march 18, 2018
Ava: So, we’re here with Kass Patselas in Corner Office for a catch-up before her show this Saturday, March 24, 2018.
Adele: It’s our one year anniversary show, because we had our grand opening on March 25, 2017. I feel like there’s a lot of cyclical cohesion with this show.
Kass: Yeah. It’s gonna be a party.
Ava: Can you talk about your experience at Penland? Let’s start with that, because that seemed transformative.
Kass: Penland was really weird. It was good. It was very different from the previous times I’d been there. I’d only been for the two week sessions. It was interesting because I spent a lot of time feeling isolated and learned some things about myself. The group there was small—the class I took was the most awesome class and I loved Hillary [Waters Fayle] and Leigh [Suggs] as teachers—but we didn’t talk a lot, so I spent a lot of time in my head. It was different from other times I’d been there where I quickly identified people I was very close to and built lasting relationships. Even though there were a lot of cool people there this time, it really felt like everyone stayed in their own lane. It’s literally probably what people picture residencies being like—isolated in the woods. I had this really cool conversation with Hillary. We were talking about what success would look like for us. For me, I said that success would either be achieving a level of social support and recognition or I’d completely abolish the need for such a thing. That was one of the things I mentioned. I think I reached a level of accepting myself and not needing so much affirmation from peers, and just spent a lot of time alone.
Ava: How does it feel being back in Richmond, having graduated from VCU? I know when we talked this time last year you were struggling with that last lap of the race, or whatever metaphor you want to use. You were just about to graduate and you were 110% over school.
Kass: My mood and my happiness levels since graduating are so much better. I’m so happy and feel I’m putting my energy into things that are meaningful. I don’t want to say that the end of school didn’t feel meaningful, but it felt like purgatory. I didn’t understand how it was going to culminate. I feel really productive right now. I feel really happy about the people I’m giving my energy to. It was great to read the things I was supposed to read, and sometimes I got a lot from the assignments, but I guess I was so ready to be a part of the world, to manifest all of the things that school is supposed to lead you to. I was in school an extra year. I felt like it wasn’t going anywhere. Those final things I had to do to get that degree—I was just so tired of being there.
Adele: Penland is a school atmosphere, but very short term. I’ve actually only ever been to Penland as a visitor. Can you talk about the differences between being at Penland and being at a college or university?
Kass: Penland doesn’t have a specific curriculum; it doesn’t have an end goal. It gives you an environment and the resources and facilities to do what you feel you need to do. I went to school because I loved to make things and had very clear ideas about what I wanted to make and I think my work has always looked very much like me, I just literally needed the resources and the space. At first, being at a conservatory [SAIC] seemed like the right thing, but then I decided to move to VCU for a lot of different reasons. Being in a university setting was also the wrong thing for me, because a lot of things in the general curriculum you have to go through felt so arbitrary and banal at times. Like, back to public school, where you’d do a worksheet and they’d give you an A, or a grade, or a degree. Penland is like a school without the arbitrary rules and systems. It’s a place I can go and focus on my work and be supported and be around other people who care a lot about what they’re doing. That’s what’s great about Penland.
Adele: The community is so strong.
Kass: Yeah, people start to know you, and Penland connections are crazy.
Ava: ...and then you can be a core fellow!
Kass: For the love of god, please. I’m going to apply this year, just to see what happens. I don’t know how I feel about it, though. Like, we’re talking about schools and institutions and being part of things and I don’t know if I would shit out by the final mile of Penland.
Kass: Well it was weird because it wasn’t a dynamic time, at least for me and what I witnessed. I’m sure people were going through some dynamic stuff or maybe there was some interpersonal relationship stuff but I just watched people have existential crises or wonder what they were doing or wonder if their experience as a core fellow had culminated into them reaching some goal. I don’t know who I am or where I want to be sometimes, and I wonder, do core fellows go there to realize themselves? But at the end it’s not like graduate school, where you get a degree. I wonder if I expect being a core fellow to take me somewhere or if I expect it to take up my time and give me some kind of prestige—but what beyond that? Am I going to feel as lost as I do now or even when I was in school?
Ava: I think that has to be inevitable because the idea of finding yourself—in general, I don’t think that happens. At least not in your 20s or early 30s. I don’t know, maybe by the time you’re 40, or in your 50s, or something, maybe you have a better idea.
Kass: I had this frightening conversation with this drunk woman last night, she was talking to me at Flora and she was like, “you know, I don’t know who I am and I’m never going to figure that out. You thought that you’d be at the point you’re at now and you thought you’d have some things figured out.” She was just like, “you know, you can’t even imagine where you’re going to be when you’re my age,” which was like, 38. And I really understood that for maybe the first time. Feeling like I’m floating now, but I can’t imagine being 38 and not knowing—I can’t even imagine being 38, you know?
Ava: Yeah, I can’t imagine having this floating feeling—searching for land—for the next 20, 30 years? Lord help us.
Kass: My paintings are about floating.
Ava: Oh yeah, that’s perfect! Can you talk about your paintings for a minute?
Kass: I feel like I’ve reached this really good place with water and biology and studying the largeness and smallness of things to describe that existential feeling of floating. There’s the perspective you have that allows you to describe not knowing but walking through the world and feeling very large and very small at times, and that perspective shifts as you age. I think that for me, studying some of the largeness—landscapes, space—is not so different from studying microbial forms. Microbes hold this kind of primeval knowledge. They relate to form and they relate to our being and they are an abstract shape that’s floated throughout time and existence in somewhat the same way we do, but in a more sentient or, I guess, presumably sentient way. The microbes reference human figures in my work and are also plant-like and biological. The only thing that’s grounded in tangible reality, for me, is that biological functions keep happening and are a part of the world around us and happened before us and will happen after us. We’re just a part of a system; at the same time, our sentience and our own understanding of the world around us feels so big. The filter of everything we see and experience, and how we intake that, and our emotional capacity to understand—these are the only things we know.
Ava: What are you feeling really excited about right now?
Kass: I’m obviously really excited for this show. I’m really excited for the sense of community that I’ve built around myself in a more sustainable way over the past year, and for that to culminate at the show. I think in the past I’ve tried to put on parties or events, and I’ve put a lot of effort into them. I’m putting a lot of effort into making the work but I just want to be really relaxed at the opening. I’m super excited for how that will turn out socially and with the people in my life.