Every week, I’ll be doing a mini feature on my site (& blasting it on social media) on activists, artists, and educators who are doing important things in the world. Like Levar Burton, the only thing these folks have in common is that I like them, and I hope you do too.
This week’s feature is Katie Tandy.
Katie’s work is mind-melding. From breathtaking personal journalism to rock operas of Pygmalion, she’s the sort of multi-talented weirdo we all want to be. On top of it, she’s helped to start a feminist media company, she maintains a full social calendar, and she owns more crop tops than anyone I know.
 

Where can we find your work?

Oh! You can find a lot of it on The Establishment.co, a site I co-founded—holy moly—about two and a half years ago. There’s also a lot of my non-fiction writing on Ravishly—which I co-founded around 2013. I’ve also done a lot of local journalism work here in the Bay on the SF Weekly and the East Bay Express. And because it’s all just a lovingly shameless lady-plug situation around here, there’s also a short film—Puppets—I produced with one of my collaborators Rossella Laeng about an aging master puppeteer, which won Documentary Super Short this summer at the Chain Film Festival in New York. (We got the laurels and everything!) I’m also the lead singer in a very scrappy rock band—The Shattucks—which is basically three of my closet pals and a wonderful randomer (now dear pal) who lays down bass, just getting weird with one another and playing our favorite hot jamz from Bowie and ’90s grunge. I’m also working on a queer rock opera adaptation of Pygmalion; this is a project I’ve literally been wrestling with since graduate school, something like 6 years now. The story haunts me and bringing it to fruition in this particular manifestation—confronting the sexual violence, the role of art in rendering men as demigods, the potent catharsis of music—is like a host of thrumming insects in my chest. I’ve got to finish it and get it out there.

What themes or ideas do you feel your work engages with?
Gosh. In my free time I devour fiction, but I’m fairly terrible at writing it. I’ve only ever written one story I was ever proud of—about a very curmudgeonly old man in New York City who gets his comeuppance by way of urine. This is all to say that I write primarily about myself. I have a sex column—Sex Beasts—which is, much to many people’s chagrin or amusement, part and parcel of my feminism; it is, for me, one of the most potent ways I confront power structures. In talking about my love of physical pleasure, in talking about my thin white body, in talking about penetration and subjugation and orifices and absences, fullness and emptiness, being desired, being humiliated, being silenced—I’m able to confront a preposterous panoply of things. I also like juxtapositioning explicit sex writing alongside philosophy, poetry, and heady gender literary theory; I think in combining “low art and high art” there is a kind of incredible alchemy that occurs in which both are transformed. Sex ceases to be just sex and thoughts cease to be entirely abstract.
I am woman who often feels—and is told—that I am too much—so the dream of my sex writing is that it emboldens other women to be big and bright and unrelenting in their pursuit to be seen and heard and celebrated.
I’ve also written a lot about my childhood. I am obsessed with the nature of family—and time. The intricate threads of faces unfolding, refracting from and into one another; the hauntings of one generation to the next. The stories we tell to make sense of one another and where we came from; the obligations of heart and mind to honor the past or eschew it, to break ties and to reform them. Alcoholism, Catholicism, delusions of grandeur; the strange, quiet desperation of WASPs and very sad, very trapped women; I wrestle and wonder about these things constantly.
 

What part, if any, do you think art plays in times of political duress?

 

Oh god, oh god, this is something I always ask artists and I always feel badly because it’s such a doozy. In short? Yes, yes yes, I believe that art can serve as a vital catalyst for social change. Not only does its creation lance psychological blisters for the creator themselves, allowing them to process their fear, rage, disillusionment, sense of betrayal—a purging of pain which I believe is neccessary to keep fighting—but it emboldens others to create as well.
Beyond the cyclical beauty of that almost archetypal dialogue between creator and consumer, art is subversive. It perverts and undermines and complicates and takes aim at the hierarchies that dominate our life and sense of collective self-worth. It also urges us to slow down, to foster revolution using a different kind of urgency, an urgency that isn’t necessarily swift; by engaging in something seemingly superfluous, I am reminded to slow down. It sounds trite, but life is relentless—it asks so much of us—so allowing yourself to linger in creation, to allow the consideration of a painting, a poem, a lilting melody, is no small gift. It reminds us that our individuality is worthwhile—our thoughts and self-expression are tools of insurrection, but if we never give them the time of day…they’ll rust and corrode and become useless.
 Can you remember the first piece of art— performance, literary, fine, street—you saw/read that wowed you?
I think I’d have to say that there was a two-fold mind-blow when I read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and studied Jacob Riis’s How The Other Half Lives as a sophomore in high school. I can remember so distinctly thinking to myself—with a dawning horror and creeping clarity—that the world was not as it appeared to me cloistered in my boarding school of bricks and khakis. It was, in actuality, a gaping wound and so many were suffering…and had been forever. I can remember feeling angry, helpless, pathetic, spoiled, ashamed of my own ignorance and privilege—all those very real yet self-indulgent 15-year-old feelings—but also feeling so goddamn moved by the beauty of these works. I don’t think I had ever thought about the intersection of art and social justice and the realization that you could render the world so exquisitely, you could craft a story that could bring people to their knees—all the while surfacing real wrongs in the world—was tremendously exciting to me.
What work do you do in the world that you feel proud of?
Honestly, founding the Establishment has been…just incredible. I am a hyperbolic creature, but creating a space where voices and creators that have been silenced or stigmatized or twisted or whitewashed can write or draw or bellow their goddamn hearts out is something to cry about. To let your heart-cockles burst about. Listen. I am a cis, white, thin, able-bodied straight woman. And while I have my own host of mental illness shit and familial trauma which I wrestle with—and often succumb to—I also have to pull the proverbial camera up to a bird’s eye view and try my damndest to put things in perspective. The best thing work I can do is understand the privilege and power of my being and try to make space for every person who wasn’t handed—like me—much of the world on a gilded plate.
The Establishment really has grown into a incredible community—a place where people cross-pollinate their genius and rage and find ways to hold one another up and keep fighting the fight. And certainly we’re not the only ones doing this work—we stand on the shoulders of so many—but joining that chorus has been amazing. I’m so thankful for it.
Tell us a story.

I was living in my first Brooklyn apartment with my best friend from boarding school and had taken Itty—our very old, blind, and almost mute cat from my childhood. I thought she could just live out her days sleeping on my very ugly plaid sofa alongside me in my fledgling adulthood. Instead, the first night we move in—we’re drinking bodega champagne from plastic flutes—Itty starts moaning…loud. Then louder. Then she’s HOWLING. Blood is dribbling from her eyes and matting her face fur. She is in agony. Something snaps inside me. I gently lift her in the bathtub—blood is everywhere, streaking across the white porcelain—and I find a hammer from the living room. I’m wielding the hammer, crying, hysterical, when my friend says, “No one is bludgeoning the cat in the bathtub tonight.”

She finds an all-night emergency vet and we spend a fortune on a cab, careening down the street with Itty inside a duffel bag screaming. The cab driver asks what’s happening. “My cat is dying…she kind of exploded,” I choke out.

Itty was cremated and I never collected her ashes, it made me too sad. But now I know it’s even far, far sadder that she was thrown away. I should have faced the urn. And that’s what they call wisdom I guess.

Katie Tandy is the co-founding editor and creative director of The Establishment, a multimedia publication championing the voices and stories that have been marginalized by mainstream media. She is a memoirist, a fledgling filmmaker and playwright, and a devoted bibliophile. Katie is not an island. She is a sandtrap where anyone and anything interesting is encouraged to stop by and stay forever. 
February 22, 2018 0 comment
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