Interview with Lauren Edwards
I first encountered your work during open studios in the Fall 2012 semester. You were working on your HOTEL PLAZA series that, if I remember correctly, are partially sourced from archival research that you did. I’m curious to know how you came across this material, and would like to hear more about your source material generally, in short, how you start a piece/series/body of work.
HOTEL PLAZA came out of a previous project which explored tropes of landscape, the ubiquity of space, how the unconscious dictates the experience of place – in that it has the ability to both locate and displace the specificity of a location. I was looking at landscape as a framing device, trope, and threshold in the same way that I was thinking about image materiality vs. non-materiality and subsequently, photographs.
That work used unnamed desert and forest sites that I mined from Flickr to speak to this idea of space as being a catalyst for experience, and thus negated the importance of its own subjectivity. I wanted to pull from a public, community archive, as opposed to sourcing my own subjective images. In approaching HOTEL PLAZA, I wanted to see if it was possible to use a hyper specific example (as small as a few square feet from a site) to talk about this same universality. I found Starved Rock State Park doing a broad search for local parks, as I was interested in using a curated space made for a public seeking respite from urban life – mirroring the distance and longing in landscape images. Hotel Plaza is an archeological dig site first explored during the beginning of the 20th century, named after the hotel that was once located on the property. This was the beginning of the project that then extended into multiple trips to the park (and dig site), using library documents and slide images, coupled with my own photographs. Neither source is differentiated as found or authored, which is typical of how I treat material.
Describe the role of landscape and specificity (or un-specificity) in your work.
Landscape refers not to literal geography but to an idealized form of that geography. The landscape is never attainable in regards to the intimate sense of touch, but meant to be looked at from vantage points (vistas). Starved Rock State Park is a tourist destination intended for the Explorer, who searches for the perfect locale, only to discover the anticipation of a vista which is always a few feet ahead.
The use and re-use of the same images and the hyper-specific location of the source images becomes abstracted; the focus shifts to questioning how we are seeing these images, and how they arrived in the first place, much like how artifacts are born into contemporary understanding. I think a lot about how specific detail is supposed to create value or a hierarchy – because you name it, it becomes special. But those details are just as important as any other detail, location, etc. I’m more interested in how the specifics of the image content ultimately become less relevant as they shift from marker to catalyst, much like the way you look at photograph first then focus on the memory it evokes.
In your last couple of exhibitions, you’ve incorporated sculpture into your installations. The effect often blurs the space between the work and the architecture of the space, emphasizing the work’s embodied presence. In your thesis show you leaned doors over the photographs, forcing viewers to work to see the prints; in your show at Andrew Rafacz you embedded a print in a floating wall. Will you say more about the role that sculpture and architecture play in your work?
It’s difficult for me to parse out the work as being autonomous from the experience of looking, and thus not including the viewer in the work. The two don’t exist separately for me, and I like playing with the limits of how images facilitate a bodily experience, as opposed to a strictly visual or psychological experience. This is also brings attention to the physicality of photographs – that they are sculptures too. With photographs in particular, there is the illusion of seeing the image content as material, though of course it’s not. With Berlin, New England I and Berlin, New England II, the photographs and the framing are absorbed into the gallery itself, until you move through the space and the two separate and they are constantly oscillating in these positions.
When did you start working in this expanded form of photography?
I took a class with Laurel Ptak in 2008 as part of the continuing education program at Cooper Union. It was during that class that I first started thinking about photographs and images in a material form, what having a viewership meant in a physical space, and psychological relationships to vernacular photography. Laurel was instrumental in pushing me forward and helping me articulate a criticality surrounding these questions.
At that time, I was still making print-based work exclusively, though it functioned as documentation for performative work I was making in my studio. Shortly after that series, I began experimenting more with building out three-dimensional objects from the photographs.
What are you working on now?
I have been spending a lot of time with the installation In the Turn, and thinking about how that work connects to me in a more subjective way – how does my own history drive my understanding of chronology and reliving or re-enacting (both physically and psychologically). I have been thinking more about how re-enacting a lived history distances us from experience, and how that distance (or an othered perspective) can create more complicated and varied questions of truth. Does having someone else’s embodied experience help in understanding our own more clearly? I’ve been spending a lot of time watching and re-watching Robert Altman’s Three Women.
I am just beginning to work and experiment in the studio, which is also a new way of making for me. Usually I don’t start physically making any of the work until much later, but I am excited to start playing more in the studio, and shifting from using cultural examples (such as a 16th century re-enactment village) to a more personal narrative.
I see you have a show coming up in Urbana-Champaign in collaboration with Kera MacKenzie and Kate Bowen. Will you speak about this work, and say a bit about your past collaborations with Kera?
The installation we are working on is in response to a call for artists sent out by the Theoretical Archeological Group Conference. The work will be on view at the on-site gallery, and includes a floor plan and the ghost of Freud’s office.
Kera and I were really good friends before we started collaborating on anything, so there was already a great deal of trust and admiration before we moved into a working relationship. We have so many of the same interests and curiosities, but they tend to manifest differently, which allows us (or at least myself) to take risks I probably wouldn’t normally take. This is especially true in how we work through the process of making; Kera is someone who I learn a lot from in terms of playing and experimenting with new work, and not getting so attached to objects that they can’t be repurposed or forgotten.
What artists are you following right now?
Josephine Meckspekar, Sara VanderBeek, David Maljkovic, Marlo Pascual, Joachim Koester, Alicja Kwade and Harris Epaminonda, just to name a few.
I’m also really excited about Zach Cahill’s exhibition at the MCA right now. Recommended! “For your health.”