Kate Orne bristles at the word curator. “I feel the term has been commercialised and misused in the past ten years – every car manufacturer calls itself a curator,” she says. “Curating an exhibition, in its truest form, is editing.” And that process is one that Kate, who spent time on staff at Interview magazine in the ’90s before becoming a photographer (the third generation in her family to do so) and, in 2015, founding the niche independent publication Upstate Diary, happens to be keenly familiar with. The genesis for Upstate Diary, the project that currently occupies the majority of her time, was born initially out of a desire for connection in this new place she called home: New York’s Hudson Valley.
Kate was born in Stockholm and raised between there and her home, a former farm, in the Swedish countryside. “I left when I was 17 to travel the world but I always had this desire in me to return to nature,” she shares. After living in New York for over 20 years she’d had enough – “New York just wasn’t fun anymore,” she adds. In 2008, when real estate prices in the US had dipped and an historic 1811 dairy farm with a stone house set on 13 sprawling acres became available, she nabbed it immediately. Literally: “I bought the house and moved in the next day,” says Kate, adding that she’s taken this lightning fast decision-making tact with everything she does from switching careers to settling on what makes it onto the pages of Upstate Diary. “I see something that inspires me and I put it in the next issue,” she says. “A lot of things are super quick for me. It’s all intuition and I’m always relying on that.”
Her intuition for Upstate Diary would be spot-on. The Hudson Valley has long been a fertile ground for artists — after all, it’s here that the country’s first art movement was born. Kate started simply having conversations with artists who had homes in the area (Swiss artist Olaf Breuning was one of her first), and quickly realised that the talks would translate beautifully in print. An online fundraiser to cover printing costs and many self-led photo shoots later, Upstate Diary was born. “It’s all about artists whose lives are close to nature,” Kate explains. While the reach of the publication’s subject matter has since expanded far beyond upstate New York – “It started here but ‘upstate’ can really be anywhere in the world,” she says, adding that their current cover subject, artist Rose B. Simpson, lives north of Santa Fe – the area’s concentration of artists remains steady. “The reason artists come here is because you can work undisturbed, while in the city you’re always going to have distractions,” says Kate. “Here, you’re in peace, and you can focus.”
Discovering artists, particularly ones in her surrounding community, is fuel for Kate. “I love going on studio visits, I love the way artists fill my spirit up, and I get energised by them,” she says. “The process for me is about discovery.” When considering the artists who would take part in the special exhibition for TOAST, Kate approached it as a community effort, tapping the local artists whose work she’s become intimately familiar with. And, just as important, whose work speaks to the show’s theme: Renew.
“Each piece is a dialogue between the historic and the new,” says Kiva Motnyk, who makes art with existing, recycled and antique materials. The pieces in Renew are, she says, hand-sewn studies using subtle geometric motifs harmonised in tones of green. “They play with tactile shifts and the opacities of material inspired by the transformations during the seasons in the Catskills,” says Kiva. “The colours are created using materials from the garden and foraged, as well as antique textiles and remnant collected fabrics.”
For Kate, the way artist Dana Sherwood takes something and gives it a new purpose, spoke directly to this idea of renewal. Dana’s Pollinator Urn is a glazed terracotta vessel with protruding cups and cavities filled with native pollinator plants that is meant to live outdoors. “The urn is designed to be filled with plants that attract and support local pollinator populations that in turn nurture and support the life cycle of plants and, in the bigger picture, the earth,” shares Dana.
Just as Kate continues to see artists moving upstate (or their version of it) for a sense of freedom, it’s brought her the same thing. “I’ve done a lot of great things in my career, especially as a photographer, but Upstate Diary has been the pinnacle because there’s nobody controlling me and I’m completely free,” she says. “That is powerful; that is success; that’s a luxury… to just really be free to create.”
Interview by Fiorella Valdesolo.
Photographs of the gallery space by Adam Deen. Photographs of Upstate Diary courtesy of Kate Orne.
Upstate Diary is a bi-annual print magazine featuring creators with lifestyles close to nature.
The Renew exhibition, curated by Kate Orne, highlights the unique ways artists based in Hudson Valley have transformed existing materials. Renew features works by Sam Falls, Kat Howard, Kieran Kinsella, Kiva Motnyk and Dana Sherwood. Each piece on display is an expression of creative reuse.