Performance art piece uses poetry, stiches to examine the disorientation that comes with being in love

Kathryn Shinko is in love. And she wasn't ready for it. It's messy and convoluted and not at all like the old songs, movies and stories said it would be.

“It's the most complicated thing ever,” said Shinko, a textile artist, in a recent phone interview. “I swear the first couple days … it literally felt like my body was on fire. I was shaking for two days. It was rough, constantly shaking, feeling like my body was on fire. When you're in love, you get scared that you're dying, at least I do.”

It's all of these “disorienting aspects of being in love,” Shinko said, that she's exploring in her new performance art piece, “I'm Ready to Be Set on Fire Now,” which she will present Saturday, Aug. 18, at 934 Gallery. The work features a solitary Shinko seated on a rug, reading original works of erotic poetry and then sewing the pieces of paper onto the rug with red thread.

“When [you're in love] there's a whole new form of communication that happens between the body and mind and the outside world,” Shinko said. “Different sensualities become activated, become unlocked, and the sense of disorientation oftentimes comes out with odd things that really didn't make sense before, like taking long, hot, suffocating showers, or buying all your fruit in pairs. [It's] just really beautiful and odd.”

Creating a performance art piece has given Shinko a new avenue to employ long-used mediums. Her journey as a textile artist began with cross-stitch and embroidery, skills she learned from her mother. She found herself revisiting the techniques at the same time she was questioning her study in graphic design at the University of Akron, ultimately asking herself, “Why can't this be my art?” she said. Eventually, Shinko enrolled in the graduate program for textiles at Kent State University.

Her work was socially informed — soft, comfortable and tactile fabric coupled with words that disarmed, challenging and questioning power systems and accepted oppressions. Her “Vignettes” series featured words used in URLs from online pornography sites set against scenes of natural wonder and beauty, creating stark reminders of the power of not just the images but also the words used in an industry that demeans women.

The work was important but taxing, made even more difficult by the flood of socio-political art being made in recent years.

“I feel like the current political climate has kind of poisoned the well, in a way,” Shinko said. “Part of the reason I got such a strong reaction from ‘Vignettes' three short years ago was because saying those things and bringing those questions to light was still sort of taboo. I felt a little like a voice in the wilderness, saying, ‘Look at how we talk about women and how terrible all of this is.' But in the current climate, and with everything that's coming out now, it's like a wound suddenly cut open and all the blood's rushing out at once. It's so much to deal with. Rather than contribute to it, I've found myself retreating into myself. A lot of the work I do now is very personal.”

Like writing poems about love.

“I've always written poems. I have poems scribbled on envelopes and scrap pieces of paper and poems saved on the notepad app on my phone,” said Shinko, who not only organized the words and ideas but also re-wrote the poems in red ink on uniform pieces of paper. “I feel like words just kind of come into my head and I have to grab them, because they come in little trickles and bits and pieces. So I had to do some intentional prep for this show to take all those scraps of poems and shape them into some form.”

Incorporating aspects of her textile work in “I'm Ready…” has proven freeing, in some respects.

“With cross-stitch and embroidery, you have to plan every detail out ahead, and once that creating part is over, it's just execution from there,” Shinko said. “To create something totally spontaneous and creative and in the moment is a nice relief from the textile work that I normally do.”

She was also pleased at the sounds and sensations created when sewing the paper onto the rug during a rehearsal, again creating a different set of sensory reactions.

“I've always wanted to do a performance art piece and, quite honestly, I've never really had the guts to do it,” said Shinko, adding that it's always been easier to make art “and then kind of stand back and hide behind the visual.” “It takes guts to make yourself very vulnerable in that setting. It's live. It's immediate.”