Katelena Hernandez Cowles is a performer, visual artist, and researcher whose work explores the concept of comfort: why we need it; how we create it; how it is disturbed; how industries profit from it; where it morphs into discomfort, and vice versa; and how it interacts with socioeconomics, age, gender, nationality, and race. Her works most often take the form of interactive experiences and installations that include elements of vocal music, food, or touch, especially lullabies, hugs, sweet treats, and other maternal interventions. Her pop-up emotional day spa, Comfort Station, was nominated for an Austin Critic’s Table award in 2015. The artist’s current bodies of work critique the comforting impact of love songs, airplane safety information cards, and, in PIROPOS, the performance work she presents at EAST 2016, seductive Mexican masculine compliments or catcalls called “piropos.”
Her work was inspired by her undergraduate studies at Yale University in studio art and anthropology, but more essentially by her experience of motherhood paired with her experiences as a survivor of brain injury and PTSD. Following a concussion caused by a fall from a horse, complications in healing caused insomnia so severe that she lost the ability to sleep almost completely; only years of biofeedback, medication, and nutritional therapy returned her to health. During that period of sleeplessness, she sang to her young children, continuing for hours after they fell asleep. She recognized that exchange was of equal value to audience and artist; but that it wasn't an exchange that was generally available in the larger world. This convergence of artistic expression and intellectual exploration inspires all her further studies into the nature of comfort.
Beyond her artistic career, Ms. Cowles has served as the Head of Education at the Austin Museum of Art and as an independent curator and exhibition designer; and has served on the boards of ArtL!es magazine, Women & Their Work (including a term as President), as well as numerous support and selection committees for the Austin Museum of Art, Mexic-Arte, the City of Austin, and the Texas Commission on the Arts State Artist selection process. She is currently a Trustee for The Contemporary Austin museum. In addition, Ms. Hernandez performs internationally with the Yale Alumni Chorus. Her tours have included work in Russia, England, Wales, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, and Cuba, as well as the United States and Canada.