Riding Switch: works on paper/ Saas-Fee Artist Residency

This text  is an article from 'Her Edit' magazine discussing the realtionship between my work, gender and extreme sport.


Art and Extreme Sport – queering the norm 

Artist, snowboarder and mountain instructor might seem a queer combination, but for Kate Palmer each of these pursuits offers the possibility of transcending the orthodoxy of our expectations of women. Palmer is interested in what lies just outside the cultural and social mainstream – somewhere betwixt and between, a place of ambiguity that challenges our received notions of what defines the female role. As a gay woman Palmer says she happily fails to live up to her prescribed gender role.

 ‘Life can seem a bit tough when faced with established norms and hierarchies, but I think there are areas where regulation is manipulated, played with and challenged and this is clearly evident in contemporary art practice and extreme sports culture’.

 Kate Palmer’s art practice draws on her very real and well-lived experience of an extreme sport – snowboarding, which she clearly revels in and a world where, for Kate, gender is just not an issue.

 ‘Like dance, riding (the term used for snowboarding) is a totally embodied experience – you’re in the moment, alert, thinking, moving; choosing a line and type of turn for each particular terrain’.

In finding this non-gender specific identity, she cites the American post-structuralist Judith Butler who argues in her 1998 publication, Gender Trouble:

‘If the appearance of ‘being’ a gender is thus an effect of culturally influenced acts, then there exists no solid, universal gender: constituted through the practice of performance, the gender ‘woman’ (like the gender ‘man’) remains contingent and open to interpretation and re-signification’.

Back in her studio in east London, Palmer reflects upon and re-explores her ‘tracks or embodied calligraphy in the snow ’this process is arrived at through her drawings, paintings and prints. Using both traditional materials like printing ink, and more contemporary ones like spray paint, Palmer seeks to visually reconcile the experience of the tactile mark and the body and physical act which has created it.

 Earlier this year, Kate was artist in residence in a disused restaurant in the Swiss Alps that is now used as a project space and gallery.

 ‘At 2,750m above sea level, my studio was only accessible by riding down from the top of the mountain or by cable car. It was dramatic and very cold at times, with snow coming through the roof and sub zero temperatures, but I nevertheless made a large body of work called ‘Riding Switch’.

 Post the 2012 Olympics, the sexualized feminine athlete, off the track or arena and attending an awards ceremony or similar red carpet event, is now a familiar one. There is almost a sense of threat if women can achieve great things without the usual proscribed accoutrements that culturally define the feminine. Kate feels that riding, wearing her baggy pants, jacket, helmet and goggles - allows her to engage in a gender non-specific activity – a space for her phantasies of just being - a fellow rider. This confounds more familiar or popular sports where, skiers such as Lindsey Von are required to present an image of heterosexual femininity by posing in bikinis with phallocentric props suggestive of penetration and submission.

Whether in art or extreme sports, attempting to assert that performance can subvert gender constructs is still a challenge. But this is what Palmer hopes to achieve. Within an art world defined by historic old school hierarchies, supported by a robust establishment and fed by large quantities of cash, she sees opportunities to re-evaluate where and how we engage with art liberated from the usual gender prescriptions.

The long years of a Thatcher-led government, antipathetic to the arts, are frequently credited with creating a generation of artists and creative thinkers who were forced to generate opportunities outside of cash-strapped institutions. The current economic climate, defined by ‘austerity measures’, similarly seems to offer the possibility of an autonomous sphere in which to operate. Kate says:

 ‘Artists are working more and more with ‘project spaces’. They’ve always been around, but are now more important than ever. I see these as a third gender of gallery; not for profit contemporary art spaces run by artists, where individuals or groups can exhibit work that doesn’t have the pressure of a dealer or the commercial market directing or influencing the nature of their practice.’

 Similarly, Kate Palmer sees the potential to work as an artist and be involved in extreme sport in order to challenge and subvert these troubling social, cultural and gender constructs.