American media artist Stanya Kahn comes to Manchester this June with a solo exhibition at Cornerhouse. Kahn’s show ‘It’s Cool, I’m Good’ includes new video works and thirty six drawings. Darkly comical, Kahn’s highly performative works strike a balance between humour and survival. The featured thirteen minute video ‘Arms Are Overrated’ (2012) portrays the lives of two bantering puppets made of paper which (spoiler alert) eventually burn alive.
Dazed Digital: Why did you decide to settle in LA?
Stanya Kahn: I had been living in New York and my friend said we could sweep the floors of movie sets for $400 a day in Los Angeles. I love New York but my collaborative partner at the time really wanted to be in LA. LA has a lot of unchartered spaces, and I was attracted to that as an artist.
DD: What got you started in video?
Stanya Kahn: I came to video from live performance, although I started with photography in my high school's art programme. Then I was a dancer for many years while doing a degree. The writing and physicality came together in these live performances I'd make and I spent fifteen years making shows and touring. Then I collaborated on a feature film. That was my first experience making video. After that I made videos in a collaborative team for five years with Harry Dodge.
DD: Who inspires the characters you play in your videos?
Stanya Kahn: I’m inspired by people I meet, and the people in my life. The video ‘It’s Cool, I’m Good’ was inspired by a number of different ideas and experiences including an ex boyfriend who suffered a really drawn out death from AIDS. I had nursed him through that process. As his dementia grew he became cantankerous but also increasingly pointed and funny. He had been a skateboarder and the front halves of his feet had to be cut off from gangrene. I use some of these painful ironies in the video. My work is not autobiographical per se, but I borrow from real experiences.
DD: Are you always funny?
Stanya Kahn: I don't know, am I? Most of the work has some aspect of humour next to things that are difficult. Humour plays a big part in the way I work; it’s just part of the way I think. Sometimes I think something's hilarious and others think it’s really bleak. Sometimes the gravity of the other material might be taken more lightly than I intend. It’s something I always have to think about.
Stanya Kahn’s exhibition ‘It’s Cool, I’m Good’ is on display 23 June to 16 September 2012 at Cornerhouse, Manchester