June 9, 2016

6/6/2016 – Genre of Place with Lauren Semivan

Artist: Lauren Semivan

Location: The Daily Dinette


LS – Tea, breakfast sandwich with sausage

SRS – Coffee (black), Samoa doughnut, Homer doughnut

I met Lauren Semivan during one of her intermittent trips back to the Detroit Metro area, where she grew up, from Homer, Alaska, where she lives now. (I just realized my doughnut was also called “The Homer” because it looks exactly like a Simpsons doughnut, but I didn’t do that on purpose) Homer (the place) has a lot to recommend it (actually the doughnut also), in terms of time/space to practice art, but it is a bit cut off from the wider art community, so Lauren makes regular visits back to the lower 49, to check in with friends, family, and David Klein Gallery, where she will be showing a new body of work in March 2017. The work will debut at Benrubi Gallery in New York in February. I feel really honored that I snagged a spot in her whirlwind lineup of meetings with established connections. Making new friends can be exhausting, especially when you don’t get to see old friends all that often.

Lauren and I covered a lot of ground about the advantages and drawbacks of life off the mainland. In her, I sense a kindred wandering spirit – someone who has lived in lots of places. I’m not a typical nomad-type, living out of a backpack; I’m more like the serial monogamist of place. I go somewhere, I set up shop, I put down roots. And then one day I go all Howl’s Moving Castle, and I’m off again. Lauren has a wide world up in Alaska, that gives her time and space to to explore photography as an experimental medium. And you need that, in this day and age, because photographs as standalone objects have become commonplace to the point of banality. This is the risk, I think, of working in a medium that is mechanically-related. Photographers were once highly valued for their ability to manipulate the variables of the camera to produce exquisite images. Now, the camera will do that for you, in a lot of cases. That isn’t to say that having formal training or technical skills doesn’t make a difference – it absolutely does – it just doesn’t make the difference it used to. Lauren brought up Stephen Shore’s Instagram account, which she follows. I mean, it’s Stephen fucking Shore – and his Instagram could be anyone’s.

You know who would have been good at Instagram? William Eggleston would have been good at Instagram.

The relatively younger art forms have this double-edged sword of technological innovation. You are making art with machines – and machines are always getting a little better, a little faster, a little smarter. Better than you, even. While it is daunting, perhaps, to enter the conversation around painting, which has been going on since the dawn of human civilization, you are at least working with materials unassisted. Given a good enough camera, even non-humans can take a reasonably good photo these days. Video art has become the mainstay of the cutting edge contemporary scene – in part because it is such a young medium, it is easier to innovate. Well, enjoy it while it lasts, art innovators, because we are only moments away from machines producing video art all on their own.

Image by and courtesy of Lauren Semivan

Image by and courtesy of Lauren Semivan

So, if you’re going to work with photography, I think it’s useful to see it as a primary process, rather than an endpoint. Lauren creates tableaus of fabric, fur, cabbage leaves, bones, wire, and other industrial and biological materials – and then photographs her interactions with them. The results are somewhat like performance art, something like painting with photographs, suggestive of fashion editorials, slightly cinematic (think if David Lynch did Instagram! that wasn’t just this boring DL Foundation Instagram. Someone get David Lynch on Instagram). There is an imaginative life that goes beyond the half-empowered, half pityingly-vain self-portraiture that seems to be the mainstay of young female photographers. There is abstraction, room for loose narrative. There are very strong fundamentals at play, in Lauren’s control of light and dark. There is still nothing like black and white photography to reveal technical skill.

It’s not hard to take an interesting photograph – the world is full of wonders, and you can point your thinking machine at any number of them and take a reasonably good and interesting image, that people will want to look at. Portraits of humans always resonate; we are a self-interested species and we like looking at our selfy-selves. It is a lot harder, I think, to construct an interesting world within the studio. Lauren is engaged in a deep process, oh so far away, and these images are communiques from the upper one. Down here in the mundane world of endless lunch appointments and urban concerns, it is perhaps harder to see the world in conceptual black-and-white terms. Useful, perhaps, to value that isolation – for all of us to examine where we find ourselves and value its blessings, before the next turn of the wheel takes us somewhere else.

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