As the contemporary art world continues its decades-old courtship with video art, and as more artists experiment with the medium’s potential, Whitewall presents “Moving Image,” a new monthly column that brings these visual investigations to our readers.
Curated by Grela Orihuela and Bill Bilowit of Wet Heat Project, an organization that produces films and events that document and personify artists and arts professionals, the inaugural edition of “Moving Image” features “Froufrou Conclusions” by Lauren Kelley.
Lauren Kelley’s “Froufrou Conclusions” is not exactly a video you watch, it’s something that happens. Something funny, funky and fragmented, but when you immediately recall it, serious, poignant, and cohesive. On second viewing, keep your eyes on the text, featured like subtitles at the bottom of the frame; while vignettes of beautiful women dolls unfold just above your sightline, there’s a stream of sharply poetic observation. And fundamentally, essentially, there’s cake. More specifically, frosting. Layers and swirls and piles of frosting.
“The last six years I’ve been really interested in third wave feminist notions, specifically where women of color fit into notions that were set in the 1970s,” said the artist. “And I’m kind of surprised how my idea for this piece progressed once I decided to say, ‘ef- it, I’m gonna decorate a cake.’ A decision to just kind of have uber-fun was the basis for a new idea.”
Between serious and funny is where Kelley finds a vantage point. “The longer I make work, the harder it is for me to distinguish between adult and childish notions. This work’s about immature adults like myself, people I know, people in power. I don’t understand sometimes where one plane ends and another begins. I think I’m always being serious.”
With her sculpture and production techniques she faces a similar dichotomy. “How far can you push the boundary of where low can be acknowledged as high? That’s where things can be kind of folksy, accidental, and I don’t mind being in that territory. I find it a very tactile place. As a person who likes making objects, I’m attracted to the gangly and accidental, I love when things do not fit, when things are not overtly logical.”
In scenes mixing daily routine and vain fantasy, Kelley’s animated dolls themselves seem to be playacting, moving through ornately hand-made sets built to a Barbie scale. And despite all the knowing social context, the work’s immersion in sweetness and indulgence seems genuinely innocent, disarming,unknowing.
“When you deal with movements like the art brute, the art of the untrained, art of the mentally insane, sometimes those works can create incredibly important exhibitions,” says Kelley. “I think I take all of that into consideration when I make the decisions I make. Like right now.” What’s next for this artist? “Television. Broadcast. I’d love to put these wonky worlds and people and ideas in the same space as reality television. I think they’d mesh with each other pretty well.”
Lauren Kelley is a 2011 Lewis Comfort Tiffany Award recipient. In 2007 Kelley received the New Museum’s Altoids Award. She received her MFA in 1999 from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Currently, Kelley serves on staff at Prairie View A&M University overseeing the university’s art gallery. She has been a resident of the Skowhegan School, the MFAH, and Glassell School’s Core Program as well as the Studio Museum in Harlem. Her work has been exhibited at the New Museum, New York, NY; Spellman College Museum of Fine Arts, Atlanta, GA; Sikkema Jenkins & Co. New York, NY, LACE, Los Angeles, CA, and Project Row Houses, Houston, TX. Reviews on her work have appeared in The New Yorker, Art:21 Blog, Art in America, ArtLies, Houston Chronicle, and Houston Press.