Katelyn Kopenhaver is one of those artists that makes you question everything, so it is no wonder that she was awarded the 2021 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship in Interdisciplinary Work. As a fashion and portrait photographer, she has worked with clients like The Cut, Netflix, and New York Magazine while also building an impressive body of personal work. As a photographer and multimedia artist out of New York City, she weaves into her practice the unsettling realities that hover just below the surface of our consciousness. "Kopenhaver is preoccupied with societal oversight, crucial moments that are seen but forgotten, the glimpse of an act between two people that alarms us, an instant where we ask ourselves, "should I intervene?". Her work includes performance, installation, photography, and an ethical and sustainable fashion line.
A Line of Kope, Kopenhavers fashion line, was born out of her project Predators and Prey which she began in 2016. She began collecting and repurposing vintage-sourced fur coats. "In my exploration of the animalistic, vicious side of humans combined with my daily experience living in New York City, the coats spawn social conflicts and disputes any time they're in public. Individuals either feel disgusted or exhilarated, angry, or elated. They contain outward messages full of rage and expose truths, but also are utilized as a protective shield, my second skin." Kopenhaver chose to paint messages on the back of the coats in red, white, or black letters that tease us with our basic animal nature and tendency towards violence. But she pushes the conversation further, and it is in this that I find her work so engrossing.
PRAY PREY PRAY PREY YOU ARE NOT FOLLOWING ME BEAR BARE BEAR BARE CORRUPTION WALKS IN DISGUISE
With these carefully selected texts imperfectly painted on the back of once-loved, controversial luxury items she pulls together ideas of wealth, power, vulnerability, predatory behavior, violence against women, base desires, fear, and intimacy. And this is the base narrative of her all her current work. Her work brings to mind Barbara Kruger, who in the '80s and '90s used the language of advertising to challenge the viewer and ideas of the time relating to consumerism, feminism, and autonomy. Kopenhaver forces us to question what we are told and what we think we know. She encourages us to wear our truth and question everything. Unlike more pop-feminism consumer culture where women are encouraged to buy "girl power" and "this is what a feminist looks like" T-shirts from major brand names latching onto a lucrative trend, A Line Of Kope digs deep into the daily experience of non-cis white males and social media's influence on our lives. With products reading "A mass majority of your reality is well-crafted performance art", "truth sounds better censored" and "suffocated/ speak but don't talk" she offers you to join her performance and bring our anger and experience with us.
At Pen + Brush Gallery in 2019 Kopenhaver performed Brown Hair, Brown Eyes. An 80-minute non-linear sequence of scenes "that speak about predation, violence, the bought and sold, and the everyday female experience. Using two free-standing doors as a representation of space - dangerous or not. Some scenes played multiple times, with different outcomes." In some scenes, nothing happened, while in others she was violently attacked and had to fight her assailant, all while a gallery of people watched. The ultimate question she is posing in this sequence is who watches a desperate situation and turns away and who helps?
In 2019 Kopenhaver began scrawling in black paint on discarded mattresses she found on the street the message She Was Last Seen. Adopting the almost cliche media phrase used to describe missing persons (usually women) with the implication of violence. Through a blend of public installation and documentary photography Kopenhaver is able to attack our awareness on two fronts. Those who pass the mattresses in the street get a jarring and brutal reminder that violence is happening around us all the time, even when we may feel safe and our routine becomes mundane. Then through the photographs, she instills the grittiness and isolation of the experience of the victim. The mattress is a perfect substitute for a body, either dead or last known location, suggesting not only violence but sexual motivation as well.
Kopenhaver was rightly appalled by the events surrounding the Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell sex trafficking and child rape case that sullied the headlines in 2020 and that outrage spurred her next art piece. With a white bedsheet with the messy black painted words, EPSTEIN IS THE WORST KIND OF VIRUS (her predator banner) she hung it outside his home and frequented places. Kopenhaver's research led her to uncover "the institutional corruption that procures and protects such atrocities and psychopathic personalities." This desire to reveal and dismantle power structures that protect the predators among us runs deeply through every piece of her portfolio.
Kopenhaver's work pulls together all the threads of a million subtle bits of knowledge that we keep shoved in the back of our minds and weaves them into a tapestry of unavoidable truth. She uses the language of fashion (bought, sold, value) to sell awareness and instigate change through that awareness. Kopenhaver's entire portfolio holds a desire to reawaken the viewer to the ugly aspects of our world that we are taught to ignore, accept or simply make us uncomfortable. She encourages us to be loud and steadfast in our stance against the powers that be and leads through example. Kopenhaver is able to successfully use the language of our media and news outlets to remind us that we have become accustomed to dismissing atrocities and to challenge those power dynamics that enable them to keep occurring. Whether it is a performance outside a sexual predator's Manhattan home or a repurposed handbag, her voice doesn't quiver.