Katrina Palmer, Reality Flickers (detail), 2013, mixed media, sound, dimensions variable.

Katrina Palmer, Reality Flickers (detail), 2013, mixed media, sound, dimensions variable.

Katrina Palmer


Katrina Palmer, Reality Flickers (detail), 2013, mixed media, sound, dimensions variable.

For her exhibition “Reality Flickers,” performance artist, sculptor, and writer Katrina Palmer transformed MOT International into what looked like a backstage rehearsal space for a performance under production. Four chairs (one alone and three stacked) were casually positioned against a wall. Next to them was a music stand, facing a wall covered by a heavy theatrical curtain—gray rather than the usual ruby red. On the stand was the cover page to a text for a reading titled The Night of the Purring Tremor, 2014. Another text presented a character portrait. It described Reality Flickers, a woman who lives alone, “strangely accompanied only by shifting and volatile objects.” In her solitary world, these “non-committal” forms tend to fluctuate in status, thus representing an uncertain emotional state.

Reality, as the text notes, has written a confession, which she has stashed away in a locker. Blending narrative with installation, Palmer constructed a storage locker in the gallery to represent Reality’s private space. Inside the locker, small windows allowed some light to enter the gray cube, and speakers were positioned at various points, all wiring visible. Two chairs were positioned as if inviting viewers to sit and listen to Reality’s confession, presented as an audio recording played on a loop of just under fifteen minutes. The story describes a meeting with the so-called Heart Beast—a male suitor otherwise known as “the dog,” “the fucker,” “the trickster,” or the beast “pumped up with horniness.” It was a chance encounter: Reality (or Miss Flickers, as she is sometimes known) met him while climbing out of a Dumpster (she had been looking for things to collect). Deceptively chivalrous, the Heart Beast told Miss Flickers that he could hear the purring tremor of her heart, involuntarily vibrating as he approached. Intrigued by this greeting, the normally hermetic Miss Flickers allowed the trickster into her home and opened her closely guarded collection of hoarded objects to him. Thus, the Heart Beast managed to “gain access to Reality herself.”

The artist narrates the story in a soft, measured, childlike voice, her words accompanied by a haunting piano score. The tale ends with a distraught Miss Flickers learning that the Heart Beast’s interest in her is fleeting, calculating, and self-serving, and murdering the man who saw her as merely a curious conquest. This is an archetypal story of a woman scorned—of the coming together of two people and the conflicting projections, desires, and intentions each brings to the union. The experience of being inside the gray locker while listening to this tale of betrayal and naïveté produced a sense of familiar unease. After all, we have all either known a Heart Beast or been one.

By the final act, when a vengeful Reality plunges a shard of broken glass into the Heart Beast’s throat, the locker no longer seems a personal space but instead feels institutional, judicial—almost like an asylum. It is filled with a palpable absence—a “death secreted”—that expands into the space outside, where the story is not a secret confession, but a performance not yet begun. This produced a sense of a space within a space: a performative outer shell—the white cube—encapsulating the bare gray storage locker that somehow represented Reality’s internal core. In this multilayered installation, Palmer dealt with performance of space, performative absence, and text—or recording––as an imprint of an immaterial body. Absence became the object.

Stephanie Bailey