wanted to be a star, and the criminal is the ultimate star in the late capitalist spectacle machine.

As for the selfie stick, it seemed weapon like and phallic. But I also have been thinking about how our mediated/surveilled experience of the world right now is expanding its totalizing reach. Like, there’s something really creepy and enticing about the selfie stick getting longer and longer. Like, going up to space.

DD: I’m from the valley too! And yeah people definitely need to step away from that prejudice. I remember in her biopic, Kathleen Hanna talked about how she and her riot grrrl friends used to speak in a valley accent ON PURPOSE to sound well travelled! 

Gosh, yeah. He was truly just reduced to a shell. I’m remembering all the horrifying Reddit posts that basically all sounded exactly alike and reinforced all the capitalist Darwinian conditioning. 

The selfie stick is the new camera lens phallus isn’t it?

KD: Totally!

DD: Where are you headed to now? A Seattle reading right? 

KD: Yes. My extended family lives up here, too.

DD: Awesome! Is this related to ABRA

KD: I’ll be reading from a bunch of reality tv inspired work for this reading, but we can talk about ABRA for sure.

DD: Great. I first heard about ABRA through the lovely flyer Aurora Lady made and it tripped. Me. Up.

KD: I loved Auroras flyer!

DD: I just made my first poem

Do I get to keep artistic license over it? Just curious!

KD: Have you touched the cadabra button yet? It’s in the upward middle of the screen. And yes, you totally could publish this if you wanted. You would just include a note that you used the app to help create it. My collaborators and I would be so thrilled to see that.

DD: That’s so wonderful! Cadabra = Epic and surprising transformation! It reminds me of the original zine cut and paste approach to poetry making, yet it’s digitized. Also the David Bowie approach to lyric writing too. 

 I ask about the license because so much thoughtful loving work has been put into it, so I was wondering how to attribute…especially since it’s a living text via the graft option! It belongs to everybody and nobody at once.

How did you and collaborators choose the words (especially initial ones) to put in the database? 

KD: What is the David Bowie approach to lyric writing?

ABRA totally belongs to everyone and no one at once. Our goal was a text that went beyond its creators, to take on a life of its own. One that became the readers own when they read/wrote it.

The initial text was composed by poet Amaranth Borsuk and myself. We got together around seven years ago and created an intricate collection of mutating, conjoined poetry. Our experience creating that text was the impetus for wanting to make an app, because we wanted the book to continue mutating beyond us, for others to join the hive mind.

DD: Bowie used the cut-up technique that also reminds me so much of punk zines. ABRA is sort of like a digitized elegant dance of the cut up method in motion…and it’s also working with the database…which blows my mind! 

Speaking of cut-up and poetry, I love the new poetry piece “Tara” based on the show Hoarders that you premiered last week on Poets.org.! The juxtaposition between intention and object is so satisfying. What inspired the idea?

KD: My process was developed over the course of writing the first several hoarders poems. This was an early one, so I can’t remember if I had ironed out all my constraints yet.

After writing E!, which centered on mostly rich women like the Kardashians as objects – and their objects, like Birkins – I wanted to expand my exploration of the US’ relationship to “stuff” at this moment in late capitalism. I wanted to let the objects on the show tell their stories–about their owner’s lives as well as the personal and socio-political and historical traumas that haunt this country.

DD: What inspired the setting in Florida?

KD: Like the show I write the poems as portraits. Each episode has two peoples’ stories, and those people come from different places in the US. I basically turn each episode into two different poems, one for each person. The poems are named after the people, like the episodes are.

I transcribe the dialogue and also the objects on the screen. Then I weave them together. Overall it’s true to screen. It’s hard to write Hoarders bc it is so painful to watch. I always end up crying. It brings up a lot of stuff with my own family, too.

DD: Thanks for sharing so much of your personal thoughts and work with me over text all month.

KD: thank u mermaid

DD: Final question: what keeps you inspired and astonished as a creator? 

KD: Pop culture feeds my work, and it astonishes me in both good and bad ways.


Kate Durbin is a Los Angeles-based writer and performance artist who shows at Transfer Gallery in Brooklyn and has performed at the Pulse Art Fair, MOCA, the Hammer, and elsewhere. She is author of The Ravenous Audience (Akashic Books), and E! Entertainment (Wonder). Abra, an intermedia project with Amaranth Borsuk and Ian Hatcher, received an NEA-funded Expanded Artists’ Books grant from the Center for Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College, Chicago and will be issued in 2015 as an artists’ book and integrated iPad app. A trade edition is forthcoming from 1913 Press. Durbin is founding editor of Gaga Stigmata, and her tumblr project, Women as Objects, archives the teen girl tumblr aesthetic. She was the 2015 Arts Queensland Poet-in-Residence.