Yellow Wall – Interview with Lauren Nye

By Lisa Bennett
July 19, 2011

Lauren Nye’s “Recollect”, an exhibition of bronze and paper sculptures,
will be at the gallery from July 5 to August 14, 2011.


 

When did you start making sculpture?

I was a painting concentration in college. I had never done 3-D work before, so I took an Intro to 3-D class. The teacher recommended that I take Sculpture I. From taking my first sculpture class through the rest of my time in college, I had a few every semester, so it just built up. It was pretty natural to start doing it that way. I wasn’t a very good painter.

That’s what you initially went to college for? Painting?

Yeah.

Why did you choose to work in bronze and paper?

With bronze, the University that I went to had a foundry. It was one of the few state schools that has a working, large bronze foundry. The sculpture professor that I was taking classes with every spring would have a bronze class. So if you wanted to take sculpture, you had to take bronze. I took it my second semester of sculpture and then every year after that I took one. Then when I did my residency after I graduated, I did it mostly so I  could continue using the foundry.  It seemed like a pretty natural progression, I think. We had the facilities there and so I tried to take advantage of every possibility that I had. It worked out well and I  really liked it.

The paper…I started making my own paper. I wanted to make paper out of clothes, but that ended disastrously. So I started molding paper into clothes, like paper-pulp that I was recycling. That’s when I started the paper thing. I started packing paper into all different molds that I had to see what would happen and experimenting with that. Then I figured out a good way to freeze it so it could hold bigger shapes. I started making lots of different little things out of paper to see what I liked.

Could you talk about your inspiration for the paper sculptures?

I started learning how to do mold making. I had a bag of old toys. I was looking through all these plastic toys to pick something to try and learn how to make a mold from and I grabbed that crib. I started making all these molds of this crib to try to figure out how to make it right. At the same time I was collecting all this paper. I got all mine and all the recycled paper from my roommates. Then I started getting it from people in the Art building because I didn’t want to use good paper.

I really liked the idea of taking everyone’s shredded papers that have these identities of yourself in them and mixing them all up and packing them together into something that then gets spread out. You can look at all of it and see how much went into these little things. People could pick out things they recognized in some of them. It became sort of a collective identity, in that building especially. So I just kept making as many of them as I could for a long time so I could see them all in one big space together.

Could you talk about your conceptual ideas with the paper sculptures? You had talked to me about the idea of nurturing something.

When I started making the cribs, I was also working on this other piece that was not part of the body of work. It was a piece where I was balancing something. It was supposed to look sort of like a trap. It had this long cantilevered piece and I wanted to make the illusion that something was sitting on the very end of it, holding it down, even though there’s no way this “thing” could physically hold it down.  I wanted this illusion of balance and I wanted that thing, whatever it was that was holding it down, to be this very desired object, like something you really wanted to pick up at the risk of picking it up and then toppling everything else over.

I racked my brain to think of what would be this perfect thing. I started walking around dry stream beds and picking up rocks. I imagined that the perfect thing would fit in the palm of my hands. I was finding all these rocks that I was rubbing and trying to fit in my hands. I found one that fit perfectly. From then on I was interested in the idea of the perfect little satisfying object that would fit in the palm of my hands and I’d be able to hold it. I always thought about it and held my hands out, cupped like that. It sort of looks like a cradle. I had been making the molds of the cradles, too, so it all came together from different places.

I did some installations, with the cradles, where I was filling them with things. I just liked the idea of those becoming little surrogate hands that I could keep things in if I wanted. I liked that when you had this collective identity of everyone around packed into those, it almost becomes a little orphan nursery of people’s unwanted things that then make these nice little hand held objects.

In this work, it seems that the end result is self-referencing to the process of sculpture-making and of wanting something tactile, handmade and delicate to nurture – whether that’s conceptual or a physical manifest.

I think with a lot of the pieces I was doing, it always seemed like process was really important. The final outcome is good, but the process is equally as important. Especially with the cribs, I got into a routine of making so many in a day. I liked the idea that I was shredding up this paper and packing it and had physically manipulated all that paper.

I packed every single one of those. I had touched each one in this ritual way every morning, afternoon and night before I went to bed. The process was so important. A lot of people knew. Every time I would come into the building, people would know and they would want to keep count. Everyone was curious because they knew I had this ritual going for months where I was making these cribs. The process was very, very important.

Do you think that’s why it’s important to you to have so many shown?

It definitely wasn’t about having just one. I had made 10 molds of them by the end. So I was doing rounds of 10 at a time. It was nice to have a bunch of them. I could manipulate them based on the colors of the paper and could situate them around differently. I liked how they looked in one big mass.

Could you talk about your inspiration for the bronze sculptures?

I had been making the paper cribs, then another bronze class came up, so we were opening up the foundry. I got really curious about not making traditional wax molds, but seeing what else I could do. So I started taking the paper cribs and just burning those out and pouring the bronze directly into them. A lot of other people I was working  around at the time, got interested in pouring into non-traditional things too. We would have these pours where I would be pouring into paper that was causing a big fire and someone would be pouring into a bucket of water and someone else would be pouring into dirt. It was a nice atmosphere of trial and error.

I eventually got rid of the whole shell process and would make these big beds of paper. Every time it was just total chance. I liked that I was still using the paper, but in a less controlled way. I would make these huge recycled sections of paper and pour into it and let whatever happens happen.  Depending on how the paper was packed, or if it was shredded  loosely, or what shape it was in, the bronze would come out different every time.

I thought it was a good way to give up some of the control that I had from before and have to respond intuitively to whatever was left after everything burned down. It was a nice transition to make. To loosen up what I was doing. Whereas before I was making these cribs every day, it was very specific and ordered. With that it was just total chance, which I really like.

How does time play a role in these sculptures, if at all?

The bronze pieces, especially, have a history to them when you look at them. For example, the bronze cribs. They sort of look like they are eroded away and they’re really old, which I love. I was expecting them to be solid replicas of the paper cribs. When I poured the metal on the paper for the first time I thought it would just completely get rid of the paper and then maybe I’d still see some of the shred in the bronze. But the paper, because it was packed so densely, really withstood the bronze so much more than I could have imagined.

I liked the idea of still making preparations and thinking about what I think might happen but I didn’t have as much control over it. It was very immediate and I was just left to react to it. I never made a lot of plans with them. I would start patina-ing them or working with the metal and it was all very intuitive, like welding things together. Now they look like these really old pieces of metal that have been
eroded. I get people that say they look like old pieces of metal and then other people say they look like they’re growing. I think that’s an
interesting combination.

Either way, it sort of has an element of time to it – it’s alive and it’s still growing or it’s dead and it’s been around for a long time and it’s degrading. I like the combination of the two, especially when you think about the paper and where the paper came from and how that’s gone now but it was an important part of the process and the timeline of the piece.

How did you decide to pour bronze on paper? Could you talk about that process?

It was interesting whenever we would pour them. I would have these big blocks of paper. I couldn’t just put it on the floor and pour into it so I would build little firebrick furnaces around them and I would leave exposed the part I wanted the bronze to hit. Sometimes I would make a paper cup to funnel it down into. Then I would pack the rest of it with wet sand. I’d pack all around it with wet sand to keep the metal towards the paper. Then I’d pour the metal in. A lot of times I wouldn’t even see what was going on. I could just see it flaming up. It was so interesting the first couple times. There were sometimes I did it and nothing turned out. It would just be a weird blob of metal that I would melt back down and try again. 

It was really cool to see this stuff take shape right there but I couldn’t see it.  I would dig it out and pull it out into the sculpture yard and hit it with hoses and let all the remaining paper and sand go away. I was left with this weird chunk of metal. It was an interesting process.

It sounds kind of like what Michelangelo said about making sculpture – that with stone you just have to chisel it away to find the sculpture within it – letting the stone be what it has to be.

Yeah. Before that I had been really worried about controlling every little element of everything and having it all preplanned. So it was such a great way to loosen up. After I started that, I also started a completely separate body of work that was totally based on chance and being intuitive and responding to the materials. It led me in a good direction to know when to leave up a little bit on the control.

What is your favorite material to use?

I really like metalworking. There’s something so interesting, especially with bronze, with manipulating and taking it back to a liquid state. By the end of my residency I had been experimenting a lot with reheating parts of the metal and getting them soft and being able to manipulate that soft metal. I thought that was amazing because I wasn’t used to working with it in that state. I was just used to grinding it and cutting it. Being able to create something soft and tactile out of this hard metal was a nice surprise. I think that’s why I took to it as well as I did.

I had an interest before with materials that I had deemed in my mind as intimate materials. Paper was really intimate because it has personal information on it. Before that I was interested in clothes. I thought of clothes as an outer skin and how they are so close to your body all the time. The identity of within your clothes whenever they are taken away from a setting of being worn. It seemed like  a strange break between these soft and pliable materials that I can manipulate however I wanted. Once I got more comfortable with the metal working, I found ways to adapt it to work with what I was interested in. It was nice to learn two sides of how to work with it. Especially being able to combine the two and see the combinations of the two.

What projects are you working on now?

I’m working at the gallery now full time. I’m the manager there. A lot of what I’m working on for the summer is managing shows with them. In the spring I’m going to try to get back into the studio more and work on something different. I want to do something different. I haven’t decided what. The last body of work I did after the bronze was all natural materials that I had found, like sticks and wax and things like that. It was a pretty big break. I was making small carvings with pieces of plaster, which I liked. I like the idea of having these little pieces that I was sort of carving intuitively, not thinking about it while I was doing it and just responding to it. So probably something like that, but I’m hoping to come up with a different material or something different. I’m not quite sure yet.

So, you graduated from Millersville University and then did a residency at MU right after that?

Yeah. I’m sort of off on my own for the first time for a while. It’s nice.

Do you have a studio space that you are using now?

No. I’ve talked to the professor I worked with before about being able to use her facilities in exchange for monitoring hours and things like that. I think it’s something I’m going to try to do because it’s nice when you have facilities available to work in.  I need to just start doing something now. Something small, probably. Just because of a lack of space.

Have you traveled anywhere lately?

I have! I was in Peru last month. I went for almost two weeks. It was based around the history of native cultures. We went to Lima. We went to a lot of museums. We went out to Machu Picchu and spent a lot of time in smaller surrounding towns looking at ruins. That was definitely an interesting source of inspiration. I have a lot of photos of pottery of theirs that I really like. During a certain period they had these strange clay forms. They had a common strange shape that I found very attractive. Something about smooth rounded shapes together that I really liked. I have a lot of photos that I was doing drawings based off of while I was there of these odd smooth rounded shapes. I think I’ll always be attracted to smooth little shapes. Something about fitting them in your hand, maybe.

Are there places you’d like to travel to next?

Yes! My brother, a few years ago, went to Africa. This trip to Peru was my first experience with non-western countries. I’ve been to Europe and Australia, but this was the first drastically different culture, which I was looking forward to because I hadn’t had that. I have talked to him about going back to Africa sometime and experiencing that. He has a million photos and stories. It always seemed like an interesting place to go. It would be so different from anything I’ve seen before. Something like that. Something really different.

What music are you listening to?

I’ve been listening to a lot of Odd Future. It’s this weird, alternative hip hop collective of kids out of Los Angeles. They’re very controversial right now. It’s this very strange collective of kids making this music all by themselves and it’s really intense and vulgar and graphic. It’s really honest and wonderful at the same time. Strangely enough, I’ve been really loving that. I don’t know why. Something about the intensity of it is really refreshing.

I know some people who are really into this strange electronic music that they’ve been turning me on to. And then completely oppositely, I’ve been listening to Billie Holiday a lot. It’s a weird mishmash of things.

What books are you reading?

I’ve been in a graphic novel phase lately. I read The Watchmen a long time ago. I started reading the Walking Dead series and Sin City. I’m going to the beach next week and I’ve got a stock up of a bunch of Sin City, Walking Dead and then one that someone recommended called Y: The Last Man. I had heard about it and heard it was really good but I hadn’t read it. So I have four of those waiting and it’s been really hard to not read them. I’m kind like, “wait til I get there!” to read them.

I read something called The Stone Diaries. I recently read The Road, which was great and I really liked it. I was slowly making my way through a biography of Francis Bacon. I’m not great with biographies. It sort of loses me. I need something more dramatic than that. But it was interesting. I’ve always liked his paintings and have been interested in him as a very odd character. It’s nice to pick up and look through. For my birthday, I got one of Kara Walkers’ books and I’ve been really liking to look at her drawings.

Watching any movies or TV shows?

Mike (her roommate) and I have been watching Weeds a lot lately.

I just saw ‘The Kids are Alright’. I really want to see ‘Midnight in Paris’, the new Woody Allen movie. I heard it was really good. I still haven’t seen it. I’m pretty curious about it.

Any websites that you frequent?

Yes! It sounds weird, but I frequent this website called Gals Guide to MMA. I have a strange love of mixed martial arts fighting. It’s this website that a group of women run. They give a female take on professional fighting. It’s interesting because they highlight a lot of female fighters that don’t get a lot of press. You can keep up with female fighters that you don’t see on TV as much. They have all kinds of things. They have fights and do re-caps. All kinds of strange hilarious stuff. For some reason I’ve been loving that.

Ty told me about it actually. There’s this woman who writes these great pulpy fiction novels. Her name is Christa Faust.  She used to be somehow involved in stripping and pornography and burlesque. She started writing these pulp fiction stories. One was called “Money Shot” and he (Ty) got it. I read it and it was really funny and just very hilarious. She is also an MMA fan. Now I follow her on twitter. She’s releasing a new book soon. I think she has written for MMA too.

It’s strange. I don’t know what about it I’ve been interested in. My younger brother and some of my cousins are into it. So I’ve always been around it and I know people who are fighters. I just can’t help but get really into it. I’ve gone to a couple fights, they have them in Harrisburg sometimes. It’s a real event. It’s an experience.

What were you like growing up?

I grew up in the woods. Me and my little brother ran around and pretended we were indians a lot. I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator. I thought that was a pretty great job.  I loved to read ever since I learned how. My parents would always find me books with interesting illustrations. I would always write my own books and do the illustrations.

Growing up in Shippensburg, it was sort of secluded. I can appreciate what that did for me now, growing up like that. It made me independent and able to use my imagination and keep myself entertained. I still love being in the mountains and woods. It feels very comforting.

What new skill would you like to learn?

I always thought woodcarving was interesting. I never had the patience for it; to sit down and try to carve something that looked like something out of one piece of wood. I always saw other students who would very bravely decide to take a block of wood and carve something out of it. It seemed like people who were good woodworkers had a lot of practical skills then.

The frame that I made for the piece upstairs was a real adventure in woodworking for me. I milled the wood. Not completely by myself. I had someone helping me who was amazing. I went to the lumber yard and picked the wood out. It was a rough cut, just half of a tree. I learned how to plane and things like that. I thought woodworking would be a good skill to have. So, just more detailed knowledge of woodworking.

What do you do to start working on a project for motivation?

Write. I find that in a lot of my sketchbooks it’s mostly writing. Writing about things and then picking words out and making lists. I find that very helpful.

I have a lot of lists. If it’s something that’s in my head and I know what I want it to look like, I’ll write out steps. Sort of detailed instructions. When I started working more loosely, I let go of a lot of that pre-planning. Then it became more about materials and I would just go out looking for things,  like whenever I worked with natural materials I would go out into the woods or in a surrounding area and try to see these things and imagine what they would look like or what they could look like. I would pick them up and manipulate them.

I’ve always found that writing is really helpful. I can go back then in my sketchbooks and find ideas that I had written out but never made. It’s a nice way to keep track of all those things, especially the lists. Then I can go back and see the similarities in my work. Even though I think they are different I can always go back and think, “oh that really plays in”, even if I hadn’t planned it to. Conceptually, a lot of things seem to echo. I think it’s just the things I’m interested in always come out or those qualities always make themselves apparent.

This a questions from your roommate Mike – what does art mean to you?

Art means almost anything. Art is almost like how much you can convince me what you’re doing is art. If someone can convince me…

I would have a hard time saying something isn’t art if they can give me a good reason. I feel like there isn’t’ a lot that could be excluded from that. Sometimes you notice things around you. Simple things that you think are really amazing. Simple shapes or objects. Those are the kinds of things I like to write down in my sketchbook. Random objects or shapes or something like that because they are all source materials. So the world is one big source materials.

So, you see art as something really integrated into what you are doing everyday?

Yeah, especially from working and having the training to think that way. Once you go through that and you make that shift to start thinking that way, it’s hard to turn off. So you see it everywhere. Which is a great way to see the world. To imagine the possibilities of everything. Yeah. So maybe that’s what art is: the possibilities you can imagine in your mind of everything.

This is your roommate Cody’s question – who is the best roommate?

Oh! That is unfair!

I shouldn’t have told you who’s questions that was!

I guess it depends on what aspect of being a roommate it is. They all have their pros and cons. I’d say I’ve got a pretty good bunch. They’re very easy to deal with.

Cody and I were talking about having something called the Roommate Olympics. Having different events to prove how valuable you are to the apartment, skills that you bring to the apartment that you can take care of. We’d have events set up and you’d compete against each other to see who would be the best roommate.

I don’t know what the events would be. They would all be really practical things and I think I could beat them in a lot of those. Like, cleaning and organizing and cooking. Cody could take me in the electronics field. Mike can beat us all in sleeping and eating.  I guess we all bring something different to the apartment.