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Performance artist Kate March uses dance and paint to put a spotlight on women’s experiences with chronic pain

Performance artist Kate March uses dance and paint to put a spotlight on women’s experiences with chronic pain
August 2023

She her "Nether Space(s)" performance at the Gibbes on August 19

During her residency at the Gibbes Museum of Art this month, artist Kate March will create six large-scale works that will later be incorporated into a performance titled Nether Space(s) on August 19.

Performer, painter, poet: artist Kate March most definitely contains multitudes. First and foremost though, she’s a dancer, whose work—large-scale paintings created with her body—is wholly informed by improvisational movement. Classically trained starting at the age of three, March long ago embraced the avant garde, fusing the ephemera of dance with the permanency of visual art.

While she’s performed all over the world—in contexts ranging from dining to corporate events—the New York transplant is making her debut in the Holy City as artist-in-residence at the Gibbes Museum this month. The show is part of her PhD thesis at the University of the Arts, London, which focuses on using her art form to explore female pain, particularly from endometriosis, a chronic disease that affects 10 percent of women, including March. Here, she shares insights into her creative process and what’s next.

March, who moved to James Island from New York, says Charlestonians seem to have an “eagerness to be with art.”

Journey to Charleston: I lived abroad for several years in London and Hong Kong. In 2017, I moved back to the States, to Brooklyn. My best friend was living here, and my now-husband and I were visiting Charleston quite a bit and enjoying it. So we bought a property on James Island and thought we’d eventually migrate down. And then the pandemic hit, and we were like, “Let’s plant our feet here and really stick around.” We love the lifestyle.

Evolution of an Art Form: I painted with a paintbrush for a long time, and I knew there was more inside of me, so I thought if I go straight to my vital instrument, which is my body, maybe something different is going to happen. I toyed with it about eight years ago and posted it online. I got such incredible feedback, so I really started to hone in on that solo practice where generally I will move on the canvas or the panel of wood. 

Chicken or the Egg: I truly try not to have a visual outcome in my head [during a performance] because I want it to be improvised. I could really go in there and think, “I’m going to do this, and it’s going to look like this beautiful piece of art,” but instead I want to pick up on in-the-moment energy and what the body’s feeling in that particular space and time.

Kate March brings her powerful performance art to the Gibbes this month. The dancer, painter, and poet is using her platform as artist-in-residence at the museum to shine a light on women who experience endometreosis and other forms of chronic pain. 

Female Stories: When I had the opportunity to do the PhD, I thought, “How am I going to use my arts practice with something passionate and meaningful and challenging for me?” It was to deal explicitly with my own pain and my relationship with my body, and how ironic it is, and to use my art as my advocate. The research work for my PhD is to focus on embodying stories of other women I’ve spoken to or my own postures of pain and then do the paintings.

At the Gibbes: It’s going to be a combination of visual art and live performance that will include choreography and improvisation. The original music will be done by Marcus Amaker and will incorporate my own poetry inspired by other women [who suffer from endometriosis] and recorded in their own words. Anyone who sees it is going to be like, “This is abstract,” but for me, it has such a clear intention. 

Local Audience: Part of my role as a performance artist is asking how I can make this inviting to you but also challenge you, or provoke you, or be evocative in a way that’s compelling. I think from what I understand of Charleston, there’s an eagerness to be with art, and hopefully, this will be an opportunity to push the envelope a little bit.

Next Up: I’m thinking of an immersive dining experience this fall from one of my earlier original concepts called “Je Suis.” I hope to bring an overall joie de vivre atmosphere, which includes dance, music, food, and drink, allowing for an escape from the overwhelmingness of contemporary life. After the intensity of the show at the Gibbes, I will feel a need to express some of my lighter side.