in conversation with
Elisa R. Linn
Elisa R. Linn – You consider your work as neither sculptures nor installations, but as “arrangements”—a term that also suggests you are taking the position of an organizer—like a curator that selects existing objects or even artifacts and brings them together. Do you identify with that as an artist?
Linday Lawson – I like the word arrangement. One meaning is a composed grouping of items: a floral arrangement or a still life. Another is a negotiated agreement between people, but with a somewhat seedy implication of compromise. “We have an arrangement,” sounds nonconformist and perhaps illicit or illegal.
Even in the creation of a particularly handmade sculpture, some stages of my production allow me to be a collector, arranger, and curator of objects. The “arrangement” works are explicitly situations involving people and objects. One such work involved a very unique and expensive stone listed on eBay, which was exhibited on loan from the eBay seller. The work was not only the presentation of the stone in the exhibition, but also a contextual document, loan agreement, insurance, correspondence, etc. The arrangement was a specific situation between myself, the eBay seller, and the stone that extended to include the curators and organizers of that exhibition.
ERL – How has your practice changed over the last years?
LL – I was a dancer and choreographer before turning to film and eventually studying art. It’s quite apparent that all of these disciplines contribute to my practice as I consistently work with such various media as sculpture, film, video, performance, photography, etc. Less obvious, however, is the cross-pollination that occurs. For example, I think of my works that contain many collected objects in terms of cinematic montage. In the photographic works from the “7000 Series,” I looked at the choreography of gestures when people use mobile devices. Aside from the range of output, a fundamental thread in my work has always dealt with physical and virtual notions of absence and presence.
ERL – Could you talk about the role of research in your work? Where does a project begin?
LL – I work rather slowly in the sense that an initial idea will linger in the back of my mind for some time before I begin actively working on the project. During that time I’m able to let the idea steep and be influenced by all the other projects I’m currently working on. It’s difficult to say exactly how works begin since I usually work on many things at once and the initial conceptualization is fairly drawn out.
ERL – Would you agree that your works invoke fictional and historical stories?
LL– My work is generally not fictional, but may have elements of narrative in the sense that montage creates the possibility of a narrative. In one body of work, “The Inner Lives of Objects,” vase-shaped sculptures are filled with various everyday objects, which are chosen in a loose way to be intentionally disparate. If a narrative occurs, is created in the mind of the viewer who naturally looks for connections when different elements are presented together. An exception is “The Smiling Rock,” which is a fictional feature-length film about a woman who falls in love with a stone. The plot is based on a real stone that I found listed on eBay for $1,000,000 and has been formative for several recent bodies of work.
ERL – What meaning do invisible processes of interaction and communication have in your work?
LL – Virtuality is a major interest because I see it as a quintessential presence of absence. In terms of digital communication, the idealization of the sender is fundamental to how interactions occur. It means that I (the receiver) must interpret the information I receive via computer-mediated communication, which is unavoidably only a partial communication because it lacks contextual clues and other information usually available in face-to-face communication. Additionally, the sender is able to craft a presentation of the self without necessarily adhering to any semblance of their offline identity. What I find so interesting in this is that the receiver will naturally form a cohesive idea of the sender (idealized, perhaps) from the information given, in the same way that montage lures the viewer into creating meaning from proximal elements.
ERL – Your “7000 series” consists of photographic prints on paper, which represent fragments of faces and hands staging what looks like the taking of a selfie photograph. Without necessarily seeing the actual mobile device, one immediately identifies the gesture of doing an iPhone shot. Do you think that attention to the device somehow decentralizes the human being and obliterates it in favor of the techonology?
LL – The “7000 Series” depicts photographs not made by the photographic action happening within the image (i.e. the subject taking a selfie). These works offer an alternative view of the subject that was specifically framed to highlight the performative nature of the gesture of selfie-taking. As the photographer and subject, one’s physical movements are guided by the placement of the extended arm holding the device in relation to the face.
ERL – How did you decide to work with photo prints mounted to MDF for this specific work?
LL – As so much of my work is about objects and their agency, I often highlight the sculptural aspects of my prints of photographs. Mounting these images on two-centimeter panels gives them more of an object presence and afforded space to attach thin photo strips on the edges with contrasting images.
ERL – Do you think the photograph has become the primary grounds for establishing one’s identity, or for cohering to a social body?
LL – It is commonly understood that one’s digital identity is as real and impactful as one’s physical identity. The digital of course also means image-based, text-based, and shaped by metadata. It is not unusual that a photograph is the initial introduction to knowing a previously unknown person and often it is the only visual access to other people. What I find interesting is how this limited information—be it photography, text, or data—factors into the construction and idealization of the sender.