For Immediate Release – February 20, 2024

The Chazen Museum of Art and UW–Madison Art Department are pleased to announce the Chazen Museum of Art 2024 Russell and Paula Panczenko Master of Fine Arts Prize winner University of Wisconsin-Madison Graduate Student Cat Birk!

Awarded to one graduating MFA candidate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the annual Chazen Prize exhibition prize is offered in collaboration with the Art Department and judged by an outside visiting curator. Chief curator and director of exhibitions at the Wexner Center for the Arts of Columbus, Ohio, Kelly Kivland, selected this year’s recipient. The prizewinner’s MFA thesis exhibition is shown at The Chazen Museum of Art, and the prizewinner receives a stipend to assist with their thesis production, provided by the Chazen Museum.

As an artist with a studio practice deeply invested in visual culture, I find relatable images in many places: thrift stores, gender-affirming care, romantic encounters, and horse girl memes. Seeing myself in them expands the web of relationships that forms my identity. These relationships are a source of strength and comfort. I coat the surface of my body with these images like a protective membrane: they become my emotional support images.

I am interested in how encounters with images and objects serve as conduits for processes of identity formation and the creation of trans4trans (t4t) networks. Locating, identifying with, and transforming these images has played an important part in forming my own transgender identity. In these encounters, I expand my sense of self by identifying with something outside of myself. Entangling self and other in this way highlights the co-constitutive nature of individual and collective identity.

This exhibition creates a t4t grid installation composed of paintings, silicone surfaces, and sculptural objects. Focusing on the repetition of the grid and the casting process, I create relationships between multiples. By highlighting the intimacy and reciprocity of these processes, I recontextualize the fraught relationship between copy and original to decouple notions of originality and authenticity using t4t as a non-hierarchical methodology.

t4t describes desire and attraction, but also trans practices of mutual aid, care, and solidarity. It is intimate, fluid, and malleable. My paintings engage with t4t as a relational praxis that resists the reproduction of fixed identity categories and relational structures. Understanding the affective relationships between image (other) and identity (self), I recast the individual process of identity formation as a collective act of becoming that is necessary for trans flourishing. Weaving webs between image, self, and community, this exhibition builds an emotional support t4t network out of my emotional support images.

—Cat Birk [MFA ’24]

Cat Birk (b. 1994, they/them) is a painter and researcher based in Madison, Wisconsin. Their interdisciplinary practice brings transgender studies, queer theory, and critical theory into the expanded field of painting. Cat is a third-year MFA candidate in the art department at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (expected 2024). They earned BAs in studio art and art history from the College of Charleston (2016). Cat has exhibited in groups shows nationally, including the Halsey Institute (Charleston, South Carolina), GHOST Art Project (Omaha, Nebraska), Redux Contemporary Art Center (Charleston, South Carolina), and at Trout Museum of Art (Appleton, Wisconsin).

Birk’s MFA thesis exhibition My mother is a horse will be shown at the Chazen Museum of Art from April 15th to July 14th, with the reception opening on Thursday, April 25th, 2024.