OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lauren Carter

The One with the Rainbow, 2016. Ceramic rainbow, broken mug, peach pit, Shrinky-dinks, beads, toothpicks, foam tubing, hydrocal, expandable foam, acrylic paint, silicone, epoxy clay, glitter, pigment, steel rod. 26” x 16” x 14”

LAUREN CARTER transforms found objects and personal possessions into kitschy and profound assemblage sculptures. These memorials to sentimentality are both serious and silly. Her effort to preserve and honor discarded, once-loved objects shows up in the marks left by her hand in the hydrocal, silicone, expandable foam and epoxy claycast plaster that holds these works together. Lauren earned her BFA from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and her MFA with Distinction from the University of New Mexico. She has exhibited at Non-Fiction Gallery (Savannah, Georgia), Chicago Art Department, Hyde Park Art Center (Chicago) and Chicago Artists Coalition. She was a 2013-14 HATCH Projects Residentand a 2017 Center Program ArtistSurface vs. Sap, a two-person exhibition with Nico Gardner, opens March 31st at Comfort Station in Chicago. Lauren is a teaching artist at Marwen in Chicago, where she lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your most recent body of work, Offerings or Clusterfucks, seems to be more about material culture and its detritus than earlier bodies of work like Flux (2015) and Pre/proscribed (2012), which are more bodily and visceral. What changed?

Lauren Carter: A lot, actually. Pre/proscribed is a body of work from grad school that was mostly introspective. I was examining a subconscious desire to preserve a notion of myself while unpacking ideas of othering, unmaking, loss, vulnerability, and nostalgia. My mother has a chronic illness that was directly influencing my work and research at this particular time in my life. I spent a lot of time thinking about pain and identity, and the work was really personal and kind of tough to talk about. I was also spending a lot of money making these things that were process oriented and took a lot of time to complete. So when I moved to Chicago immediately after finishing my master’s program, I figured it was a good opportunity to change my practice a bit, and make objects that are more financially and emotionally sustainable for me.

Effigies, 2015. Beeswax, pigment, hair, satin, wood. Approximately 8'w x 11'h

OPP: Was Flux the transition?

LC: Yes. I was looking for a way to continue to communicate the corporeal experience, but by utilizing symbols I found outside of my personal realm and the body. For example, I think deflated balloons found tied to mailboxes and fence posts are super loaded metaphors for loss and nostalgia. They are a kind of memorial for whatever celebratory event has passed. They’re incredibly sweet and sad things to me. It’s most likely that the person who put them up just forgot to take them down after the party, but I tend to assign sentimental meaning to just about anything. So the installation Effigies is a funeral or sorts for what those balloons signify. 

From there I started looking at flower bouquets and roadside memorials, which leads to this new work. I’ve continued to explore vulnerability and nostalgia, but now through personal items and found objects that embody ambiguous narratives of commemoration.

The One on Astro-turf, 2016. Ceramic seashell, broken ceramic lady, amethysts ribbon, beads, plastic flowers, pantyhose, broken glass flower, metal brooch, old earrings, ceramic swan, parts of a stuffed animal, picture   frame, glitter paper, a cut up old exhibition card, acrylic paint, expandable foam, marbled shelf paper, hydrocal, epoxy clay, expandable foam, wreath stand, Astro Turf. 30" x 24" x 20"

OPP: What role does kitsch play in this newer work?

LC: Formally, I use kitsch as a medium, just like the other materials I use in my work.  But I’ve been a collector of kitschy things since I was a kid, which I’m sure is something I share with many people. It started with those stupid Precious Moments figurines that I’d receive every birthday from a member in my family. Then it was porcelain dolls and unicorns. Then Treasure Trolls. . .  and the list goes on. Keeping a gift from someone is a way to preserve a memory of a person or of a specific time. And I think that we end up collecting things because objects become symbolic. No matter how tacky or worthless they may be, sometimes they’re just too precious to throw away. Because the things we collect and keep carry a lot of weight, I think of the objects I use in my work as signifiers for a universal language of sentimentality that anyone can draw from or relate to.

OPP: I imagine you shop at thrift stores. Is that true? What’s your collection process like for the found objects?

LC: Yes, very true! I have a slight obsession with obtaining other people’s discarded possessions. I’m always drawn to objects that spark my own memories or remind me of someone from my past, but I have a couple rules that I’ve made for myself when gathering materials. I’ll choose an object that has a nice form, color, or texture; but it must be mass produced, and either be broken in some way, or have some kind of obvious history attached to it. If it doesn’t prompt me to ponder who owned it and how it ended up where it is, I put it back on the shelf.

The One with all the Pearls (If You Need It), 2018. Peach had cream container, ceramic jesus, fake roses, jewelry display, tape, pearls, expandable foam, epoxy clay, silicone, acrylic paint, plastic wrap, found table. 36” x 12” x 16”

OPP: Can you talk about your repeated use of furniture as pedestals?

LC: I think of collecting as a domestic ritual of the act of remembering. Using found furniture instead of traditional pedestals reiterates that idea. The cabinet or table that supports a sculpture has its own history and is a necessary component to the work. Also, finding a piece of furniture that’s perfect for a specific sculpture is way more fun than building pedestals.

I Sincerely Appreciate the Gesture, 2017. Paper pulp from greeting cards I received from loved ones over the years, found frame, gold gilding wax. 53" x 28" x 9"

OPP: I deeply LOVE I Sincerely Appreciate the Gesture (2017), which is made from all the greeting cards you’ve received from loved ones over the years. I’m interested in the excess of it, the weight of it, the desire to both honor the gesture and to get rid of the cards. Will you talk about how you conceived of this piece?

LC: Oh thank you! You definitely described exactly what I was trying to achieve with this piece. I think a lot about honoring the vulnerability in the act of giving. I think we are just as vulnerable when we give as we are when we grieve, it just looks much different. Maybe that’s another reason it’s so hard to purge our homes of the things we don’t want, but feel obligated to keep because they were given to us with love. Greeting cards are just that. They are so cliché, but yet filled with so much thought and sentiment and history. And they’re a tricky thing for me because, in theory, they don’t take up much space. Unless you never throw them out and you end up with this burden of lugging around a box containing every card anyone has sent you in the last decade, and that box just keeps getting bigger and heavier. Which is exactly what was happening. I’ve lived in four states over the last ten years, and I’ve taken some of these cards everywhere with me.

OPP: What was the process like?

LC: I took the box to my studio, sat on the floor, read each one and ripped it up, and of course cried the whole time. I found this process pretty cathartic, and it’s probably the most important part of this piece for me. Because the content is literally in the material, I decided to create a self-portrait of sorts that honors the material made by my loved ones’ vulnerability, while simultaneously conveying the burden of sentimentality that I often feel. 

The One with the Little Owl, 2018. Ceramic owl, alligator foot, part of a stuffed animal, vase, rubber grapes, beads, rubber ball, fuzzy ball, old jewelry, expandable foam, epoxy clay, brass rod, Plastidip, acrylic paint. 13” x 11” x 6” 

OPP: You have an imminent two-person show with Nico Gardner. What can you tell us about it?

LC: Surface vs. Sap is our first collaboration together. Nico and I continuously shift between the personal and the general, the specific and ambiguous, creating new work in conversation with one another. With a primary focus on desire, ritual, identity, and the expression of human need, Surface vs. Sap addresses the power and persuasive nature of mundane, domestic objects. Our use of found or purchased items is a starting point to explore themes that ultimately result in a collaboration of both material culture and making. The exhibition features wall mounted and freestanding mixed media sculptures that engage the floor, ceiling and walls. Independently created, the works echo each other's voices through the nature of consumer objecthood, both domestic and commercial. Household artifacts lost in the hurricane of one of my arrangements is excavated and embodied into one of Nico’s new works. Simultaneously, an object in its prime depiction in one of Nico’s reliefs finds itself mirrored and absorbed into one of my clusterfucks. It should go without saying, but Nico's the Surface, and I'm the Sap.  We are incredibly excited about this opportunity to work together, where we are continually throwing wrenches into each other's practices. And we get a chance to do it again in the fall! We'll have a second, larger, exhibition with additional works at Heaven Gallery in Chicago.  

To see more of Lauren's work, please visit laurencarterart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Anne Roecklein

Untitled lure (raspberry & blue), detail
Mixed media

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your body of work contains two dominant modes of production: paper collage, as in Horizon Utopias, Paper Lures, and Tiny Utopias, and assemblage-based sculpture, as in Lures and Nets. What's similar about these different media? What's different?

Anne Roecklein: Whether I’m working two- or three-dimensionally, I work with found images and objects, because they have had a life before I find them. I’m interested in the conceptual, historical, and physical residues that materials bring with them. I can recombine and leverage these materials in new and meaningful ways.

Both the assembled Lures and the collaged Paper Lures explore physical as well as conceptual aspects of fishing lures. Why are certain colors and shapes, such as the form of an egg cluster, so appealing? What does it mean to put something out there that will attract what you want? The assembled Lures are made with materials from actual fishing lures, faux flowers, plastic aquarium plants, and cast hot glue—materials that attempt to replicate nature, but don’t quite succeed. The elements for the Paper Lures come from health, biology, and embryology textbooks, as well as cookbooks—sources that deal with different kinds of potential and fulfillment. Here, I’m interested in the mini-tragedies of discarded books, and I’m using the visual vocabulary of science to address some questions about biological desires.

So, these different modes of production are addressing similar questions but coming from different directions with different processes and material associations.

Untitled Paper Lure
Collage on paper
18" x 24"

OPP: From a strictly process-oriented perspective, what body of work is your favorite? Which did you enjoy working on the most?

AR: The Paper Lures are my favorites right now, which could be partly because this is some of the newest work. It’s still shiny and new to me. These pieces evolved out of the assembled Lures so they’re rooted in the same ideas, but the paper pieces are less about materiality and are a little more formal. I spend a lot of time exploring subtle color relationships. Sometimes it almost goes to a nerdy extreme, but this is an area where I find pleasure in my studio practice. I also spend a lot of time with scissors making this work; it’s contemplative, until I get hand cramps.

I’m currently working on a new version of Constant Lake that’s over twelve feet long. This is pushing some scale boundaries for me, which is exciting.

OPP: In your statement, you say that your work focuses on our desires. What do our desires say about the world we live in?

AR: Desire is the central topic of my work. It’s also a jumping off point from which I explore related ideas like possibility, wistfulness, longing, and need. I’m looking at the world around us through the lenses of  biological desires, desires involving objects, and desires for the unattainable. Investigating these topics can tell us so much; desires are what motivate us to take action. They elucidate our relationships with what we find pleasurable. They may drive some neurological pathways dealing with learning and reward. Processing or not processing desires can have a lot to do with individual happiness or frustration.

Pop Song, detail
Collage on paper

OPP: How is collage particularly apt as a medium to address issues of desire?

AR: Collage and assemblage are processes that I have chosen very deliberately for this work. They embody fragmentation, hybridization, and appropriation. They are perfect vehicles for addressing desire in a world where images and objects overwhelm our lives and spaces and where consumerism is presented to us as the fastest path to satisfaction.

These processes are especially well suited to creating fictions that escape the everyday. The individual components are like little “facts,” but when they’re added up and recombined, you get a rubric in which every element is potentially relevant to every other element. This creates countless parallel narratives. When you work with found objects, there is a weird sense that these are “real” objects, because they come from the world and not from art. So when you combine images into an impossible landscape, for example, the viewer is constantly suspended between what is possible and what is impossible. Collage is perfect media for dealing with nostalgia or the longing for utopian places that are simultaneously perfect and nonexistent.

OPP: I, personally, find both the paper and sculptural Lures very visually compelling. They do pull me in, like a fish on a line, and leave me wanting more. In that sense, when looking at them, I engage directly with my desire to possess one. But on the other hand, looking is enough. I notice my desire, and I become aware of pleasure of looking as I contemplate the work. I see your work as an opportunity to contemplate seductiveness and desire through the decorative. Is this a common response?

AR: Yes, that’s it! Sometimes I wonder whether making work about wanting impossible ideals is indulgent daydreaming or a way of curbing my own desires. Perhaps making an object or image about something I cannot have is a way of neutralizing the longing for it. And other times, I find I just need certain things to be possible. It does not matter if those things can’t be real or can’t be mine or are highly unlikely—I just want them to be possible, and it’s through my studio practice that this can happen.

OPP: Are viewers ever dismissive of the content of your work, because of its seductive, eye-candy quality?

AR: I have encountered a few viewers who have been a little dismissive about some of the over-the-top aesthetics in works like Popsong or the Lures like the one covered in pink flocking. I was asked once if “something that is pink and fuzzy can be serious” and my answer was and still is “of course.” Our culture is full of eye candy, and dismissing seductive, opulent, or even campy ornamentation is a missed opportunity for deep understanding.


OPP: Your most recent collages from the series Rustbelt are very different in their source material and overall composition. It looks like you are using scientific graphs and illustration, maybe from textbooks or manuals of some kind. How does this new work differ from the Horizon Utopias made with old postcards and the Lures, made with images of plant life?

AR: The images and objects I make can be organized into three categories that address desire from multiple directions: strategies, spaces, and systems. The Lures (both collaged and assembled) and Nets are in the strategies category—they’re about tools of desire. The Speculative Plans, Horizon and Tiny Utopias are in the spaces category—they’re exploring amalgamated landscapes and the longing we have for more perfect places.

The new Rustbelt series and older pieces like System with Yellow Tubes, If you can graph it, then it’s true  are in the systems category—these pieces are exploring the desire we have for knowledge and the need we have for things to work. I’m looking at very broad areas like science and statistics—methods for acquiring information. I’m interested in the optimistic promise of these activities and their inevitable disappointing breakdown. Ideas like the scientific method suggest that, if we’re careful and organized in our research, we’ll arrive at useful and correct answers. But this isn’t always true.

OPP: Where did your interest in this new source material come from? How do these technical drawings play into your overall project about Desire?

AR: I’ve spent the last seven years living in Michigan, Indiana, Pittsburgh, and now western Massachusetts—areas often associated with “the Rustbelt”. The pieces in this series are new, and I’m obliquely exploring how places like the rustbelt used to function. These pieces include things like batteries that don’t connect to anything, light bulbs on dysfunctional circuits, and graphs that don’t really tell us anything. The functional circuits or data are lost. It’s now about the aesthetic information, which is a different kind of truth and a different kind of answer.

To view more of Anne Roecklein’s work visit anneroecklein.net.