50 Shades of Kayla Polan

Welcome to Dirty Laundry!

Dirty Laundry is an indie artist run blog about indie artists, aiming the spotlight where it might not be shining brightly enough already. Here I ask them 21 questions in the form of 12 (give or take) and let them curate their own interview with what art of theirs they wanted to speak about.

In the recent rise of BDSM popularity due to 50 Shades of Grey, hold on, if you’re wondering what BDSM is let me first explain. BDSM is the combined abbreviation of Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism. It describes the sexual practices of what you may consider taboo and/or kinky. Whips, Chains, Leather and the likenesses. I could easily get into a deep conversation about the meaning of these terms and their origination but lets be honest with our busy schedules I’m surprised you read this much. So instead I asked a handful of people what their definition of BDSM was (without any preceeding context or allowing them a second chance to correct it).

“Isn’t that some kinky shit that people are ashamed to admit that they do but that’s secretly a universal turn on” -Allegra

“BDSM is dirty for the sake of dirty” -Skye

Baked, Dank, Southern  Mesculine” -Dustin

“Lol that’s like bondage and stuff right?” -Jimmy

So, moving on- 50 Shades of Grey sparked a lot of controversy in the real life BDSM community as many said it gave them a bad rap while displaying notions of abuse rather than the consensual and safe practice of BDSM. However, we have to all agree that it did influence the recent movement of your everyday couples being more apt to try light bondage in their bedrooms. Kayla Polan, is a young artist from Calgary, Alberta living in Toronto at the moment. She specializes in painting, drawing and empowering women through the taboo. I did a short interview with Kayla on her art, femininity and who that dude is in all her paintings.

  1. Why did you choose the pieces you did and explain them a little?

For the post I chose three of my paintings, “Something’s Burning (And It’s Not Our Love),” “I Guess We’re Calling In Sick Today,” and “Bubble Trouble.” They’re part of a series I’ve been working on of oil paintings and plastic sculptures that explore themes of domesticity, alternative relationship lifestyles, fetishism, and BDSM. The paintings are of my partner and I performing sexual scenarios over breakfast. Breakfast is chosen as it is the start of one’s daily routine; the day begins as normal.

Kayla Polan_Somethings Burning (And Its Not Our Love)_40x30"_2015.jpg

Something’s Burning (And It’s Not Our Love), oil on canvas, 40×40”, 2015

In “Something’s Burning” we’re snorting a pile of Viagra through gas masks, and behind them on the counter are eggs about to be made with massage oil. In “I Guess We’re Calling In Sick Today” the idea is that Adam puts me on the St. Andrews cross and then gets in the cage with his newspaper and coffee and throws away the key. By both of us being equally screwed, I’m disrupting any notion of submissive or dominant roles entirely. And in still life “Bubble Trouble” it is implied that the dishes will be washed with the toilet brush facemask, mocking expectations of the proper way to execute kitchen duties.

Kayla Polan_Bubble Trouble_16x12"_2016.jpg

Bubble Trouble, oil on canvas, 16×12”, 2016

In my work I imagine the home as a space of mutual pleasure for all parties, rejecting a utilitarian domesticity. Just as I reject the idea that sex must be utilitarian/reproductive. This series is largely about trying to redefine the domestic sphere, and expand upon normative understandings of sex and sexuality. I chose these three for the post because I think they’re some of my funnier works. Humour is especially important to me, as I think it makes the work more approachable and eliminates some of the taboo of the subject matter.

Kalya Polan_I Guess We're Calling in Sick Today_40x30"_2016.jpg

I Guess We’re Calling In Sick Today, oil on canvas, 40×30”, 2016

2. Where did you go to school? Did you feel going to art school was integral to you as an artist? Or a bust?

I did my BFA at OCAD University in Toronto. I’ve always said that art school is what you make of it. I worked really hard all through school, I had very little social life (which I’m completely okay with), and I tried to make the most of the resources at my disposal. For me art school was integral because the classes that I took and the people that I met greatly affected my art practice now. Plus there were times in school when I intensely struggled and had no idea what I was doing art-wise, and I am grateful for going through that in a space where I was offered guidance. The truth is that I love school; I actually hope to apply for an MFA or an MA in Visual and Critical Studies next year. And then a PhD down the road because I have a boner for theory. That being said, I think I would still get to where I am now without school; it just may have taken me a bit longer. Some of the most important things I’ve learned have been in this past year out of school.

3. What type of art do you enjoy? What art do you consider overrated by everyone?

I like a range of art, whether it’s installation, new media/video, performance, burlesque, abstract painting or modern art like Suprematism – its category doesn’t really matter to me as long as I find the work thought provoking in some way. Or if it makes me laugh! I like Pop Art because it can be tricky – it’s hard to tell if it’s celebrating or mocking. I like that it creates an awareness of the meaning of contemporary existence, as well as depicts the consumer environment and its mentality; ugliness becomes its attraction.

I think beauty is overrated; trying to make something beautiful (whatever that even means) has never been the goal for me. I also think marketplace feminism in art can be overrated, depending on how it’s done. I recently read Andi Zeisler’s book “We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrl to Cover Girl” (which I would highly recommend), and she talks about the kind of mainstream consumer feminism that has transformed gender equality from a collective goal to a consumer brand. Using feminist language to sell products, putting the word “empower” or “choice” or “feminist” on it in big bold letters, colourful Instagram or Tumblr feeds, simple themes of sisterhood, and magazine editorials about being yourself can all be overrated. Sure I’ve bought into it too, I have a t-shirt that says “my pussy my choice” and my leather jacket sports a “feminist killjoy” pin all year round. I just think that feminist art is historically anti-capitalist, and should be inherently critical. So while marketplace feminism in art may have feel-good vibes (which I appreciate, we need more feel-good vibes in art), I’m critical of the 100k+ followers, endless Internet articles, and mainstream success that it often gets.

4. How long do you stay in the studio? What’s the longest you’ve gone without showering for the love of art?

There are weeks where I’m in the studio everyday from 10am till midnight. But then the following week I may not go at all. I don’t like to push it if I’m not feeling creative, so instead I’ll work on other things at home.

Honestly I think the longest I’ve gone without showering for the love of art is about a week! Maybe longer when I was doing my thesis, I even slept in the studio some nights (in my office chair no less, not the most comfortable). Still to this day you can often find me rocking baggy paint-covered mom jeans and greasy hair 😉

5. What mediums do you prefer and/or wish you could use?

I wish I could use ceramics, but I am god awful with clay. I touch clay and it turns to shit. I don’t like when a material has a mind of its own. And that’s not to say that I’m impatient, quite the opposite actually. My favorite thing is to oil paint a three-inch portion of a 4x4ft canvas for hours on end with a paintbrush that’s one bristle wide like the most anal person in the world. That’s also why I love screenprinting and plastics, two mediums designed for the supremely anal. The problem with plastics is that I have no idea how to continue working with it outside of school. I would love to master plastics well enough to produce some large-scale sculptures, like I’m talking an unsightly Jeff Koons kind of big, but I have no idea how to go about that. What I really want is a plastics mentor.

6. How does the older generation respond to your work? What do your parents think?

The older generation of artists responds to my work well, some of the best feedback I’ve been given is from the older generation. I’m not sure about the older generation of the general public because my only connection to the non-artists of that generation are my grandparents in the Czech Republic and they definitely don’t get it. But much like my parents, my grandparents don’t always get it but they have always been supportive of me pursuing the arts.

Of course it’s sometimes going to be awkward for my parents, I’m their daughter so no doubt my work is weird for them. But my parents have come a long way in the past couple years in regards to how they understand my work. My step dad even helped me figure out how to make the watermelon handcuffs. They understand that the work I’m doing is so fundamentally me. And they’ll always be two of my best friends and biggest supporters so I appreciate their effort.

7. As a woman do you find it liberating to be so open about your sexuality? Do you think bondage is degrading or empowering to women?

I do find it liberating. It bothers me that women who are open about their desires and sexuality face a pointedly hostile environment. I have a body that I have to live in so I’d rather embrace it, even if I may be interpreted as another’s object of desire. To quote Joanna Frueh, “As long as I am an erotic subject, I am not averse to being an erotic subject.”

Bondage can be both, its subjective depending on a woman’s past experiences, her own outlooks on bondage, and what she wants. BDSM can be empowering to women in a lot of ways, and I’m referring only to those interactions that are safe, sane, and consensual. It can subvert unequal social structures (through performance or role play), be an escape from social inequalities, and can create new possibilities of experience, particularly in relation to gender. The argument that bondage trivializes women’s safety at the expense of another’s pleasure incorrectly assumes a universal meaning of sexuality for all women. It is important to recognize a woman’s agency in sexual interactions. And sometimes it’s really liberating to explore and push your boundaries in a safe space.

8. How do you feel about the cinematic train wreck that was 50 Shades of Grey? Is your sex life kinkier? Do you feel you should remake it?

50 Shades of Grey was a cheesy, poorly written train pileup. Their relationship was abusive, which is typical of mainstream media to represent kink as a symptom of pathology. He was a stalking her. She said “no” multiple times and then went through with it anyway, which trivializes consent and teaches people that you don’t have to take a woman’s word seriously. And she only went through with it because she ultimately wanted a monogamous relationship with him, not because she actually wanted to try any of that. Which serves to make their behavior seem more acceptable because it falls under normative American sexuality (white, upper-class, heterosexual, monogamous). The movie doesn’t stress safety or education either, so people inspired to try bedroom BDSM after watching it could hurt themselves or others. I could go on and on.

Ha! Everyone’s sex life is kinkier, that was like the diet frozen pizza of kink. Virgins have kinkier sex lives with themselves. If I were to make a movie about kink I would do it totally differently, but I’ll leave that to someone else. Or who knows maybe I will one day.

9. Who are the models for your paintings? Can they keep a straight face when posing?

The models for my paintings up until this point have actually been my partner and I. And we definitely struggle to keep our faces straight; most of the reference photos you don’t see are of us hysterically laughing. Like when we were taking photos for “I Guess We’re Calling in Sick Today,” Adam was so uncomfortable in the cage he was laughing and crying in between yelps from muscle cramps. Posing for reference photos makes for hilarious memories for us.

I’m starting a new painting series soon, featuring a wide variety of people that I admire. I look forward to seeing whether or not they’ll be able to keep their faces straight, which I’m already guessing they won’t be!

10. If you died and reincarnated as any artist who would it be? Why?

I’m going to say Louise Bourgeois. I think we have a lot of the same interests, being domesticity and the family, sexuality and the body, archetypal imagery, psychology, and death. Not to mention she lived to be almost 100, so at least I know I’d have a long life.

11. Do you think painting is dead?

I’d like to think that painting is not dead, that there is value in hand-made work because we live in an increasingly digital world. I’m doing a mini-series now called “Pancakes For One Aren’t Always Depressing,” which consists of four very similar paintings; they vary from each other only slightly. Painting is interesting to me when it shouldn’t be the vehicle of articulation at all, when photography or performance could’ve easily done a better job. Also the way we think about painting has changed in contemporary art, paintings are no longer windows into scenes but they’re objects in their own right now. But maybe I’m just in denial.


Website: http://www.kaylapolan.com

Instagram: @kaylapolan

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