Student Feature: Katy Butler

November 15, 2013

by Joshua Kelly Published in The Tiger Newspaper

Welcome back everyone, or perhaps I should say please welcome me back — I have been gone a few weeks dealing with everything I still have to do before graduation, but I couldn’t leave y’all undirected on where to get your culturious fix for long. Over the last few weeks of the semester, we will be looking at a slew of artists about to graduate from the Clemson Art Department, and I can assure everyone that the MFA/BFA gallery season this fall will be one that you won’t want to miss. Last week I sat down with Katy Butler, a MFA candidate in Visual Arts focusing in print-making, to talk with her about a body of work two years in the making.

We all remember learning the letters of the alphabet in kindergarten, from some form of flashcards giving the message that A is for Apple, B is for Banana and so on. Have you ever wished that someone would make a version explaining all the memes and aspects of communication that take place on the Internet? Well, wish no further!

Katy Butler has been working on such a project for the last two years. “The overall theme of the work is the potential dangers involving issues of identity and community building in the online realm, especially pertaining to adolescence and the eventual commodification of self that often results from extended online exposure,” Butler said. But the alphabet series is not a simple didactic tool exploiting common themes and motifs of the Internet. Butler’s work goes beneath the surface of simple online interaction. “What spurned me on to make this work was an irritation about people assuming that anything that happens online has no weight in the actual world.” According to Butler, the suicide of the Canadian teen Amanda Todd in October 2012 was a very influential event for the series. “[The suicide of Amanda] clearly indicated that any action you have online does matter, whether emotional, physical or otherwise.”

Katy Butler’s “Alphabet Series” is not only informative for those who have not spent a lot of time creeping in the darker corners of the Internet, but there are also a bounty of other reasons to go see her work. Her command of screen-printing and use of graphic elements and saturated colors make her work visually captivating. Viewers are able to follow along with the “avatar” of the series, a teenage girl in conservative dress with pigtails and hairy legs, harkening back to Butler’s own adolescence and motifs of innocence and youth, as she navigates the intricacies of online communication. “Language is a really interesting tool because it really informs your space,” Butler said. According to her, the set of words that occur over and over in discussions about community building on the Internet are “often recurring for a reason; they are illustrating something that is happening online and some way that the communication is changing that is significant.”

Although her work may appear lighthearted upon first glance, Butler’s “Alphabet Series” ultimately explores the darker side of Internet existence — the commodification of the self. “As the series progresses it is more of a critique that addresses what happens to the identity after extended online exposure in that it becomes more warped, it becomes about gaining attention, so the identity is commodified or somehow changed from the [original] personal identity that you enter the online realm with.”

Katy Butler’s work was on display in the Lee Hall gallery in her thesis exhibit “Command Shift.” The other featured artist in this show, David Armistead, dealt with abstract representations of sports (mainly football), so this show was everything a college-age student could ask for in an art show. Really, memes and football in one place?