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Lauren Frances Evans

@LAURENFRANCESEVANS | WWW.LAURENFRANCESEVANS.COM | BIRMINGHAM, AL | SCULPTURE


As our primary sense organ, the flesh literally carries us into the world, and at the same time it is the means through which we come to know and understand the world around us.

BIOGRAPHY


Lauren Frances Evans currently lives and works in Birmingham, AL where she is an Assistant Professor of Art at Samford University. She is originally from Atlanta, GA, completed her undergraduate studies at the College of Charleston and received her MFA from the University of Maryland. She has served as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Iowa in the School of Art & Art History as well as a Visiting Professor at Grinnell College.


Evans has participated in residencies at Franconia Sculpture Park, Elsewhere Living Museum, and the Vermont Studio Center. She was awarded the International Sculpture Center's 2014 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award and was a recipient of an Artist Project Grant from the Iowa Arts Council.


Evans is also the founder and facilitator of the Artist/Parent/Academic Network.


STATEMENT


What do you call that thing that is you, and yet something else entirely, inside of yourself and outside of yourself at the very same time? Questions of origin and existence are constantly shaping how I think about my creative work, and my belief is that the work of the artist, and perhaps especially the mother artist, is primarily ontological. Just as the human belly button marks both a connection to and a separation from our physical origins, the work that I make points to a similar simultaneity of opposites, referencing the body’s attraction and repulsion but also the immaterial void of human longing in us all.



Thinly Veiled - printed lycra fabric, stretched over board and stuffed with fiberfill - 2019


Much of your work makes reference to the human body. Can you tell us the ways in which

you challenge the viewer’s comfort or discomfort with the body and its functions?


As our primary sense organ, the flesh literally carries us into the world, and at the same time it is the means through which we come to know and understand the world around us. Embodiment is elemental. Incarnation, essential. In my work as an artist, I find myself constantly striving to enflesh that which is just beyond my reach. Representation doesn’t interest me so much, as does manipulation. Familiar forms draw us in, but their ambiguities stir up in us a sense of unease. You know that weird feeling in your gut when you simply can't look away? That’s what I’m after. Forms and materials that are simultaneously this AND that open up the possibilities of interpretation and (in my opinion) make art 100% worth making/encountering.




En Caul - printed lycra fabric, stuffed with fiberfill - 2019


Many pieces, particularly three-dimensional works, appear to be living organisms. To what

extent do you personify these works? What are their experiences as living things?


Yesssss. I definitely see them as alive in some way, but hovering just beyond perception. I like them to have a familiarity about them, so that we can relate to them in an embodied way, but still maintain a certain ambiguity. Scale plays an important role here, I think. By taking something that can typically fit in the palm of your hand (ie. an umbilical cord), and then blowing it up to human scale, we can relate to it differently. It becomes more like us, and thus personified in some way.


I don’t, however, personify them to the point of narrative, I don’t think. They’re characters, expressive even, but still in a state of becoming. Maybe I’m thinking of them as beings, but not yet fully formed, very much like the babies in my most recent works. These are images of real, albeit anonymous, organisms, full of life, though they’ve not yet been thrust into the world. They are still wrapped in the warmth of their amniotic fluid, floating there behind that veil that separates them from the world as we know it. There’s something really alien and other-worldly about that. In the same way that the navel points to our origins, my hope is that the forms I create might, too, shimmer of the unknowable.




Omphaloskepsis (Navel Gazing) - cardboard and hot glue - 2018


Can you elaborate on the formal and conceptual use of the umbilicus within your work?


My interest in this idea of the umbilicus goes way back, predating my experience as a mother. I went through a phase, around middle school, when I became obsessed with trying to invert my belly button, poking and prodding at it, until it bled, in hopes of exposing its depths. I recalled this phase when, as a graduate student, I began to frequently make plaster castings of its negative space, then went on a conceptual deep dive in exploring its significance as I wrote at length and created a body of work for my MFA thesis.


Here’s the gist: Across cultures and religions there have been countless sites (both natural and manmade) considered to be the “navel of the world.” These symbolic centers point to various cosmological myths of origin, suggesting that the world itself was created, or initiated, from a central point at which the umbilicus, this mystical cord connecting the earthly and the divine, would be located. As humans, I assert, WE are this middle, this umbilicus, this between. And as makers, we participate further in the ongoing shaping of the universe. In the act of making, we work to bridge this gap between the material and the immaterial, the known and the unknowable.


As you might imagine, this spiritual and metaphorical significance of the umbilicus took on an entirely new depth of meaning to me upon becoming a mother. All these ideas swirling around in my head found their way into my body. The concepts that I held so dear became truly embodied when I underwent the experience of growing another human, of sharing an umbilical cord with a being who was simultaneously me and yet something else entirely. At times, I imagine we are still connected by this cord. Often, I tug at the cord, longing for my independence from her, and more often than not, she tugs to bring me closer, unwilling to let me exist apart from her.

Transitioning I, II & III - needle-felted wool - 2019/20


I: What's Mine is Yours (left)

II: What is Independence Anymore? (center)

III: Not Sure How to Sleep/Be Without You in My Arms Anymore (right)


You refer to the navel as the first mark that life leaves upon the body. Are there other bodily

marks made by life? Are these addressed through your work?


When I phrase it that way, I am linking the mark of the belly button to other physical markings of life such as blisters, bruises, scrapes, and scars, emphasizing its importance as the very first material consequence of existing in the world. It’s physically impossible to stay connected to our mothers after birth. We spend all this time growing inside of them, and then all of a sudden we are thrust into the world and that connection, that oneness, is severed the moment the umbilical cord is cut. This marking is an inevitability of existing outside of the womb. There’s something really powerful and meaningful about that. This of course doesn’t mean we aren’t connected in other ways. This process of becoming two is ongoing, and breastfeeding plays a huge part in the next step of that process, but it’s initiated with the navel. It’s also the thing that links us all to one another. Many of the other markings of life will heal and fade, and those that remain serve as lasting reminders of events in life that often come with much pain. We all will experience different bumps and bruises in life, but every single one of us bears the mark of that fundamental separation, literally at our cores, and we spend the rest of our lives seeking to fill the immaterial void of longing that this creates.


Are these other types of bodily marks addressed in my work? I guess the short answer is no, not directly. Not yet, at least.

Momentary Opus - collage on paper - 2018


There seems to be a combination of made and found material in many of your pieces. How

does materiality inform your practice? Is material choice instead determined by concept?


My concepts are deeply rooted in the physical, but they very quickly open up to the metaphysical realm. It’s almost impossible for me to untangle the two. As a sculptor, I am innately drawn to material in a guttural sense. The stuff of the body intrigues me the most. I’m the kind of person who could sit and watch those pimple popping videos on youtube for hours. The bulk of real estate in my freezer is currently taken up by breast milk, placentas (yes, placentas plural) and animal innards, all of which I plan to use in my work somehow. I’m drawn to these things in a deeply material way. When I told my midwife I wanted to keep my daughter’s placenta, she assumed I had plans to eat it, and I let her believe that because it felt even weirder (weirder than eating a human organ, yes) to admit that what I really wanted to do was to touch, poke, and prod it, to learn from it somehow.


My process is primarily informed by material impulses. The concepts develop as I encounter the material, touch it with my hands, twist it, learn how it behaves, and the metaphysical connections are revealed in the process. I am a hands-on learner. I’m drawn to found imagery and materials because it means that I don’t have to start from scratch. That’s too much. It’s why, when I make collage, I’m still stuck on doing it by hand with actual magazine clippings and have such a hard time moving beyond that to do them digitally. There are just too many factors to consider when I have all that freedom and power to endlessly manipulate. I do like to stretch the material, though, really pushing it to become something else entirely. I love it when you can’t quite tell what’s something made of or how it’s been made. That sense of mystery is my favorite thing about looking at art.


In terms of which comes first... the material or the concept? The two are super entangled for me, but if I really had to pick, I’d say material. The concepts are inherent in the material. My roll is simply to suss them out as I attempt to make something worth looking at.

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