Kat Toronto's "Dolls In The House Of Venus"

Kat Toronto (aka Miss Meatface) looks at dolls, latex and feminine beauty for her new exhibition “Dolls In The House Of Venus”.

Multi-disciplinary artist Kat Toronto is an artistic enigma. Her dreamlike performance-based photography is created through the persona of a wounded femme fatale, who is wrapped in bandages and hidden behind latex masks, with the intriguing moniker of Miss Meatface. Her otherworldly photography questions the concept of femininity, ideas of beauty and what it means to be a woman, providing a much-needed visual representation of those questions that many people ask about their own femininity. Toronto focuses on exploring gender, identity and sexuality through Miss Meatface, working as an experimental catalyst to start off conversations around these important issues. Miss Meatface takes snapshots on vintage Polaroids of everyday real life situations, warped with surreal elements and bizarre twists. You never know quite what to expect.

Her new exhibition, “Dolls In The House Of Venus” at the Resistance Gallery in Bethnal Green is an extension of her exploration of femininity and beauty ideals. The idea came directly from a visit to a latex fetishist and dollification enthusiast, and led to Toronto’s exploration of the dolls and their perfect representation of beauty and human form. Looking at Venus, the Roman goddess of love, beauty, sex and fertility, Toronto questions connotations behind dolls, latex and fetishism, and how they relate to the modern concept of the woman, in all its wonderfully surreal and bizarre beauty.

Where did the Miss Meatface persona come from?

I’ve traced the beginnings of Miss Meatface back to late 2013 when I began a photo series of self portraits titled “Spirit Saints”. It was during the creation of this series that I began sewing hoods and masks to wear in the shoots and thus launched a serious fascination with using such things to explore identity, sexuality and gender in my photography. The Miss Meatface character developed when I procured my first vintage Polaroid camera. I noticed that with each shoot a very distinctive persona would come out in the photos. She started as a wounded femme-fatale type, usually sporting a black eye, bloodied nose or large wounds across her face so I began calling her Miss Meatface and it stuck. During the time I shot the first Miss Meatface images I was trapped in a terribly unhappy relationship and I think that she was a way for me to express the depression, pain and turmoil I felt inside.

What was the first piece of art you made as Miss Meatface?

Back in 2014 I got my first vintage Polaroid camera off of eBay (a Polaroid Spectra) and began taking self portraits in my studio. These were the very first manifestations of Miss Meatface in my photography work.

You come from the San Francisco Bay Area – has the art scene there influenced your work in any way?

To be honest I haven’t really been a part of the SF Bay Area art scene for a long time. I do, however, have a wonderful group of friends that are artists in the Bay Area that inspire and motivate me and my work! I actually find the London art scene and community much more vibrant and inspiring than back home in the Bay Area.

You use film from Impossible – why are Polaroids the best way to shoot your work?

I am a huge fan of the vintage aesthetic of Impossible Project film. Ever since I was a child I’ve had an obsession with old family photos, both from my own family and photos I find at antique shops, junk shops, etc. The biggest thrill for me is finding someone’s ancient family album at a charity or antique shop that still has all of the photos in it! For my Miss Meatface images, especially for the “Dolls in the House of Venus” series, it’s important for me visually to have them refer back to old family snapshots and I found that I was able to find similar vintage photo tones with Impossible Project film. The same goes for my choice in using vintage Polaroid cameras, they are the epitome of the accessible snapshot camera that many families used while on vacations, family gatherings, etc so it just made sense for me to shoot primarily using vintage Polaroid cameras.

Latex masks are an important element of your work – where did the idea to use them come from and do you actively think about its connections to the fetish world?

My choice to use latex hoods in the Miss Meatface images is absolutely an intentional one. I began sewing my own fabric hoods and masks back in 2013 while working on the “Spirit Saints” series and from there my fascination with hoods grew and I re-discovered the beauty of latex. I’ve been a part of the fetish world since I was in my early 20’s (I’m in my mid-30’s now) and little bits and pieces of the fetish aesthetic have always somehow found themselves into my work. Through Miss Meatface I’ve been able to delve into the places of my psyche that I’ve wanted to but never had the chance so she has become an experimental catalyst for me to explore my own sexuality more and how all of it relates to other human beings and the world around me.

Your images are quite surreal – is this an effect you always intend to achieve?

I like to think of my compositions as snapshots taken from a day in the life of someone like a grandmother or auntie but with subtle (or in some cases, not so subtle), bizarre twists. So I suppose what I do is take the every day of real life and then add surreal elements to it in order to turn it completely on its head.

Your work often explores the cultural ideals of feminine beauty and the objectification of women, so what does being a woman mean to you?

For me, what it means to be a woman has changed a bit since I was diagnosed with cervical cancer at 29 and subsequently underwent a total hysterectomy. This experience was a huge mind fuck for me because even though on the outside I looked just like any other woman, on the inside I no longer had the organs that biologically made me female. So where does that leave me in a society that enjoys putting labels on everything? Was I still considered female if I did not posses the biological female organs any longer? I realized that these were all questions that many people were asking of themselves regarding their own identity and sexuality and how they fit into society so I wanted to open up these conversations through my photography and the Miss Meatface persona.

What kind of preparation do you go through to shoot a piece?

The preparation I do for a shoot all depends on where the inspiration for the shoot comes from. Sometimes I’ll be inspired by a location, a piece of clothing, an old toy, or a specific Polaroid camera. The Miss Meatface shoots begin with one piece of inspiration and then the rest of the shoot is built around that inspiration. One of my favorite recent shoots for the “Dolls in the House of Venus” series happened when I found a vintage ruffled pink nylon nightgown and robe at a friends house. From that point I built compositions around the nightgown ensemble and in the end I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome, so much so that it has become one of my favourite shoots from the whole series!

You’ve titled your exhibition “Dolls In The House Of Venus” – what’s it all about?

Over one weekend in March of this year my partner and I traveled to the Isle of Wight to visit a friend who is a latex fetishist and also into dollification. This visit was a huge point of inspiration for the series as I’d never had the opportunity to play with dollification masks before and it was from this direct interaction that the “Dolls in the House of Venus” series was born. The title itself came from the concept of dolls being the “perfect” embodiment of beauty and the human form. The inclusion of Venus in the title was for similar reasons, Venus being the Roman goddess of love, beauty, sex, and fertility. I shot a large portion of the series in our friends house, so it just felt right to call the series “Dolls in the House of Venus”.

Do you have any favourite pieces in the exhibition?

I think I have one favourite image from each DHOV shoot set, I’m most excited about the video that I am working on for the exhibition. It is a medium that I’ve dabbled in in the past but never fully explored and the DHOV series has given me a chance to delve into it more in depth.

You’ve exhibited at Resistance Gallery before – what do you like about the space?

ResGal is a wonderfully transformative space for exhibitions and events but also importantly, it is a hub that helps nurture and support the art community. To me, ResGal feels more like an old school neighborhood community meeting place for artists of all kinds and has a much more welcoming feel than a typical run-of-the-mill sterile gallery environment which is something that is really important to me! In its eight years of operation it has nurtured and helped to launch the careers of an entire community of artists, both locally in the UK and internationally – pretty incredible!

“Dolls In The House Of Venus” opens at The Resistance Gallery on 21st July 2016, 7pm-midnight. “Dolls In The House Of Venus” will also be shown in California.

Annabel Lunnon