By Martin Chang
Like many others in America, Kate Durbin found herself fascinated by the world of Reality television. As a poet, Durbin began to watch with a closer eye. From the way that the camera moves from Kardashian to Kardashian, to the carefully manicured rooms of Playboy Bunnies, to the cluttered lives of the victims of addiction on “Hoarders,” she discovered that the humanity revealed on these shows were worthy of the same artistic deep dive as high art.
“I think we still have a stigma around popular culture used as art,” she said. “I’m interested in taking things that are considered low art and turning them into art works that are taken more seriously. I find the shows very fascinating because they speak to our moment in time in a very specific way.”
Durbin also takes a closer look at Reality television since she believes that the media aware nature of the lives of Reality show stars resembles the media driven lives of us all. “I see it as the medium that we live and exist in now,” she said. “We all live very mediated lives. We all have our Facebook pages, our Instagram pages. We represent ourselves both virtually and IRL (in real life) all the time.”
Durbin found the way that people would talk about Reality show stars such as Kim Kardashian “disturbing.” This also inspired her to take an artistic look at the shows. “Even very smart people that might call themselves feminism felt comfortable trashing Kim Kardashian, calling her stupid, those sorts of these things,” she said. Durbin vehemently disagrees with this characterization. “She couldn’t get where she is being stupid,” Durbin said.
Durbin wants to explore how the shows themselves are designed to create these strong feelings in otherwise smart and rationale people. She found that there were real reasons why people had such strong reactions. “The framework of the shows, the camera angles, the way the scenes are set up, work to objectify women and portray them as stupid,” Durbin concluded.
“Close watching” is the way that Durbin describes her process of writing her poetic works. “I watch a little bit of the show. Then I pause the show and write down everything that I had seen,” Durbin explained. This process takes Durbin years. She analyzed one episode of “The Hills” for a year.
Through this close watching, Durbin was inspired by the way that the people on the reality shows related to places and objects that make up the world of these shows. She found the world of the Playboy mansion and the way it was portrayed on “The Girls Next Door” particularly fascinating. For most of the shows run, “The Girls Next Door” portrayed the life of Hugh Hefner and his, at the time, three girlfriends: Holly Madison, Bridget Marquardt, and Kendra Wilkinson. This fascination caused her to create poetic works where Durbin attempted to let “the mansion speaks for itself.”
As a part of the Bakersfield Fan Forum series at the Todd Madigan Gallery at Cal State Bakersfield, Durbin performed a poem about Bridget Marquardt’s room. She performed the poem with a scientific accuracy. Yet her description of the room was not dry, in her voice you could hear both Durbin’s fascinations with Bridget’s life combined with a bit of contempt that she has for a life specifically designed to exploit women. Below are the first few lines of the poem.
This large bedroom is hot pink and organized. The Queen bed’s bright pink comforter is offset with sprays of black and white bunnies with bowties, pillows. There is also a large Hello Kitty pillow. The pink mouse and the pink computer monitor accent the pink desk.
Durbin’s fascination with the objects and places of Reality television eventually led her to the show “Hoarders.” Something Durbin felt was an inevitability. After writing pieces about the rich, as covered in shows like “The Girls Next Door,” she began to wonder how the rest of the people related to places and objects. Durbin explained her line of thinking, “I started to think about ‘well this is the one percent’s relationship to things and stuff, what about the rest of the Country?’” That led her to the thought, “Oh my God, I don’t want to do it, but I have to write about “Hoarders.”
The emotions that Durbin experienced while watching “Hoarders” were very strong. “It was very painful to watch. It was very hard to get through,” she said. “I always cry when I watch it.” Durbin has this strong reaction because the theme of addiction hits closes to home. “It triggers some things with my family,” she said. ” There’s a lot of addiction in my family and stuff.”
Other mixed feelings came up in Durbin while she wrote about and watched “Hoarders,” “I have a lot of ethical problems with the show.” “I feel like the people on the show are not in the right mental state to consent to being on a show like that, but it is also fascinating in that it reveals what is going on behind closed doors all over the country.”
Durbin hopes to tap into the healing nature of poetry when writing about “Hoarders,” “I do believe that the process of writing and bringing attention to something difficult does have healing qualities to it. I think that art can do thing that are positive with material that is difficult.”
Below are the first few lines of the poem “Hoarders: Tara.”
My name is Tara and I’m 55 years old Precious Moments angel statue
I would not classify myself as a hoarder, more of a rescuer of Target receipts
When I first moved in it was just mostly boxes because I was moving in then I tried to unpack but everything just got put wherever Martha Stewart magazines
Though Durbin has been writing and creating art pieces about Reality television and popular culture for years and also has many misgiving about much of the shows she covers artistically, she can still enjoy Reality television at the basic entertainment level like anyone else. She said, “I really enjoy watching it. My boyfriend saw me watching the Kardashians one day and said ‘ow are you writing.’ Then I said ‘no I’m just watching.’” Despite her careful examination into what makes the shows tick, Durbin still considers Reality television “fun.”
The Bakersfield Fan Forum is facilitated by Joseph Mosconi and The Poetic Research Bureau. The Fan Forum is meant to “investigate the various ways enthusiasms and fandoms are articulated in contemporary poetry and visual art.” Learn about the next Fan Forum event here.
Durbin has published many of her works online and in print.
Durbin has published two books of poetry, The Ravenous Audience and E! Entertainment . “E! Entertainment” contains the poetic work about the Kardashians, “The Hills”, and “Girls Next Door” discussed in the article. Also in “E! Entertainment” are poetic works about The Real Housewives, Anna Nichole Smith and Amanda Knox. The poems about “Hoarders” are a work in progress and are not yet published in print. “Hoarders: Tara” is available in full here.
Durbin opened her presentation at CSUB with pictures from a project she worked on with Rollin Leonard called Postcards from Disneyland. It is why in the pictures she is wearing a Snow White shirt. In this project she explored her fandom of Disneyland by actually going to the park with a projector and projecting images onto landmarks at the park. Then Leonard took photos of those landmarks.
Durbin has been a part of several Internet art projects. Below are some examples of her work.
from the about page:
“Established in March 2010 as the first mover in Gaga studies,Gaga Stigmata: Critical Writings and Art About Lady Gaga is a technological journal that critically-creatively participates in the cultural project of shock pop phenomenon Lady Gaga.”
A tumblr blog where Durbin achieved young women’s tumblrs. The blog explores how young women define themselves and their sexuality.
With “Cloud Nine” Durbin is asking female-identifying artist “What have you done for Money?”