Local Artists Bring it to the Streets
I recently met with two freshly minted graduates of the Kansas City Art Institute, Heavenly Ehrhart and Kiki Serna. Their year-long thesis project, which culminated in the BFA exhibition at the H&R Block Artspace, revolved around the behavior of catcalling in the Midtown area.
It quickly became clear how complicated this seemingly minor issue is. The artists encountered repeated and often disturbing experiences of women, themselves included, alongside the dismissal women who hadn’t been subjected to similar situations. Ehrhart and Serna also encountered men who were genuinely unaware and surprised at the behavior, alongside the catcallers themselves, either mistakenly convinced that their comments were compliments, or at worst, aggressively aware of their actions.
Ehrhart and Serna’s thesis project explored methods of engagement with these catcallers and included performance, video, printmaking and public outreach. We spoke at length about their process and reactions to it as well as the systemic cultural origins that propagate such micro-aggressive behaviors. Here is an excerpt on how they got started on this year-long project to call out the catcallers.
Rachelle Gardner-Roe: Tell me a little bit about the components of your project.
Heavenly Ehrhart: We really started to approach this project based on research and a lot of what we were thinking about is, “How can we capture micro-agression, or how can we approach micro-aggression that we experience every day as women walking in spaces that we’re supposed to be comfortable in. So we started walking around.
Kiki Serna: We would walk our daily routes. We don’t have cars, and so we walk everywhere. We initially started with a point and shoot camera.
EH: We had the point and shoot and then we had the video recorder. We were trying to, without approaching them, to capture what they were saying, which is something that we asked a lot of questions about early on. What are things that have been said to you in a public space that you’re supposed to be comfortable in? And a lot of women actually had a hard time pinpointing what was said. But they all knew that they weren’t comfortable with it, they knew it was heckling, they knew it was aggressive. They knew that it was, at points, stalking.
We put a hat on and we hid the Go Pro with a little hole in it and were walking around. Any time a guy approached us, looked at us, we would look at them and try to document them without talking to them. Then we got to a point where we were like, ok, we’ve got all this documentation, how can we take the next step that will further this confrontation?
KS: We’re not doing anything constructive. We’re just capturing them, but we’re not solving anything. So we came up with a dialogue.
EH: Yeah, dialogue and questions. And those questions, I think, were the leading factor of our piece after that. So I think one of the questions we started with was “Are you aware that you are making me feeling uncomfortable,” which ended up being the title of the piece, You Made Me Feel Uncomfortable, and Uncomfortable for the BFA.
RGR Are all of those questions listed on the catcalling blog?
EH: Yeah, Heavenly actually made cards that had the statements on them because we at the time when we started to implement these questions a lot of the guys we were talking to would be really stunned. So she made these business cards. We would hand these out to them. We wanted also to facilitate a safe way or comfortable way for the subject to feel safe and to be able to, confront them in this sense, but also feel safe enough to walk away.
KS: I handset each of these type on a machine and then cut all the paper. I thought it was really important, the time put into these, because we give these out for free. They’re not really going to know what letterpress is and the time put in, but I think it was important for us.
To learn more, including what constitutes as catcalling, as well as images and video of the artists’ performance work, visit the artists’ blog at Confronting Catcalling KC.