Interviewed by: Eliana Blechman
We asked Lauren Clay a few questions about her practice, the influence of the goddess figure, and her puffy looking sculptures. Read on for more...
Art-in-Buildings: Your practice is laden with art historical references, from David Smith, to Robert Ryman, and more. How do you reframe famous (or infamous) imagery to imbue it with new meaning?
Lauren Clay: I sometimes reference works that symbolize the male dominated paradigm of art history. Often my work does that by assuming the forms or aesthetics of the work being referenced, while drawing attention to the fallacy and weakness of the rhetoric surrounding it. I think new meaning comes from subverting the dominant conversation of an art historical reference. Like a southern trick of the tongue-- a compliment can simultaneously be an insult.
AiB: What is the tension between the masculine and the feminine in your work?
LC: I think the tension comes from the power dynamic between masculine and feminine aesthetics. I'm interested in the feminist strategy of mockingly taking on the role of the oppressor.
AiB: Kali in her arsenal at twilight references the Hindu goddess Kali, who is known in various forms as the destroyer of evil forces, the Divine Mother, the ultimate reality or Brahman, and the divine protector. How did you become interested in Hindu deities and the powerful goddess figure?
LC: I made this sculpture referencing Kali in the months after the 2016 election. Kali is the totality of feminine power—she embodies righteous anger, ruthlessness, and strength. She's terrifying. But she's also a warrior against anyone or anything that threatens goodness, or peace. As a symbol I think she fits perfectly with the collective voice of this moment. I began thinking about her a lot in the weeks before and after the Women's March.
I began studying yoga somewhat seriously in the last few years, although I've been practicing on and off for about 10 years. In one particularly memorable yoga class a few years ago, the instructor had us focus on the classical sculpture of Shiva dancing: the Nataraja. In this sculpture, Shiva's four arms and legs are at complicated angles and the pose looks so different as you move around it.
After that class, I became more and more interested in other sculptures of Hindu deities—both kitsch and classical representations. I've become particularly focused on Ganesh, Shiva, and Kali. In some ways I think I became interested in representations of Hindu deities that have multiple arms because of the physical similarities to my own sculptures—the many arms and tangled limbs.
AiB: How did you start creating the puffy abstract shapes that pervade your work? What appeals to you about this material and its foamy appearance?
LC: A few years ago I began making a series of sculptures that loosely reference Frank Stella's early black paintings. I had a desire to take Stella's "end-game" paintings and literally turn them inside out. It was a really basic desire to make them fat, bloated and round instead of angular and domineering.Since making that series, the sculptures have evolved and now have the feel of loosely assembled body parts-- chaotic arms, round bellies, and flaccid limbs. Like a modernist painting in a mid-life crisis.
These "fat" sculptures are made of paper-mache and paper pulp. As a material I like that paper is somewhat banal, but it also has an association of being ephemeral and temporal. This association is often in contrast with psyche of the works I am referencing.
AiB: Do you consider your work political?
LC: I think my work can sometimes be political, but it is more about gender and power dynamics than national or international politics. However, I would like my work to be fluid and flexible enough to speak about anything.
AiB: What's next for you?
LC: Right now I'm working on a few commissions for wall installations. I've also been focused on a new series of sculptures.