Tania Katan calls herself a "Producer of Shenanigans." The title is fitting, as the writer, performer, and program coordinator at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is tasked with bringing artists and performers to audiences in order to captivate, inspire, and get a little crazy at story-sharing events like Lit Lounge.
Although the shows she produces run on a healthy amount of playful chaos, her home and creative atmosphere are a bit more deliberate.
"I don't just buy crap for the sake of it," the 40-year-old says. "All the objects in my space have meaning and stories."
Currently, Katan is hard at work producing "The Most of" Lit Lounge, which happens on June 26 at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. The show will feature poet-performer-activist Sonya Renee Taylor, The Moth Grand Slam winner Jessica Lee Williamson, and comedic actress Annabelle Gurwitch.
Katan fell in love with the Midcentury Modern architecture of her ranch home in Phoenix's Rancho Ventura neighborhood. The home, designed by architect Ralph Haver, has served as everything from a space where Katan hosted writing workshops to a studio space for her wife, artist Angela Ellsworth.
When she works or writes, Katan likes to occupy spaces that don't have the unfortunately routine feel of an office. The layout of her living room allows the freedom to explore small changes to the scenery -- like switching up seating arrangements -- which keeps her mindset fresh.
"I love my day job at the museum so much, and it connects with my other job of writing and performing. Everything bleeds into the house in a good way. My creative mind doesn't stop because I left a studio space," says Katan. "I carry that lens of seeing things all the time."
When she's at home reading the New York Times and sees someone she knows mentioned in the paper, Katan uses it as an opportunity to offer an invitation to perform in Lit Lounge.
"I guess for me, creative space isn't relegated to a literal space that I always go to. It's more fluid and happening all the time."
There are several colorful and beautifully suprising focal points all around Katan's living room, but perhaps the biggest pull on any visitor's eyes comes from the black and white, almost still artwork that rests above her couch. The pieces, by Ellsworth, are based on walks the artist took. Thousands of tiny hatchmarks chronicle a single step in her many five-mile walks around Phoenix. SMoCA also has a sister piece that lives in the museum's permanent collection.
Katan's entire space is filled with stories. Her living room bookshelf has displays of diverse pieces of art that each have their own rhyme, reason, and connection to the performer.
The bookshelf is home to everything from performance artist Ryan McNamara's piece entitled Where Babies Come From, in which McNamara took haunting portraits with his mother at JC Penny and put the images on small plates, to artist Suzanne Falk's in heaven, everything is fine. Falk's work, depicting naked men touching each other, was intriguing to Katan for a few reasons.
In 2012, artist Randy Slack's art show, Chaos Theory 13, declined to showcase Falk's in heaven, everything is fine. Until then, Falk's art was known for depicting hyper-realistic, soft and innocent images of baby animals, children, and cartoon characters. in heaven was a response to a review Falk received from New Times art critic Kathleen Vanesian in 2010, who noted, "I just wish [Falk] would venture out of her comfort zone and mix a little acid with the sweetness of her nostalgic still-lifes."
"All I knew was that this painting existed and there was some controversy around it and that it was boys with penises. I thought, I must see it. I must hear the real story. Then I decided to own it."
"I call these feet by Elena Lourenco 'Dirty Feet,'" says Katan. "I put them in the window at the condo I used to live in so people could see them as they passed. Kids would walk by and without fail you'd hear, 'Ew! Dirty feet!'"
Katan's favorite piece of owned art is a porcelain burrito she got from a graduate show at California College of the Arts in San Francisco.
"The grad shows are killer because these are artists in training who are going to go out into the world and make art for a living. All the collectors swoop in at these shows."
Katan says that one such student had a burrito cart with porcelain burritos in them.
"He wasn't skimping on the concept at all," recalls Katan. "The burrito cart rolls up, and you tell them you'd like to buy a burrito. It came in a brown paper bag and everything."
Little touches of color and character follow Katan's walls through her living and dining rooms and into her small kitchen.
Of the vibrant porcelain cake that sits among plates, cups, and next to real snacks, Katan says, "My mom brought it over and I'm thinking, Oh my god it's so kitschy. At first I wasn't sure about it. Sometimes people think it's real."
Katan leads us to her backyard and outdoor space, where she jokes that it was made beautiful so that she could work outside, but as Katan puts it, she "just can't handle the nature."
"It exists and I'm happy for it and I enjoy breathing it and sometimes I like walking outdoors," Katan jokes. "But when things fly toward me, I duck. And when things crawl on the floor. . . Well, I just don't like bugs."
Katan explains that when she first bought the property, it had no plants or trees. Her first big outdoor project at the time was to plant a little tree and landscape the front.
"I did the front yard all by myself. Never again."
All of the aloe and agave plants in Katan's open concrete space were just clippings from other people's yards. The plants live across from one colored wall that Katan painted because she wanted it to be "a little bit poppy."
Katan has held one party in the outdoor area, where she hosted the Phoenix Art Museum group, Contemporary Forum. The evening included a performance by Ellsworth, line dancing instructors, tequila, and a video projected on a taut sheet hung on the wooden gazebo in the backyard.
The art that happens in Katan's house is precious to her, but perhaps most treasured is her French Bulldog, Felix. Katan got the pet, who was the last of his litter, from a small family breeder. She loves his imperfections and boasts often of his good looks.
"He's so handsome," says Katan. "I saw a picture of his sister, and I'm just saying. . .
"If someone wants a purebred, they usually want perfection," Katan says. "Felix has a janky bottom rack of teeth, but I don't care. He's just cute. He has a very particular, squishy face and when he's really thirsty he looks like Ernest Borgnine."
Once, Katan took Felix on a call to audition with an animal agent.
"We go -- and of course he knows all the commands -- and then they did a test to see what he would do when I walked away. So I walk out of his vision, and he stays perfectly still but kind of turns around so he can see me. Then they brought out light reflectors, and of course he flinches. So they told me that he'll have to work on that, but he's nice looking."
"Nice looking?" asks Katan. "He's a babe!"
Felix keeps Katan company as she writes, plans for new shows, or prepares to perform. The love she gets from and gives to her beloved dog seem to be a reflection for the constant ebb and flow of what she gets and gives from and to her entire creative process. Her environment is important, but it is not static.
Instead, it's a collection of connections to important times and people in her life; a nod to triumphs and tests of constant creative challenges. Proving that it doesn't matter where she is, the museum of her mind is carried with her. Every story builds a home.
Editor's note: This post has been modified from its original version.
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