I met Laura Reese a few years ago while doing a community outreach art project with school children in her town of Norman, Oklahoma. As an arts administrator and artist she reaches a lot of artists here in Oklahoma, and across the Midwest. On a Wednesday night, I met up with her, in her home studio to chat about her studio practice and the projects she’s thinking about next.
I know you well, but can you introduce yourself to our readers?
My artistic practice includes, curating, writing and administration. I use humor, awkwardness, and sincerity, to explore topics like death, loss, ritual, sexuality, and identity. A lot of the works are installations and performances using devices like sound and informed objects. I have a background in printmaking and continue to draw and illustrate.
I’m curious how things like administrative career, curatorial practice, and art writing effect the works you’re making?
I see my professional career as a curator/writer/administrator as learning opportunities to inform my artwork. I get to see an abundance of art in my administrative practice and I want to share it with everyone. Curation and art writing go hand in hand and help me share the work I see in my administrative practice. They are separate from the actual art making, but I couldn’t do any of them without the others.
As far as the work goes you talk about a ‘cultural lack of empathy and spirituality’ thematically, how does this come across in your work?
Broadly, I see a move towards making artwork that is colder as far as context/content, and is more about pleasing mass audiences. I’m interested in exploring shared human experiences.
Awkwardness is one of the main ways I explore these experiences. There’s almost a need for awkward, and for us to experience that feeling. You can’t escape Awkward, because that’s where you’ll find empathy. I’m interested in exploring those moments to find human connections.
Are you interested in making the viewer uncomfortable in the situations you’re creating, or are you interested in forcing them to feel the awkwardness and empathize with you?
I think a little of both. I don’t want to make people too uncomfortable, because you push them away too soon. That’s why I use humor in most of my performances. I’m trying to create that simultaneous momentum of “ugh I can’t listen or watch this anymore” but also “I can’t turn away”.
Does that mean sincerity plays a part in your work?
Yes, absolutely. I see myself as a metamodern artist. Metamodernism posits that, since we’re no longer Post Modern or Modern, everything we do is an oscillation between the two, particularly sincerity and irony. I like irony, and its ability to deceive, but I’m a sincere and forthcoming person, and I like to let that come through in my performances.
Your work crosses a lot of media platforms, how are they chosen, and is materiality important to the content? Or are the visual aspects more important than the content?
The materiality and content are way more important than the aesthetics when I start. I always want the common threads of sincerity, irony, awkwardness, and humor to come across regardless of the platform. I’m still exploring all types of media. Currently, I find installation and performance the easiest way for me to get my thoughts across.
How does that work in your studio practice?
My first ideas for a project either start with a cathartic gesture or the thesaurus. I make lots of sketches, diagrams and prototypes. Materials are important, and I know typically what kind of themes and subject matters I’ll explore in each media. I like using visual metaphors in drawing, specifically with figure drawing or still life. In sculpture I favor found objects and assemblage. In installation I use sound and touch. I have a set of parameters to work within while exploring each theme.
Would you consider yourself more conceptual or more process based?
I am very conceptual. That’s why I struggled with printmaking for so long, I love the process, but big concepts came across more heavy handed. With Installation and performance, the concepts come across more effectively because they can be more subtle and refined.
Do you feel like the concepts weren’t coming across in the way you wanted? It seems like recently your work has come to a point where there’s a certain finesse to it.
Yes, for sure. The first piece that started me in my current direction was an accident. I had all these photographs and receipts, and I pinned them on the studio wall and forgot about them. After a while of them being there, I saw them differently. All of a sudden these objects were a drawing, and told a huge story.
I went from spelling it all out to alluding to various ideas. These small things can become a part of a larger picture without too much manipulation, which helped me discover to not be quite so literal. I can evoke and create huge emotions by just skimming the surface.
There’s a lot of quiet time in my life in which I listen: my commute, being in the office, being in my studio. I notice these brief sounds around me telling a story. I started telling those stories through sound and objects.
Speaking of storytelling, the objects you choose are elevated from what they were originally without much manipulation, how do you choose them, and how do they have significance in your work?
For a lot of my pieces I’m choosing objects from my history, but also objects that reveal a shared history. One of my pieces uses a lot of photographs and receipts; others use purses, fanny packs, and handkerchiefs. All of the objects are mine, or from my family, but they also could be anyone’s. I’m interested in nostalgic objects.
Do you use them often?
Yes. I think nostalgia is another idea I try to touch on. Not necessarily nostalgia for a past gone by, but nostalgia for a feeling, or a moment, or a sense of self.
Can you talk about the idea that you find yourself to be a cultural facilitator/minister?
My mom was an ordained minister, though others would call her a pastor or preacher. She preferred that term, as she liked to think of herself as administering to people. She wanted to ask the questions with or alongside other people not tell them what to think or believe. That’s why I chose the term minister even though I know it’s loaded with religious significance, because I am asking big questions alongside the viewer.
After reading about your work and hearing you talk about your mom, I wonder if you feel like generationally artists/people are creating a new spirituality?
Personally, my spirituality is not about serving some higher cosmic being, but rather the connection between people. Artists, and maybe everyone in the “internet age”, are creating a new spirituality.
Can you talk about some of your performance pieces?
One of my most recent performances was “art history yoga” for the Yeah No I Mean it, performance symposium in Kansas City, MO. I did this performance where I held a yoga class in a gallery space. I was thinking about how both yoga instructors and Art History professors give this sort of ethereal affectation when speaking to students.
I recorded a “yoga class” of myself reading from poses as well as a catalogue from an exhibition that showed in both Oklahoma and Kansas City. When I divorced the phrases from the context in art writing, it became a lot more pretentious.
This performance also questioned yoga in art spaces. Galleries and museums hold yoga classes to bring in a crowd of people who aren’t necessarily museumgoers, but then the didactics aren’t always written in a way that everyone can understand. I’m interested in exploring gallery culture through awkwardness. It’s a bit Meta.
How have you explored that in other performances?
Other performances I’ve done have included drinking at art openings as a performance, where I created my own beer bottles and drank throughout the gallery opening. I want to explore how we “perform” in everyday life. My wedding was a performance art piece at a gallery, and sometimes I even think of my administrative career as a sustained act of performance. I’m interested in the way we consume art and the way we behave or interact in art social situations I use as performance.
Your work also explores gender roles and sexual orientation, do you feel like you can get those ideas across in the setting that you live in?
Since I know a lot of people statewide, I’m not always too direct with my exploration of gender issues, somewhat due to my own insecurities. I like to skirt around things, but I won’t ever avoid those topics – they’re too important to ignore.
You’re part of a few artist collectives/collaboratives here in Oklahoma, could you tell us about them?
In 2016 I’m going to be the board Vice President for FRINGE, which is a women’s art group that was created to promote female artists of all genres in OK. FRINGE creates a space for women artists to give and receive feedback on their work, and to help create show opportunities.
I’m co-founder of the Oklahoma Printmaking Network, a statewide network of printmakers. We share resources and connect people to each other.
Art-and-Tell, is an informal critique group and post-education network of young and emerging artists. We meet monthly in a different studio to host critiques and brainstorm sessions. We’re working on having an annual show.
What’s next? Where’s the work going?
In September, I’ll be premiering my project “To Pine and Sigh” at the AHA Festival of Progressive Arts in Santa Fe, NM. This project will feature fiber and found object sculptures with sound installations exploring nostalgia through experience. It also includes a site specific performance, in which I will continually wash dishes, and invite others to wash dishes with me. I want to investigate how we experience togetherness and individuality in relation to our own pasts.
Recently, I celebrated my anniversary with a scavenger hunt and performance. We drew maps of our local hiking trails and asked participants at the park to find memorable places and create art from their packet of objects and found materials in the park. My partner and I intend to host more scavenger hunts as interactive art experiences in the future.
For more information on Laura please visit her website: laurareese.net