When performance artist Katharine Boyd was looking for a day job, her aesthetic instincts guided her in her hunt through the want ads and Yellow Pages. Chicagoland companies named Modem Abrasive, Active Screw and Fastener, and Ad Her On intrigued her.
Frigid Fluid Company was on her list; she went for an interview. "I had no idea what they did there," says Boyd. "I thought the name was really funny." It turns out the company sells embalming supplies, and its motto is "Get Rigid With Frigid." Boyd was treated to a tour and picked up a catalog listing items, including Cavity King ("the undefeated fluid of a hundred uses"). Bottles of Stop contain a potion that "Kills tissue gas. Kills maggots, lice, vermin. Corrects superficial vein discoloration and eliminates tissue crunching." Frigid Fluid's product line includes Porta-Morgue, Natural Expression Formers (to put a pleasing face on the deceased), 100 percent genuine leather crematory gloves, crematory rakes, and infant trays.
Frigid Fluid had no openings, but did offer material for Boyd's latest performance/installation, which premieres tonight at Randolph Street Gallery.
For We're Glad You're Back, Mrs. Conrad, Boyd has created an office suite whose waiting room is adorned with pictures from the Frigid Fluid catalog. Upside-down de-needled Christmas trees hang from the ceiling. A corpselike lump rests beneath the carpet in a hallway designed to evoke a suburban funeral parlor. Through the art of taxidermy, Mrs. Conrad will transform herself into a hoofed, fur-faced, antler-bearing deer during the course of the performance. Besides conversing with visitors, she will execute a paint-by-number deer scene, using a concrete fawn from a suburban lawn as her model.
Mrs. Conrad is modeled on the deceased editor of a home decor and craft journal. Boyd unearthed her obituary photo while sorting through a stack of old magazines in a Milwaukee thrift store.
Boyd has populated earlier performances with women not quite at home with themselves. In Superbia, Who's Been Turning Around In Your Driveway? a Jackie Kennedy clone kept reliving her husband's assassination in her living room. In another piece, Boyd portrayed a woman who late at night sneaks into her office at the "Chicago Kidney Center" and communes with herself in the afterlife via phone-machine messages. In another work a character marries her alter ego.
As an art student in Reno at the University of Nevada, Boyd sold art at a gallery in a casino basement. "I used to sell Red Skelton's paintings," she says. They went for $5,000, and their subjects were clowns and dolphins in space. "Actually they were prints signed by him with a felt pen. I was horrible at it. I wasn't a very good liar." Boyd's own paintings never sold. But such works as Be Prepared Against Home Accidents became backdrops for her performances.
Boyd is fascinated with domiciles that intertwine the familiar and the unfamiliar. Her characters dwell on Alienation Lane. "My interest is in places you're not supposed to go," she says. "I've yet to go to Francine Purlene's La Derma Den." Katharine Boyd's performance We're Glad You're Back, Mrs. Conrad can be experienced tonight at 6 and tomorrow, Saturday, at 2 and 6 PM at Randolph Street Gallery, 756 N. Milwaukee. Call 666-7737.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bill Stamets.