Monumentalization of the Human Form: Interview with Lauren Carly Shaw

Interview by Sarah Mills

Lauren Carly Shaw (American, b.1986) is an artist currently based in Brooklyn, New York. Primarily working with sculpture, Shaw utilizes various mediums such as synthetic hair and glass to represent the female human body. Her work has been exhibited internationally, in Barcelona, New York, San Francisco, and New Jersey. She has had solo exhibitions at The Active Space, Brooklyn, NY (2013) and as a 2014 Sunroom Project Space Artist in the Glyndor Gallery at Wave Hill in the Bronx, NY (2014). Shaw has participated in residency and intensive programs across the world most recently at the Vermont Studio Center, Starry Night AIR program, and Metafora, in Barcelona, Spain. She received a BFA in sculpture from the School of Visual Arts 2009 and an MFA focusing on New Genres from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2016. 

Statement

My work investigates the nature of the human form and the monumentalization of the individual. I compose sculptures and installations in order to fully consider the body as an object. Surreal and imagined elements within the works and throughout the spaces they occupy create illusions and perceptual shifts in the way we view our own bodies. This abject and bizarre universe allows a disassociation from a pre-constructed reality, Anatomy, and emotion.

I create anthropomorphic forms to explore facets of feminism and historical unconscious. The surfaces of these fictionalized realities are representations of the thoughts, feelings, and psychology of our bodies. While alluding to a loose narrative the figures, cast replications, or prosthesis become equivocal while simultaneously paying particular attention to the uncanny nature of their human likeness. Seemingly floating, climbing up walls and floors, confronting the viewer, or interacting through digital media the objects appear to exist in an abject and bizarre alternate universe somewhere between birth and collapse.

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When did you become interested in sculpture and the human form as a subject in your work?

I have always been interested in sculpture and the human form. I started making sculptural work while an undergrad at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. I was studying graphic design and took a 3D class as part of the requirements for that program. It became quickly apparent to me that I was not interested in working strictly digitally and needed to get my hands dirty. The human body has always been my main subject of investigation as I am interested in the disconnect that happens when a human form becomes an object. When presenting a sculpture that is objectively human in its physical properties, I aim to challenge the idea of what makes a person human. Is our notion of being human tied innately to the physicality of our forms? How are these objects given intelligibility with the viewers own unique experiences?

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In your statement you talk about your use of synthetic materials and how they act as a channel for your viewer to challenge their own form, when and how did your interest in that idea begin?

I started using synthetic hair for the series Hairy Ladies as a way to further remove the sculpture from its ties to the human body. I wanted to infuse a figurative sculpture with a sense of the uncanny. I liked the idea of using something that isn’t actually from the human body but speaks to its presence. Albeit superficial, this abject element adds a life-like quality to the figures. The use of fake hair also references beauty standards, vanity and the extreme lengths people go to in order to make themselves beautiful in accordance with societal standards. These works are an exaggeration of that in some aspect. Additionally, there are a number of beauty stores in the neighborhood I live in and after walking by them a number of times I became interested in this culture of exaggerated vanity.

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How does your process change when creating instillation-based work verse small sculptures or drawings?

Installation based work takes a lot more planning and time to flesh out as they typically incorporate some of the smaller sculptural works. In the past, my installations have been very narrative and methodical in their construction. I start by making a figure and create an otherworldly environment for it to occupy. The smaller sculptural elements help to displace the viewer from their own reality. By situating a figure in an environment and surrounding it with surreal objects, I am able to disassociate our given reality and create a new, unique environment for the objects to exist in. The smaller works do take a generous amount of planning and time as well, but putting them together is much more technique based. Once I have sketched and settled on the final shape and material of the smaller pieces, it really is a question of figuring out how to make the original and mold. Mold making is tricky, it takes some time to figure out how to best break down an object for molding and casting.

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What are you currently working on?

Currently, I am working on a large immersive installation that will incorporate elements of sculpture, performance, video and augmented reality. I want to take the idea of installation to the next level and create an environment that makes you question the reality of what you are looking at. I've made a figure and smaller objects and have begun to create the environment that they live in.

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What links all your work?

I rely on the figure as a signifier in my work and rarely make sculptures or installation that does not have some sort of figurative element. I also typically work life-sized which helps the various projects communicate in a linear way.

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How do you run your studio practice? Do you have any advice for our readers about a healthy studio practice?

I need to spend consistent time in my studio in order to focus conceptually as well as materially. I like to work in large chunks of time (8-10 hours straight) for a few days consecutively and then take a day or two away from the studio to step away from the work. I can get nitpicky and a bit obsessive when working and I think its equally important to take the time to walk away and take a breather. It is hard for me to think clearly when I'm too close to the work. Since my sculptures are figurative and a lot of them are made from molds of my own body or in my own likeness, they easily become an extension of myself. It's important for me to remove myself from the work. I think it is paramount for artists to have interests and hobbies outside of the studio and the arts to have a healthy work/life balance. I find the hobbies, jobs, interests, and distractions I have from my studio are like palate cleansers. They end up giving me the space I need to think clearly and inform the work in the long run.

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What is the most rewarding part of your creative practice?

Without question, the most rewarding part of my creative practice is when I see someone engage with my work in a meaningful way. I did a series, Large Children Having Lost Their Heads, a few years ago that are balloons with faces on them. When installed, they look like actual balloons. I had an installation with about ten of them, and a family came through. The two children immediately went up to the balloons and tried to pull the ribbon as though it was a real balloon. They were a little confused when they realized the balloon was a sculpture and not a balloon, but then they caught the faces and started giggling uncontrollably. There is nothing better than putting a quizzical smile on a curious face.

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