Peregrine Honig is a Kansas City, Mo.-based artist and entrepreneur. She was the runner-up in Bravo TV’s Work of Art: The Next Great Artist and will be exhibiting her work in a show called Loser at Dwight Hackett Projects in Santa Fe from Oct. 9-Nov. 6 (opening reception 3-5 pm Saturday, Oct. 9). Disclosure: The interviewer wrote an essay for Honig’s project Widow, published by Landfall Press.
SFR: We’re going to play a free association game—I’ll give you a word or phrase and you tell me what it means to you. Let’s start with ‘reality TV.’
PH: [Laughs] Oh man. Can we just say surveillance? It’s so weird and fascinating. Being trapped in these surveillance situations, you become very childlike because you do nothing for yourself. But it’s not just onanistic; it’s also nurturing…you do fall in love with your captors. I was in Miami, staying at a friend’s condo, and I heard that auditions were going on and I just decided to do it. I thought it might help me promote my book, Widow, and I realized that when you investigate something to make work about it, you have to invest; you have to get into it. Lots of artists might go to Japan or Rome to study forms and immerse themselves in the culture. I’m the same—I need to understand popular culture if I’m going to make work about it. I didn’t go on to the TV show thinking I was competing for something, more like researching something.
Winner! I spent the winning prize money [$100,000] in my head so many times that I don’t feel like I lost it by not winning. Abdi Farah [the winner] is a great guy, super cool. For me, second place is a better place to be. I’m 10 years older than Abdi and, as the winner, he’s getting reamed in reviews. Getting panned by the Village Voice is a bad place to be when you’re 23 and, if I had won, I’d be getting reamed, too. I was in New York last week and I had people shouting at me out of cars and telling me I was robbed. But I wasn’t. It was Bravo’s show and Bravo’s money and Bravo wanted to tell a story and Bravo gave us Abdi.
Puking [the subject of much of Honig’s new work]
Purging. Cleansing. Decadence. Nourishment. Consuming something as rich and volatile as the world today and then not quite digesting it before putting it out there again—hey, it’s something we’re all doing in one form or another every day. As an artist, you are always vomiting, but it can be in the nourishing, feeding-your-young sense: You digest the things you see and then you feed them back into the culture in a way in which they can be processed.
The panty-of-the-month club keeps my lingerie store, Birdies, rolling. Once a month, we sit down and take all our orphaned panties—with no matching bra, for example—and we wrap them in something cute and we mail them off. We have a lot of members. Katy Perry was a member. Sometimes, we send out $25 little cotton boy-shorts and, sometimes, nice $75 French underwear. It’s a way for us to move inventory and it’s handy for members because, well, for girls, all underwear has a disposable element.
Just like with vomiting, I like things that have implications that go in opposite directions. Wax is for birthday candles and voodoo. Lace is for virgins and whores. We put bunny ears on little children but also on women who spread their legs for money. I had been working with ideas around different times in women’s lives—birth, virginity, prostitution—and the idea of widow became a fresh, interesting base for me to catapult off of. I was playing with words and magazines like Women’s Wear Daily, and I thought, ‘there are no fashion magazines for what women do as widows.’ But it’s also a drug-culture term and a word that shows that other words are missing: What’s the word for a woman whose wife dies? So I made this fashion magazine/book/print project with Landfall Press, and I named it something my husband will never forgive me for.