Kate Robinson: on What Happens If We Don’t Make Art with Our Excess Energy

Kate Robinson: on What Happens If We Don’t Make Art with Our Excess Energy

An interview with JH Phrydas, from The Write Stuff series over at SF Weekly:

Kate Robinson is Collections Associate at Letterform Archive in San Francisco, a 30,000 piece collection of the history of the letter arts. A poet and intermedia book artist living in Oakland, CA, she co-founded both theManifest Reading Series, a founding series of the East Bay Poetry Summit, and Material Print Machine, an artist-run printing and binding studio in Omni Commons, Oakland. Kate creates artists’ books as Manifest Press and performs regularly as one half of feminist poetics project The Third Thing, which has a chapbook forthcoming on the Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs. Her other recent work can be found inMacaroni Necklace, Open House Poetry, Tripwire: a journal of poetics, Evening Will Come, Eleven Eleven, and the Timeless Infinite Light anthology It’s Night in San Francisco but It’s Sunny in Oakland.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?

That really depends on the person and how they ask me, but the truest answer is “too much.” I might tell them that I work at a collection of the alphabet throughout history called Letterform Archive. I might tell them I help manage an artist run collective print studio and bindery at Omni Commons called Material Print Machine. I might tell them I am half of the feminist performance duo The Third Thing. I might tell them I’m an intermedia book artist and poet, although that’s the one that elicits the strangest looks and the most irritating responses. “What is book art?” is maybe my least favorite question ever, as I think only one person has ever wanted to actually listen to my answer. Everyone else wants me to say “illustration” and shut up.

What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?


If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?

Commit to and invest in yourself all the way.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

At the moment, yes.

When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

immediately followed by

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

Debbie Gibson, Mariah Carey, and/or Wilson Philips. Answer appropriate for both parts of the question.

Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.

Are there drugs there?

What’s wrong with society today?


Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?

weekly massage

How many times do you fall in love each day?

I’m currently in the best relationship I could have ever even imagined for myself, and I’m gonna be a total dork and say I fall in love every morning I wake up next to this person, which is most mornings cause we live together.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

From Wikipedia: “According to Bataille’s theory of consumption, the accursed share is that excessive and non-recuperable part of any economy which must either be spent luxuriously and knowingly without gain in the arts, in non-procreative sexuality, in spectacles and sumptuous monuments, or it is obliviously destined to an outrageous and catastrophic outpouring, in the contemporary age most often in war, or in former ages as destructive and ruinous acts of giving or sacrifice, but always in a manner that threatens the prevailing system. The notion of “excess” energy is central to Bataille’s thinking. Bataille’s inquiry takes the superabundance of energy, beginning from the outpouring of solar energy or the surpluses produced by life’s basic chemical reactions, as the norm for organisms. In other words, an organism in Bataille’s general economy, unlike the rational actors of classical economy who are motivated by scarcity, normally has an “excess” of energy available to it. This extra energy can be used productively for the organism’s growth or it can be lavishly expended. Bataille insists that an organism’s growth or expansion always runs up against limits and becomes impossible. The wasting of this energy is “luxury”. The form and role luxury assumes in a society are characteristic of that society. “The accursed share” refers to this excess, destined for waste.”

So, basically, according to Bataille, if we don’t make art with our excess energy we’ll just use it to destroy ourselves/each other, and while I don’t know what I think about his thought in general I feel pretty aligned with that specific line of thinking.

When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?

grocery shopping, butt stuff

What are you working on right now?

A manuscript titled CUNT TEETH, an untitled chapbook for Yo-Yo Labs with Ivy Johnson as The Third Thing, some sigils for the back section of Timeless Infinite Light’s next tract book by Thom Donovan and Rob Halpern, an artists’ book interpretation of Brittany Billmeyer-Finn’s The Meshes (out on Black Radish books this fall! With a cover I designed!), keeping Material Print Machine running… but more importantly, knowing my limits and learning how to actually take care of myself. I’m doing better than that list of projects makes it sound, I swear.

What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?

I like writing that speaks to the failure of language. I like writing that is bewildering. I like writing a lot of people wouldn’t categorize as writing. I like writing that exists at the limits/edges. I like writing that makes you feel sick. I like writing that makes you feel a productive nothing. I like writing that makes you giggle uncontrollably for an unidentifiable reason. I like writing that is aware of its own materiality.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?


What are some of your favorite smells?

My own vagina, Texas, the body odors of people I love, the Puget Sound, the Anchor Steam Brewery near my work in Potrero Hill or the Fish Tale Brewery in downtown Olympia cause they smell alike.

Here to read all The Write Stuff profiles; here to watch all the videos.