Can You Scale a Wall? Kat Trataris Wants to Teach You 

Kat Trataris, "Inheritance"
We hop in our time machine and eat all the snacks at Kat Trataris' white-walled gallery and studio space in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco.* We talk drunk barbering, performing linguistic feats as a screaming punkrock diva, growing up in a Los Angeles exurb, tooth gems, and why their dad put a wall of chain link behind their white picket fence.
*It's called r/sf, which is perfect, because we're really debating the value of acronyms this episode.
Kat is also a founding member of art handlxrs*, marginalized people who make the arts world actually happen. Check out their open call here
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Art handlxrs*:


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Transcription of Kat Trataris' interview



jb - Jozefien Buydens

kt - Kat Trataris

sv - Svea Vikander



sv: So, we took the BART and we got off at Powell Station and walked up the Tenderloin to get to rsf, which is Kat’s studio and gallery. And although I had the address we walked right past it and we had to turn around and I was embarrassed, but Jozefien was very forgiving.

jb: So, Kat opened the door and they were wearing this black shirt with pizza slices. And, they were also wearing this ceramic necklace with a pizza slice piece on it.

kt: So, we have one back office and then four studios. Two… 

jb: Yeah, we enter this not so big gallery space, which is full of light.

kt: …another artist just moved in next, so this kind of this shift happened recently

jb: So, we got a tour of the gallery right when we walked in, so. The gallery is pretty small, but also functions studio space.

sv: Excellent! Very beautiful bathroom, very artistic bathroom.

jb: I went to the bathroom. The bathroom was really nicely decorated, there where like these white tiles and this black cement in between them. Then there were, I remember gold, golden objects, there were newspapers next to the toilet so you could read if you wanted to and I also remember this pinkish-reddish light, so, it was kind of an LA feeling I got there or a very artistic, very very modern, a little bit alienating.

kt: I mean, I love this whole vision of the gallery from up here. It's a pretty dynamic space the way it’s been set up and so it's kind of it's a really fun space to work with. This is actually me and my friend Caitlin in undergrad…

sv: That’s awesome!

kt: …from back in the day.

jb: and we conducted the interview in Kat’s studio, which she shares with another artist named Kaitlin. They've been friends for 7 years. They provided like drinks and there were snacks for us, so, that was really cool, so we could snack. And maybe I should mention that Kat was wearing an eyepatch and it looked great! Excellent ART CRUSH action there.

kt: my eye was hurting and then it, and I was trying to fix it and then earlier I woke up and it was so swollen and this was morning and it's like super swollen and I was, like, whatever I'm just going to deal with it later, but as I go on with the day I'm going to wear an eyepatch.


jb: They also had a sparkling gem on one of their front teeth.

kt: I, like, got this gem thing put on… I'll just have all kinds of weird shit so …

sv: How did you get that on?

jb: That’s really cool!

kt: It was glued on with, what's it called, like, the way they put your braces, it’s just a glue.

jb: You can take it off again?

kt: Yeah, or I one day eat it, it just falls off and I eat it, after a couple of years or something.

sv: Wait, this stays on for years?

kt: Yeah.

sv: I kind of want one!

kt: It’s great, everyone should do it! I always wanted a gold tooth, but it seemed weird to get a gold tooth if I didn’t need it and then I also liked grills, but that seemed inappropriate, and so, I settled on the tooth gem.

jb: Svea asks Kat if they live here in the Tenderloin.

kt: I, no, I used to, for like four years, though, the other time I've lived here. I live in the Richmond now. It’s my first time I've lived in like a proper place, since I moved here.

sv: Where were you living?

kt: The first place I lived I was on, I had a bunk bed, on the top bunk, with two other women with the guy in the room next to us, like, in this really small basement garage room place. We kind of had one window and it was like under a family in the outermost Sunset, in sort of an alleyway with a shitty bar. There was like rats in our walls, but I paid $300 dollars.

And, that was the first place, so, I just drove up here with $400, that’s how I moved here, so, that worked out pretty well. I had a studio, at a place called Earth Explosion the mission. I have always been really obsessed with getting a studio, even if I couldn’t afford it. I am very messy, I don't want to put it away and I don't like living with that stuff either. So, for, this works pretty well because I can do stuff with the gallery and come to my studio and do things here.

Bigger is always better, but I mean I'm in the middle of downtown San Francisco, so it's pretty good. And, I do a lot of off-site work these days, I have been like doing clay stuff somewhere else, I've been doing wood things at work ‘cause we have a wood shop which I can use, it’s *** incredible. So, this is kind of, more like a thinking-assembling place anyway.

jb: I told Kat their studio is very neat and organised.

kt: I just moved in here two weeks ago.

jb: Oh, you just moved in here! Okay, allright.

kt: I did. I’ve been trying to get rid of shit

sv: The truth comes out.


jb: Yeah, actually I had questions about all your collaborations.

kt: Okay.

jb: Like, Art Modes?

kt: Moms.

jb: Moms.

kt: That’s the thing, so, the two women I run this gallery with…

jb: Kat runs the gallery with two women, Lauren Licata and Anicka Vrana-Godwin.

kt: We’ve had had a lot of project proposal we’re trying to put out. We’ve done things that’s not just the gallery, but there's some form of like institutional experimentation or curatorial experimentation. And, we haven't had as much time to put into it lately as we wanted to because of just running the gallery by itself, but that is like a thing we want to call… We wanted to figure out a name and everyone calls us art mom, because we're just moming people, I guess, and the art world in general. And then, we like bought a minivan to move a bunch of art and then it got really out of control. I’m the dad of the moms, though.

sv: And then of course there's the space we’re in right now, rsf, it's spelled r / s f. I'm not even sure how you’re supposed to pronounce that. Do you say r slash s f? Or do you just say r s f?

kt: No, we just say r s f. But, some people say R SF, they’re getting really sassy.

sv: … r slash, r slash s f…

kt: I mean, it’s like the slash denotes that SF is a place, but, at this point, it's a confusing name and we’re just going with it, so. We recently found out it also stands for  ‘rentable square feet’, which is really ironic. What to name a gallery? It's kind of hard. You just want to be cool and then you fail at it and it's fine and then you're just cool and elusive, because no one knows what it means, just like, we have no sign because we haven't been able to afford one and apparently people think it's a cool thing, so.


kt: So, this place used to be the Larkin Street Youth Center and then it was a chiropractor and then it was nothing and then it was ours. But, it's part of being in the Tenderloin, it’s just like dealing with a lot of different kinds of people. No horror stories yet, some interesting ones, but…

jb: What’s the most interesting so far?

kt: We had a couple of people really on drugs come in and, like, not want to leave because they’re really confused, and so, it’s just kind of, like, being able to escort them out. There is a woman who came in one time and was just like: “It's really bright in here!” We’re like: “Yeah, totally”, she’s like: “Does art really need this much light?”, and I was like: “I don’t know, that’s a good question”.

So, a lot of things you would never think to ask. We are next to Mr. Holmes bake shop, so people, when it closes down come over and ask us if we’re a bake shop and then ask us over and over again if they are really closed, because people are obsessed with that bake shop.

sv: Why?

kt: Just how, they have really good neon signs, "I got baked in San Francisco,” super lightweight, very chill, I mean, it’s good food, but it's just like a very intense hype situation. They’ll literally take an Uber to Mr. Holmes, get out, look at it and it's closed and then they'll be like: “Well, I guess I'll just take a picture of the facade”, and then they'll call another Uber and then leave. I like this area there's some cool bars.

So, this place, we got it, it was completely, like, it was like nothing, they’ve had just torn up all of the carpet, it was like a total *** show. That whole front area where it's two stories and you can see, that wasn’t like that, we had them knock out a ton of stuff, like the floor and walls and rooms. We got into a situation where we needed so much renovation we were able to negotiate. They did with what we asked them to do, and then we did 10 days of renovation, and it was so insane.

It was, like, every day all day long, sleeping like 4 hours a night, for like a week and I was working full-time and we were sanding the floors and then, like, install the toilet and the sink and everything. I've never done any of that *** before. We had a paint sprayer and scaffolding and painting everything, so, it was us three girls doing the whole place ourselves, did all the baseboards and everything. And, we had some help too, of course, thank God, but we got it done in 10 days while planning an exhibition.

jb: They, they do so many things.

sv: And, don't forget they have a full-time job driving a forklift for SFMOMA, where they’re a preparator and get to touch a lot of expensive art. They’re busy. There's also this thing they do, called Drunk Barber.

kt: It’s good! I cut hair

jb: You cut hair?

sv: Which is this kind of Darren O'Donnell type relational aesthetics thing and we probably wouldn't even have heard about it if we hadn't asked about the braid of hair hanging on their studio wall.

kt: One of my guy friends was like: “I need to cut my hair, but, I can’t afford to pay a guy”, so, I was like: “Sure, bring me some beer and I'll cut your hair”. And then, I would cut his hair and then we get drunk and I'll be cutting his hair. And then, his friends would also need haircuts, so, I cut their hair. So, now I cut anywhere from like 5 to 10 people's hair.


kt: Do you wanna hear about the Dead Alleys?

jb: Yes! Go for it.

kt: I just dress up really crazy. I like to wear really tall shoes, some extremely tall, and pretty scantily clad and I don't wear my glasses, so, I can't see anyone's faces and I can look at people, like, really dead on for extended periods of time which is really uncomfortable, and I get very much in their face and their space and I act, like, really sassy and annoyed, and I eventually end up rolling around on the floor, like, kicking stuff, while screaming, it's like super cathartic, kind of, like, performance.

I took a class at SFAI and this girl comes up to me and I just met her, she's like: “Hey, I have this idea. Do you want to be in a band?”, I was like: “Yes! I've always wanted to be in a band”, I literally want to be the frontman of the band for I don't know how many years, I can never find anyone to play with me, and I even wrote a piece about it when I was an undergrad where I'm playing guitar on a video and singing live—except I’m in a band by myself, that’s how much I wanted to be in a band, so.

She was like, you got to be the frontman. So, she's from Colombia and the whole idea, the premise around this band was that she was listening to punk music, she was in the punk scene, hardcore in Columbia when she was younger and didn't really realise what all these like English lyrics were or like how, like, what the context of them was. So, she kind of resented this like colonialising that had happened through music to her directly, because she listened to songs being like: “This is really *** up,  I can't believe I was like dancing to this *** or whatever”, and, she wanted to reverse it.

So I operated as an American vessel kind of like, or the singer, and we listen to songs in languages we don't understand, so there's like four languages we can't even touch between the two of us, I phonetically transcribe the lyrics and she does it to the music. So, I listen and then I just type them out, like, new gibberish sounds. And, we just pick songs we think are good, for what they sound like.

But, it's really hard to find stuff when you can't type in other languages on Google, so, you're like, Indonesian bands and you find every Indonesian band that sings in English. So, finding these songs has been a huge labor of love and then we put together a set of like 15, 20 maybe sometimes 30 minutes. We've been performing for like 3 years doing that band. And then she had to move back to Colombia ‘cause she had visa problems. But, we are trying to put something together during Material Art Fair in Mexico in February.

There's a huge punkrock scene where I grew up, a lot of people and stuff like that too, like, in bunkers and desert, punkrock shows, all that kind of ***. All of my work comes from my hometown. It is a very weird place. My dad moved there to realise the American dream, as an immigrant basically. It was cheap to buy a house there in the 80s and it was going to be this burgeoning area outside of LA, which in many ways it grew exponentially, but it didn't grow in the way that like, a town does where you, like, know people and there's like a good sense of community.

It just grew literally in numbers and people commute like 2 hours to LA from there, on a regular basis, every day. LA was doing a lot where they're trying to build Section 8 housing and like, push gang members and other people out of LA that they didn't want in LA and there’s also a lot of meth, tons of meth. But, outside of those things, when I was child it was fun being there, like, in the middle of the desert.

I rode motorcycles and horses and just walk through the desert for hours and we had a little bit of snow and grew up next to a peach orchard, just really cool, and then right after I left they demo’ed the whole farm, ‘cause they can't afford to keep a farm going anywhere, it’s too expensive and they were going to put houses and then the 2008 housing market crash happened. I feel like that area is very much about missed opportunity or like unfulfilled potential and that is something I think about a lot in my work.

Access to food and food deserts and, like, what it does to people when they just don't have access to the things they need, as a body, that's not Walmart. There's more people employed by Walmart in my hometown than the school districts, that's a form of incarceration.


kt: I was a very mellow teenage, like, I didn't do any drugs or drink or anything, so I had a lot of free time to kill, which was good, I learned a lot of things. But I also, like, we just go to Walmart at 11 o’clock at night with my friends and fuck around there, because it was the only thing open in my whole town. So, it’s like games where you take an apple and put it in the banana section then you take a B thing and put it in the C section, and then you take a C thing and put it in the D section, and then you have to go back around to replace them again. The people who a loading up at 2 a.m., they don’t give any fucks

sv: does somebody else comes along and put it back?

kt: Yeah. You have to guess, backwards, yeah. It’s a good game! It eats up some time, but the desert in general is a weird place. I feel always strange about people who hyper-fetishise the desert as this, like, reawakening or whatever.

I’m, like, the desert’s a place where people are not supposed to live, there’s no water, everyone complains about growing farms and having no water and I'm like: “Why did you put a farm there? It's a desert”. So, there's like all these identity crises, like, of what land is supposed to do for us and, like, how we are entitled to a land or space and it should function this way that serve the human, you know. We're always trying to, like, pretend boundaries don’t exist when they do. So, it's a pretty funny place.


kt: I think about my parents a lot in my art. It’s like a lot of this idea of the American Dream or, like, what we're supposed to be or become or what we're supposed to do, and like all of these boundaries that contain us and how people have chosen to acquiesce to these designations, and it's eventually cause them to be extremely miserable. Or to kind of fail very dramatically in ways that they could never have even understood. So, I'm always kind of, I'm very pro trying to dig out and understand who you actually are and allowing yourself the ability to, like, transform and change constantly in order to just like be *** happy.

And, I watch my parents, like, try to be someone for someone else, for their mothers or the things had to be certain ways and it just blew up in their faces. And, you know, so, I think a lot about how to not be my own worst enemy. That’s what all this house stuff is, like, domesticity and a white picket fence and, like, I've become really obsessed with ants lately.

sv: They mean ants, the little brown, black insects, not your father's sister.

kt: They were in my work, like, really small, like drawn all over stuff, they were one of my bad guys. I have three three bad guys in my narrative: the ants, the mould and the power outlets are the bad guys. So, they’re anything that comes from the outside in and disturb, like, the peace or the safety of household consumption.

Ants always get in, it's like, you can do whatever you want to try and block them out, you can build more walls, better systems or put drugs down whatever, they still get in. So, they’re always, like, they're my resistance basically. They’re kind of an existential creature, which I didn't fully understand until I became like hyper obsessed with them recently.

And then, mould is a bad guy, because it rots things. So, it like reveals to your own mortality and comes in and interrupts your process, things that are fresh and have these, like, time frames on them and we don’t, we don't like being restrained by time and also, I had an experience in high school where black mould grew in my room and gave me asthma for, like, a number of years, like, ruined my whole athletic career, basically, yeah.

jb: That’s horrible.

kt: It's ‘cause I lived in a shitty apartment, you know. It’s like you, you don't have money, you get sick, and then…the outlets are not so much bad guys, I call them soothsayers. Like, there's an action of connecting something that comes from the outside to the inside that you're like reliant, dependent on, like, electrical umbilical cord, you know, and if you look at them they look and horrified, all the time. To me they're like the things that are telling you that there's something up, but no one listens, you know.


kt: My work is basically primarily all about space and I was realising recently how much that has evolved in such a weird different ways. There’s certain things that I’ve parsed out through conversation with people about ways that I experience things differently. I don't even know what the word is, but like, every time someone says any words when there's any descriptors in it I imagine the thing playing out in my brain constantly as I’m talking to people.

So, it’s like, if someone is talking about a dragon fly, I could see a dragon and then a fly, but it's like, constant visualisations that are always happening in my brain and I also have, like, I have bad I eye sight. My ability to, like, navigate space is pretty weird, I have had to learn how to really focus if for some reason, like, using power tools and stuff, like, I have to really pay attention.

I think, I have this thing of where my, my sense of where body starts is more amorphous or, like, I feel very physically connected to people wanting things around me all the time and it's always kind of inside of my personal space. I have had to roll through a lot of punches, so, I take things pretty well. I actually do like a wounded animal thing where I, like, will be fine and then I just go away for, like, a couple days and talk to nobody and, like, go lick my wounds by myself and then I'll come back out later. I get really moody.

sv: What do you do in that time?

kt: I just ruminate in my sadness. I like just being in bed, looking at plants.

sv: Plants?

kt: Yeah, I have plants. Just, like, staring out the window and it’s even better when it's foggy or rainy. Look at Instagram fo far too long.


kt: January, speaking of transformative bodies, there's this artist, Maria Guzman Capron, she makes these like amazing quilted female figures that are turning into or out, coming out of landscapes and stuff, and they’re like tons of found fabrics that she paints or alters a little bit and they’re quilted together and they're oftentimes relating to, like, what does it mean to be a woman body that ages or is an immigrant or is non white or, like, has a difference to it and how is that body kind of always shifting and changing and how does it become re-empowered.

So, there’s all these kind of crazy creature-esque women who are sometimes like half animal or landscape and they have these, like, a leg that's turning into a waterfall. It's kind of, kind of crazy to try to imagine it but, it's all quilted and then she'll do a lot of sculptural pieces too with, like, found objects or even ceramics that look like found objects, so she made them and they almost like reference *** she’s seen in a dream, sea shells or stuff like that.

So, she's doing her show here in January in conjunction with our booth at Untitled Art Fair and that booth has Maria in it as well as Marcela Pardo Ariza who's a previous show we just did and Tosha Stimage, who is at Grow Gallery right now. So, it's a queer, POC, fem booth, which I’m pretty stoked about. It’s gonna be really good.


sv: To learn more about Kat Trataris and their work, go to, that’s: k a t t r a t a r i