Most people understand narcissism as a psychological disposition, but what happens when it emerges as a societal phenomenon? Katelyn Kopenhaver, a Miami-based interdisciplinary artist passionate about questioning and disturbing the status quo, has debuted a new, ongoing project Will You Buy Me exploring cultural narcissism in the 21st-century Western world.
As part of this new project, she conducts guerilla performances by posing motionlessly in different spaces, such as at the Art Basel and South Beach, with a QR code printed on her bare back. The QR code is linked to a webpage on which she lists both physical and non-physical facets of herself as unique products available for purchase. These currently include Katelyn's Smile, Katelyn's Debt, and Katelyn's Advice. Raising questions about the commodified self, her unorthodox performance project, like all her work, is designed to provoke thought and reflection in the face of an increasingly numbing, polarised, occlusive, consumerist society.

In this interview, we speak to her in depth about her new project, her inspirations, her practice, and her values, as she offers sharp, unfiltered, witty commentary about Western culture today, and opens up about moments of vulnerability throughout her journey as an artist.
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It is great to speak with you again after 2 years, Katelyn! Can you start by telling us about what you have been up to since your previous interview with us? What were the past 2 years like for you as an artist?
Likewise! The past two years have been incredible. I chose to expand and maintain a dual residency. I came down to Miami in 2021 (yes, I'm one of those) however, New York is still a place I go to and work in often. She's like an abusive lover I can't get rid of, and conversely, she cannot get rid of me. After being in a decade-long relationship that I worked so hard to nourish, let's say you don't just break up. However, leaving her full-time was incredibly beneficial to my health and art practice.
Despite the atrocious residue from 2020, in 2021, I won the NYFA Fellowship in Interdisciplinary Art, which was exhilarating. I appeared in way too many Ghislaine Maxwell/Jeffrey Epstein documentaries and articles with my Epstein Is The Worst Kind of Virus predator banner. The project was supported by A Yellow Rose Project created by Frances Jakubek and Meg Griffiths, which asked 100 women to make work reflecting on the ratification of the 19th Amendment. I was in a few exhibitions across the US, including The Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition, Texas Woman’s University, Ely Center of Contemporary Art, NADA Art Fair with Printed Matter and Exile Books, Boston University, The Laundromat Art Space, and Oolite Arts.
In 2021 I kept moving and moving fast, but I felt incredibly isolated in my thinking and almost suffocated while in New York. People became quite nasty, reactionary, and judgmental. I felt highly censored and let down. I asked myself repeatedly, Where are the artists? Many folks regurgitated the same language used by the very institutions they claimed to be against in the past. Does anyone want or dare to ask questions and dig a bit deeper? Or is everyone afraid of being canceled? I witnessed continuous contradictions and doublethink.
When everyone left and went back to their homes elsewhere, I stayed and observed New York. I photographed her like crazy, I interviewed people, and mainly, I did a lot of listening. From the projects to the upper east side, people had very nuanced and intricate experiences. I was shown that the dominant narrative doesn't speak for everyone; that's what I took as the truth and still do. I asked myself, Where is your diversity of thought and critical discourse, New York? How did this happen, and how did we get here? How does this affect our relationships with others and, most importantly, with ourselves?
Being in Miami allowed me to return to myself, take a breather and evaluate my priories. Of course, I'm not in some delusion that corruption and lies just stop when you leave a place, and no, Miami isn't full of crazy right-wingers with massive buts. There is nuance in places, as there is in subject matter and people. The move allowed me to hear my thoughts again without worrying about another unwanted intruder on my apartment steps or some guy pulling a knife on me while I walk home. I am finally no longer a bit run down all the time. I am slower in how I speak, think, and hold myself, which is an excellent by-product of living somewhere where the sun is constantly shining.
What do I want to say now? What skills do I want to sharpen and learn? I have broadened the scope of my uncensored inquiries and investigations into my work, which only betters me as an artist, and I owe this to Miami.
Having focused on photography in your last interview with us, can you tell us more about your journey and work in performance and interdisciplinary art today? How did you get started?
Using language and my body pushed me to explore other mediums. I made my first fur coat, Prey in 2015, and from then on, I had this sort of artistic revelation. Post-graduation from SVA, I participated in a workshop that allowed me to expand my ideas and discuss culture, theory, and art. I was already engaged with the idea of predation, so during the workshop, I was pushed to expand on that and, from then on, came out with deeply personal performances, videos, and pieces of writing.
Even during my undergrad in photography, I was constantly manipulating the medium. I desired textures, words, and sounds but wasn't sure how I could execute them. This was the institution's downfall, it tells you, You are a photography student; make a photograph. I think I confused many students in my crit classes who wanted to put me in a box contingent on the work I brought in that week, but my professors were always on board with my weirdness.
With the furs, I began having others perform in them, and then I began doing the performances myself. I realised that holding the camera was my safety, and I had to relinquish control. Without the camera, I was much more vulnerable but free and open to ideas. My ideas are not limited by my medium choices; instead, they are infinitely broadened. I sacrificed my comfort in one thing for the expansion of another. I think this is a positive notion for artists and non-artists alike. It's easy to stay within what you know you're quote unquote good at, but when you step into unknown territory, that's where the magic happens because then you’re challenging yourself.
I will always love and utilise the camera, but that realisation was thrilling. The medium is the message, after all. When I have an idea or an inquiry, I run it through the medium wheelhouse of what is best suited to ignite and catapult the work. Is this concept best as a photograph, a situation, a print, a video, a guerilla installation, a text work, or an overlap of two or three mediums? I'm not sure, but when I go through this process, it's very heady. I have notes everywhere, and I have to keep myself together. I ask myself and others whom I trust questions, I get them on the phone, or I send them in writing.
Conversely, sometimes I want to focus on a process for the sake of it, I don't know why, but I would just roll with my intuition. From the process, concepts and ideas emerge. I go back and forth between, This is what I want to say and how I'll say it, very concrete (the photographer in me), to the unknown territory of I want to try this, and I'm not sure why or what it means, but I'll figure it out later (the artist in me). I get excited by both methodologies and genuinely love these processes.
That brings us nicely to my next question! Can you tell us more about your creative process for Will You Buy Me?
Will You Buy Me was born from many notes, conversations with friends, thinking, and observing. I was inspired by QR codes and how they popped up everywhere at the dawn of 2020, when they were mainly used by restaurants for menus. A good friend and I were having a creative chat on the sofa, and the idea of putting myself on a menu came to mind. I actually made a Katelyn Menu which was a very early sketch into Will You Buy Me. I started by thinking of tangible things from my body like Katelyn's Smile and Katelyn's Hair, which were the more obvious things. But then I moved on to the intangible. What would Katelyn's Advice look like? What would Katelyn’s Loyalty look like? This was very exciting for me to ponder.
I wanted each product to yield something–a collection of data, a whole new work, an action of sorts. QR codes are all about collecting data, and data is what rules the world. Data about how often you click on an ad, data about how many retweets something gets, data about your identity and sexual preference, data about time spent looking at something, data about how you spend your money, data about your emotions and personality.
I think of Will You Buy Me as a project within another project that is constantly evolving and shifting. I think it's important to note that much of my previous work confronted the commodification of the body in relation to the abuse of bodies, such as victims of assault, sex trafficking, and various networks of predation and corruption. I have text works such as Not For Sale, She Was Last Seen, Catholic Priests Abused 1000 Children in PA Report Says, an Epstein/Maxwell project, and multiple performance videos that display my fears of abduction and kidnapping.
So, making Will You Buy Me after doing extremely personal and challenging work began to creep me out in the best way. I also have always had this deep fascination with consumption and gluttony ­­­– it was a perfect fusion. I could see the advancement of my art practice and my thinking broaden. Still, topics I feel so passionate about (like corruption, predation, and truth) are still omnipresent and eerily hovering, adding another layer to this piece. I am not sure I could have conceptualised and carried out Will You Buy Me without creating the other works first.
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What does performance as a medium mean to you? Why did you choose to execute Will You Buy Me as a performance?
Performance is one of the strongest mediums out there. We see it used extensively— in the news, by actors, by politicians, on social media, and in everyday interactions. Performance within the context of art is one of those mediums that demands your whole body, your whole soul. You can become the art in and of itself, and the ability to connect deeply with people you don't even know (and yourself) becomes possible. This connection could also be a disturbance, disruption, haunting thought, or catharsis the viewer takes with them. It's one of those mediums where I feel like my truest self (if possible). Sometimes my day-to-day feels more performative than performance art.
Performance has no rules, which I obviously love. It allows me time and space to present the public with a choice and a mirror, which is a driver of my work. Coming from photography, performance is highly liberating for me. Being able to transmit movement, sound, emotion, and concepts is so extremely powerful.
In Will You Buy Me, I intentionally wanted to debut the project during the Miami art fairs where much selling happens. You have people selling their art, those selling themselves with their fancy outfits, and everything in between. Will You Buy Me critiques the circulation and commerce behind art and culture. I plan to perform at other art-related events, but also out in the world, at restaurants and on beaches to see what happens. Something was and still is exciting about placing a QR code on my skin and commodifying myself while I comment on commodification. I envisioned people scanning me with their phones, and then looking down to start scrolling. It's perfectly bizarre and everyday, making it blend into reality seamlessly. It makes people ask, Is this a performance or not? This is a question I am always asking myself, of myself, and of reality.
Will You Buy Me isn't your first performance project; how is it different from others you have done?
That's correct! This was the first performance where I became an object for consumption and utilised art fairs as a stage. I did not speak or engage with anyone, just the objects and art around me. Where many of my situational performances confronted the viewer blatantly, this one was less aggressive and a bit less obvious. People could choose to engage or walk away. It's also the first performance that overlaps with an online project, making the in-person experience one entry point that then lives on digitally. 
I imagine one of the most exciting parts of guerrilla performance projects is the interactive element and the unplanned and unpredictable encounters they produce. Did the responses you get mostly align with your expectations? Were there any surprising interactions?
The interactions and disturbances are what I live for. The whispers, the confusion, the “I think this is a performance.” People were also saying things like “Oh, it actually works!” “This is so smart!”  “You go, girl!” which made me giggle and smile while I was pressed against a wall. Some people tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a nod of recognition. Honestly, many were incredibly gracious when I did this performance at Untitled and Art Basel.
Conversely, I noticed in watching the footage I recorded that many folks treated me like the commodity I was posing as. Scanned, swiped, looked over the shoulder, and walked by. The bombardment of scanning was eerie; it was doing the exact thing I wanted it to do.
I also encountered hostility from Art Basel security. The guard wrapped his hands tight around my arms and repeated, “Ma’am, I need you to leave.” And because my request to “Get your fucking hands off of me” didn’t work, I decided to lean my whole body into him and asked him to “Carry me.” He then backed off his stronghold but went to do it again. So it became this Pina Bausch-esque performance within a performance where he grabbed me, I leaned into him, he backed off, he grabbed me, I leaned, and he backed off.  I think this was the most surprising encounter. I understand if you wanted me to leave, but there was no need for excessive force and calling the cops, especially when all I did was exist. Apparently, the Kardashians were at Basel simultaneously, and God forbid anything to happen to a Kardashian…
I've freaked people out with performances where I followed men around a gallery. They went up to the gallerist at the end of the night, telling them they felt uncomfortable. I've laid on steps with a coat saying Do Not Step Over Me, where people poked and prodded me. One man lifted my coat to make sure I was alive. I've demanded viewers to take their medicine while feeding them wine. Brown Hair, Brown Eyes was more of a work of theatre performed by my boyfriend and me where he abducted me in a gallery and we played out particular scenarios.
At times I was fine; at others, I was not. I disregarded the audience but also acknowledged them. This was the most unnerving performance to date. A Book of Honest Answers was a performance where I asked viewers to write me a private opinion they would never share publicly. It was a commentary on self-censorship and cancel culture. I’ve always wanted to know what people really think. Many who came out of the room felt this massive catharsis and thanked me, though this wasn’t my intention when I came up with the question. Still, it made me realise that with these performances where I am asking people to be vulnerable with me, I am providing them with a chance, to be honest with themselves and to let it out, whatever it is. Put it on the page, let it exist here, don't hold it with you and repress it­–so much of our culture is psychically repressed, and I find this to be a huge issue.
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What do you do with these reactions to and interactions with your work?
Various things, sometimes the reactions and documentation become the work and or essential accompaniments of the work. Most of the time during the performance itself, I attempt to make recordings the best way I can. Being a one-woman show, it can be challenging, but usually, my charm is enough for someone to help me out. Most of the time, I place my phone on the ground and go live on Instagram. It's sort of the perfect tool for concepts I have that are critiquing social media and identity. A discreet camera also acts as a predacious eye; it's always watching.
The reactions can be in written form or via video. When people write to me, I always keep them anonymous. Do Not Step Over Me is accompanied by various quotes I heard people say as they approached me on the steps. When a performance results in an object, I deem that object to be the anchor, result, or art of said act.
Much of your previous work also focuses on similar issues of what you call ‘societal oversight.’ How did your interest in such issues begin? Why do you feel passionate about such issues?
My dad always said, Katelyn’s got an edge, and it's true. From a young age, I always got into trouble but was thoughtful, never reckless. I got into arguments with teachers as a young child because they were being genuinely unjust or unfair. I already had the sense to trust myself and could identify abuses of power.
Being the youngest in my family, I was very observant of my surroundings. I made note of things that others couldn't see. This wasn't taught, just something that I inherently had. I am naturally a tomboy and a horse girl. Horses have contributed to my personality and work ethic. I started fetching horses, mucking stalls, and scrubbing buckets when I was eight. I loved it. I got my hands dirty and I worked hard. Falling off horses and getting back on is a metaphor for how I approach life; it's also why I have little patience for people complaining about mediocre topics. I have always had an interest in psychology and sociology. It's in culture and in the mind where the show begins and the stage is set.
I have naturally become a skeptic of reality because of the lies fed to us and the incessant programming that is being imposed on us. It's essential to be able to say, “I'm not so sure,” and not get reprimanded. We live in a culture where if you have a moment of doubt or opposing thoughts, people begin to lose their minds and call you all sorts of names. Let us just talk and play with the idea that maybe what you think you know is not.
Reality is genuinely so fascinating. Sometimes I feel like I am watching a really good (or bad) movie, and perhaps on some cosmic level, I am. There is inspiration for me everywhere. The Truth has become purposely murky, but it's out there, and I encourage people not to fear it. I want to see it, read it, learn it. Show it to me. I am an observer of the truth and of people and have always been.
What was the inspiration behind this project’s specific focus on cultural narcissism? Why is it important to be talked about now, in the 21st-century world?
There's a personal and cultural inspiration behind this. I’ve come into contact with a gradation of grand (and not so grand) manipulators in my life. From innocuous moments to heart-wrenching ones, they come in all shapes, sizes, and genders.
The self and culture are symbiotic, influencing each other constantly. There is the self who desires perfection and happiness, and then there is a culture that tells us what that perfection and happiness should look like. There is practically a drop-down menu of selves to choose from today, but not all are equal. Culture tells us which versions are accepted, desired, and rewarded. From there, we branch off and find psychological tribes of individuals who are the quote unquote same as us, and we copy. We love to copy and emulate. This is hardwired into us and innate to our humanness.
Interestingly enough, all you have to do to generate prejudice and bias is to divide one group into two. Imagine that in today's culture, where there are endless tribes, causes, sexualities, and identities outpouring from the media, politicians, and tech companies–some of the most intelligent social agencies that rule our culture, who benefit from our division. We click and scroll and retweet, caught in a scam that leaves us mentally empty and tech companies extremely wealthy. We tell ourselves how morally good we are, signaling our virtue to others and showing that we care by sharing a post on Instagram, or putting a flag outside our institution when we all know that if that problem appeared on our doorstep, we would look the other way or say Sorry, here's a check.
When an idea or thought expressed publicly challenges the ideas of the collective culture or steps outside the Overton window, we slap a name on it that ends with -phobic, -ist, -ism, or my personal favorite, conspiracy theorist. Instead of opening ourselves to others’ opinions and viewpoints, and thus growing as individuals, we sit in the comfort of consumption, chowing down on media, drugs, sex, violence, genders, clothes, plastic surgery, tech, oppression, and videos to remotely understand, or even avoid understanding who we are. This bombardment of victimhood, coddle culture, and affirmation culture has become massively narcissistic. Where is the actual empowerment, empathy, critical discourse, gratitude, and nuance? Or is everything about you?
Our thinking in the West has got dangerously simplistic and generalised. This display of victimhood is the same as the display of the body. See your day from every angle and with every detail; we see your body, face, and issues that are so carefully curated by you. We’re in a systematic scam of manufactured rage, confusion, and identity politics that only benefit and put cash in the pockets of the social agencies that run our reality. Instead of going after the corporations, the media, and politicians, who commodify the pain of communities, movements, and hardship, we eat each other. It's a brilliant scheme.
We sincerely desire to feel like we control our lives. The left brain interpreter, according to neuroscientists, concocts and affirms the stories we tell ourselves to make us feel in control. Any inconvenient fact that doesn't fit with our interpreter is cast out and ignored. This happens within ourselves, but then also projects into our personal, online, and familial relationships. Take that concept and apply it to the present. People have lost their livelihoods, families, and jobs over an opinion or bodily choices they have the right to make. Not the media. Not the government. Not the culture. Not your friends. Not your job. You. Topics have become so politicised and polarised that folks don't even realise they are being duped into believing that these choices make up the totality of who they are–they don't. You can exhale.
No one can make a mistake or have a critical discussion. Any slip-ups or diverging ideas and the cult will come for you. It's a dash of communism cut with authoritarianism. Everyone must agree and be perfect in their speech and be affirmed in their thoughts. Can no one be challenged? Does everyone have to agree and be coddled to feel okay? It's chilling. How boring will art become if this is the case? Our absence of discussion around this perpetuates this behaviour and mindset, resulting in a culture that will become a very ugly and boring one indeed. It begs the question, have we forgotten what it means to be human?
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What do you view the relationship between art and this narcissistic culture to be? Art is often an act of self-expression, whether it is to express your opinion on something, your emotions, or your perspective. Art is also often sold or at least consumed, and hence it inevitably participates in this culture of selling oneself that your performance project critiques. Does the seemingly more sophisticated social positionality of art, compared to other forms of expression such as social media as used in influencer culture, allow art to critique this culture of narcissism from a location that is beyond it? Or is art very much part of your critique? Is your project to some extent an endeavour of self-reflexive critique?
Yes, in addition to critiquing cultural narcissism and the effects this has, I am also critiquing the creative process and the art market, which is ultimately bought, sold, and consumed as commodities. By becoming a commodity myself, I play into the very thing I am critiquing, the system of art and that culture. Will You Buy Me brings up questions in the art sphere, and these questions are the point.
I am an art object with a QR code, and instead of looking at me, the art, you scan me and are now scrolling, on your phone, off into another world. People do go into another world when they are online. This is where we are at: we don't look, we scroll, we don't think, we generalise, we don't disrupt, we shut up and obey.
What visions and plans do you have for the project going forward?
I am working on a proposal for Will You Buy Me, where I do the performance live in a gallery space. People will have to pay a low amount to activate me by scanning, and then they can select the products for sale. I want to live with a viewer, face to face. What would Katelyn's Advice look like live? I love to embody characters. I think that would be thrilling.
Tangible things, such as Katelyn’s Hair, will be for sale, where I cut my hair and give it to the buyer. An extra high price will be added if someone wants to make me bald and have all my hair. The products would shift, but that's what the project is for. It's open; it's adaptable to whatever context I place it in. I originally wanted to do the exchange of commodities (my self) live, in person, but the art fairs were not the venue for that.
Another idea is to take the performance out of the gallery context and embody it in everyday spaces. At dinner, at the food store, and anywhere where performance, selling, and consumption happen. I am very interested in gluttony, greed, and any kind of consumption, be it food, violence, media, sex, or power. I will bring a camera, a few versions of myself, and document accordingly.
Do you have any other upcoming projects currently in the works?
I recently completed some new fashion works for The Canvas in NYC. My clothing brand A Line of Kope is a project where I print statements on repurposed garments and put them out into the world on people's bodies. The idea for the brand is to have people engage in dialogue and not be afraid. My words have another life outside of me, outside of the galleries; they are walking around with and for the public. Aside from that, I plan on advancing my skills in printmaking and planning proposals and exhibitions. I have an open studio event in Miami in May which I am excited about. I am constantly making, even if all I'm doing is thinking, reading, and of course, conspiring my next disturbance.
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