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Channeling a broken heart into art

Artist Katie Troisi navigates a tough breakup with a new photo series

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One of art’s most magical qualities is its openness to interpretation. Viewers can develop their own meaning for a work and those individual meanings have wild possibilities for variance, ranging potentially worlds apart from the artist’s intention. However, when it comes to breakups, those objectively suck. That is, unless an artist can find fuel for a new fire in the ashes of said burnt relationship.

Artist Katie Troisi’s latest breakup has lasted almost as long as the relationship itself — nearly five and a half years. “We weren't in the house for a year before we broke up,” Troisi says about the Decatur home the two purchased for their fifth anniversary. There they remained co-habitating up until very recently. Now, it’s up for sale. As a way to say goodbye to the house as well as the cat she and her ex shared, Troisi developed a photography series called He Got the Cat in the Divorce, available exclusively via a protected Instagram account and a single installation at a July house show.

“It was a way to make it public and private at the same time,” she says.

The near-daily Instagram updates happen in threes. One is a self-portrait; the other two capture aspects of the house; the cat, Trudy; or Trudy in the house. Many of the images are dimly lit, if lit at all. Some abstract shots show a division between two slabs of what is possibly concrete flooring or a bright blur of something amorphous and pink rushing past Troisi’s iPhone camera. Others are more literal, capturing Trudy’s golden eyes cast outside the frame as her compact, black body spills across a white piece of patio furniture.

The self-portraits, though, are some of the most affecting work in the series. Troisi shows a remarkable bravery, taking, uploading, and sharing images of herself, hunched over in a fit of emotion while perched on a bed once shared. Another places her naked and turned from the camera, flanked by stark white tiles in an immaculate shower. To call such work vulnerable seems like a gross understatement.

No value assigned

Though she used to update the account daily with photos captured day-of, that’s increasingly rare. When Troisi’s realtor started scheduling more and earlier showings of the house, she and her ex started staying elsewhere — just to keep everything clean, intact, and looking appealing to potential buyers. Troisi has been crashing with her new boyfriend, who has shown nothing but support for He Got the Cat. “He loves it,” she says. “He's been very encouraging … He thinks it’s the best art I’ve ever done.” 

Troisi says she plans to continue the series until the house sells. Once the house sells, as the project’s name suggests, her ex gets Trudy. He plans to stay in a suburban area where the cat could roam outdoors safely. Troisi prefers to find a place more in-town. “Whatever would make her happier,” she says, considering Trudy.

Although Troisi and her ex were never technically wed, the split, she says, feels as serious as a textbook divorce. Not to mention, owning a house with an ex and all the associated paperwork adds a whole new dimension of challenges to an already unsavory breakup.

No value assigned

“A house is like a third partner,” Troisi says. “You can't control it. Somebody else has to find it. Somebody else has to buy it … You can't tell somebody, ‘Buy my house!’ and have them take it. You're tied to that other person through the house. It's a triad. The ol’ ball and chain.”

A heavy one, at that.

“Very heavy,” she says, laughing. “Immovable.”