Speak Speak: Three Questions for Tom Lauerman, Fabio Fernandez, Colin Keefe

Image credit: Tom Lauerman.  Gemini.  2013.  Wood, ink.  3 x 3 x 5.5".
Tom Lauerman. Gemini. 2013. Wood, ink. 3 x 3 x 5.5″.

‘Urban Environments’: Colin Keefe, Fabio Fernández, Tom Lauerman
Curated by Jacque Liu
Exhibition Dates: September 6–28, 2013

Curator Jacque Liu spoke with the three artists about their working processes.

Tom Lauerman

What role do you think architecture plays in your work?

These days, the subject of Architecture provides me with some clear limitations for this body of work, as I’m often asking myself “what has this got to do with Architecture?” I have a tendency to over-complicate my work and follow tangents so its always a great pleasure and challenge to return to this collaborative body of work which in it’s title lays out somewhat strict parameters.

For some time I worried that perhaps I should have studied Architecture rather than Art, as I find myself consistently drawn to Architectural subjects. Over time I’ve spent enough time around Architects to recognize that their field is not what I had imagined it to be. Tony Hepburn, an artist who has had a huge impact on my work, said to me “Your work isn’t Architecture, it’s about Architecture”. Simple as this sounds, it has affected me tremendously.

Most built structures aren’t about Architecture. They are a reflection of the needs of a client, the realities of a budget, and the coordination of multiple agendas of which the Architect’s is just one. In contrast, work that is about Architecture would allow narrative elements to dominate practical concerns. It allows for an emotive or intellectual response to the questions of function.

What role do you think the built environment plays in your work?

There is an unfortunate and persistent tendency in some circles to always want to wipe the urban slate clean. The architect Le Corbusier famously advocated for the bulldozing of Paris in order to renew it, and more recently the Museum of Modern Art plans to demolish the American Folk Art Museum in a forthcoming expansion (reason given: “. . . the opaque facade is not in keeping with the glass aesthetic of the rest of the museum. The former folk museum is also set back farther than MoMA’s other properties, and the floors would not line up.”).

I’m interested in the opposite of this tendency. I enjoy seeing individuals and small groups intuitively adapt existing structures for new uses. The narrative of a particular building becoming richer as a result of having multiple lives.

In this series of artworks “Sculptures in Love with Architecture” we have made variations on ventilation ducts, bollards, pilotis, parking structures, and any number of anonymous industrial stacks and heaps. Its the result of the two of us constantly seeking out all the structures that are not presentational in their design. Fabio and I share this inclination to re-create, celebrate, and catalog these otherwise mute remnants.

What role do you think abstraction plays in your work?

As a kid interested in art I was scared of abstraction. I perceived abstraction as a destructive force that invalidated the work I tended to like. Fortunately it became apparent to me over time that all art is abstraction and this terrifying conflict in fact did not exist.

In this body of work we have an interest in dealing with archetypes. Perhaps we might rename the series, Sculptures in Love with Archetypes. Anyhow, if these little objects get too specific or realist in nature they devolve into a space that has more to do with souvenirs and nostalgia. We’d like to keep the focus on architectonic potential, expression of material, and an evocative character that is a result of formal clarity.

Fabio Fernandez

What role do you think architecture plays in your work?

During the course of any given day, I occupy a variety of different architectural spaces and try to be aware of how they affect me. Do they elicit emotion? Do they dictate how or where I can walk, talk, stand, or sit? Are they beautiful, ugly, light-filled or dark? As an artist, I am particularly interested in the formal properties of architecture and in the sculptural possibilities of architectural elements and details like columns, bollards, and vents. Like art, architecture requires careful observation and reflection. My pieces in the Sculptures in Love with Architecture are the three dimensional results of some of these observations.

What role do you think the built environment plays in your work?

My colleague Tom Lauerman and I have been collaborating on our Sculptures in Love with Architecture series since 2005 so we have a pretty good grasp of each other’s artistic interests. A few years ago Tom observed that my work rarely deals with natural or organic forms and suggested that the Woody Allen quote “nature and I are two” also applied to me. Tom led me to the realization that in fact I am not terribly interested in nature. Now the built environment is a different story…

My sensitivity to the built environment – the objects and places designed and built by man – became heightened during my first semester in graduate school, at Cranbrook Academy of Art. Charles and Ray Eames, Harry Bertoia, Eero Saarinen, Florence Knoll, Niels Diffrient… all taught and/or studied at Cranbrook and they helped shape the course of 20th and 21st century design. While pursuing a graduate degree in Sculpture, I became interested in this aspect of the school’s history and in particular to the contributions that Cranbrook people made to chair design and production – form and ergonomics, innovations in material manufacturing processes… Studying the Eames LCW can teach one a lot about art and architecture.

What role do you think abstraction plays in your work?

While most of my individual pieces in the Sculptures in Love with Architecture series are abstractions of existing architectural forms and elements some are what I consider more literal interpretations of the same. Current art trends do not favor art that is too literal as it is often judged as lacking the poetry associated with abstraction, I tend to disagree.

Colin Keefe

What role do you think architecture plays in your work?

My father was an architect, mainly Catholic churches in New England, so I grew up with Maylines, scale rules, and a sense that the places in which we lived were an outcome of design. Later I began to see that the role of architect was a minor player in what really caused cities to change over time – that these changes were as much about human needs and nature, changes in technology, in markets, and social structures as anything else, and that urban planners and architects only influence those things to the extent that they are actually aware of them.

In my own art practice I became interested in the organic qualities of human habitation in the aggregate – that if the centuries of a city’s life could be observed over a compressed time period, like time lapse photography, one would see the city as a living, breathing organism, and its inhabitants part of its whole.

What role do you think the built environment plays in your work?

The built environment serves as a physical representation of what the human experience is. If we understand dinosaurs from their fossils, we also understand a bit about ourselves by examining the places in which we live, work and play. In my work I try to inject changes in how cities grow and change by taking some of the metaphorical rhetoric around “evolution and growth” of cities and literalizing them. What if the houses in which we lived were themselves organisms of a kind? Cellular clusters in some grander arrangement, fluid and mutable?

What role do you think abstraction plays in your work?

I came to architecture from a sculptor’s perspective. Initially these drawings grew out of a series of working sketches for city sculptures I was making in the 90’s and early 2000s. Prior to that point I had never really focused much on drawing and sketching as anything other than a mark making process in support of another practice. But I began to become very interested in the formal properties of these sketches, and over a period of years the drawings became my main body of work.

Abstraction is a great tool for dealing with concepts like these because it allows me to subtract away unnecessary details, and turn the study of the artifacts of human habitation into a form of play.

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