Lauren Halsey, 2014–15 AIR
In the first of a series of three blog posts, Curatorial Intern Mallory Cohen writes about her studio visits with each of the current artists in residence.
As I stepped into Lauren Halsey’s studio on the third floor of the Studio Museum, I was immediately struck by the artist’s impressive—and large—ambitions. An eight-by-twelve-foot square of sheetrock takes up the vast majority of Halsey’s studio floor, leaving only a small walkway around its perimeter. The sheetrock is split into two-by-two-foot squares, which feature ancient Egyptian iconography mixed with carvings of Harlem and Los Angeles. Images of sarcophagi and the pyramids stand stand-by-side with phone numbers, corporate signage and portraits of LA citizens—symbols of the urban present elevated alongside mythological expressions of the past.
Like the ancient Egyptians, Halsey also has a vested interest in architecture and urban space. According to Halsey’s map of her installation, her carvings will form the walls of her installation, Kingdom. Halsey says that she has always been attracted to architecture, and her current project stems from an art project she undertook as a high school senior, and incorporates sheetrock because of its common use as a building material.
Halsey draws on architectural standards, however, just as much as she deviates from them. When Yale asked her about the materials included in her graduate thesis show Kingdom, Halsey wrote, “summaeverythang.” Her past two structures, both created while she was pursuing her MFA, incorporated hundreds of objects taken from the streets of Los Angeles to populate the channels of her mazelike, and massive, structures. Her past Kingdoms feature a wide range of objects, like weave, posters, mirrors, and even plastic dolphins. Yet unlike her previous projects, her upcoming installation will pull material from the streets of Harlem. In our conversation, Halsey stressed the “myth-making” she sees on the streets of Harlem, and said that the neighborhood surrounding the Studio Museum lends itself to her Kingdoms in a way that the culture of Los Angeles does not. If Halsey’s projects possess an archival slant— she wants her installations to be reminiscent of the locale from which she draws—their colorful objects and reflective surfaces expand beyond reality and smack of the fantastic.
Although Halsey’s past kingdoms have been massive, she expects them to increase in size. During our meeting, she speculated on the possibility of including a river in the gallery, which would weave through her installation. At one point she pointed out her studio window, and said that she wanted to make a structure that would fill the plaza below. Halsey anticipates her Kingdoms eventually being used for community building and having a social function, like public-use showers. She anticipates the Kingdoms growing beyond herself, and hopes to enlist the help of the public as her installations continue to grow. For Halsey’s thesis show, she included a mannequin with a message asking attendees to contact her if they wanted to help with one of her future projects. The offer, she says, is still open.