Gracelee Lawrence

Artist Interview

November 20, 2017
Gracelee Lawrence recently finished a year as a Visiting Artist in the Multidisciplinary Department of Art at Chiang Mai University on a 2016-17 Luce Scholars Fellowship and completed her MFA in Sculpture + Extended Media at the University of Texas at Austin. Gracelee graduated from Guilford College as a Principled Problem Solving Scholar with an honors degree in Sculpture and minors in Spanish and Art History. She is a Co-Founder/Director of Pig & Pony, the Founder/Director of the Virtual Studio Visit Network, Co-Founder of Mesa Fronteriza, a contributing writer for the International Sculpture Center Blog and a member of the collective Material Girls.

Could you tell us a bit about your background and it influences on your art practice?

I grew up in rural North Carolina on a tobacco farm and spent the first ten years of my life playing with chickens, digging in the dirt, fishing, and walking in the woods. My interest in food and the systems/processes around it sprouted as I watched fruits and vegetables grow from a seed to an edible object or wondered at the magic of yeast bread. My mother and grandmother taught me to sew and cook in terms of the practicality of farm life. This early relationship with textiles, craft, and heavily gendered domestic space was offset by the influence of my father and grandfathers, all builders in one way or another. I learned to use power tools, drive tractors, and walked through countless under-construction homes with my dad to look at the framing or wiring. My early life moved quite fluidly between these two spheres and I loved taking on attributes of both worlds. I didn’t have to choose, I could sew a dress and build a fence in the same afternoon. My work is partially in response to this dichotomy, an active breakdown of what I feel is unnecessary dualism.

What are the main concepts behind your work?

My work deals primarily with the relationships between food, body, and technology. The inevitable fragmentations that occur in digital space are mirrored in the ways that the components of the sculptures are sliced, skewed, and recombined in digital space then 3D printed or CNC routed into physical reality. There are image and linguistic reciprocations between the female body and fruit found in cultures the world over, and recently that has bloomed into an interest in food packaging as vessel and artificial skin. The packaging is also dealing with global consumerism and lackadaisical attitudes around food production and distribution, circling back around to the affect of technology on the contemporary human condition.

What is your process like?

My present sculptural work is a series of translations from physical to digital space and then back to physical reality using a 3D printer and scanner coupled with analog manipulation. I collect digital objects in three different ways: hand sculpting objects and then 3D scanning them, building them completely in digital space, and finding or buying 3D models made by others online. These raw objects are morphed, cut, smashed, pulled, and recombined in digital space and formed into the compositions that make up the floor and wall sculptures. Once I have placed the objects in the digital composition, I split the final sculpture into chunks that fit on my 3D printer. Each wall sculpture is made up of 8-12 3D printed chunks that are recombined into a whole and act as the skeleton of the final object. The 3D printed skeleton is then mummified with many layers of acrylic putty, epoxy putty, drywall mud, and resin that is painstakingly hand sanded then painted. Digital fabrication was originally appealing to me because of the ability to translate, recombine, and skew objects that still register as recognizable images. This process parallels the translations and psychological travel that takes place between digital and physical reality.

You practice combines digital technology with human labor through sculptures and videos, what are your thoughts on the relationship between material objects and virtual space?

We live in a fascinating moment in terms of that question. On a daily, perhaps hourly, basis we are asked to relate to objects, whether they be known, speculative, or potential, using digital space. One example is ordering things online, which I often do to make my work. Through a completely digital interaction, a physical object will then come into your life and live beside you. Virtual space is full of images, descriptions, and attempted recreations/approximations of physical space. The approximations and information holes are fascinating; I’m interested in the process of mentally reconstructing an object that you saw on Instagram or attempting to understand what a physical space feels like using digital images. There is always something missing, an unqualifiable lack. In the sculptures I’m filling in those digital information gaps with handwork, pressing and sanding and carving and coating. There is always information lost in the digital fabrication processes and it is my physical body that fills in the holes.

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How do you title your works? What is the relationship between your work and its title?

The titles always come after the work is finished, almost as if it’s the last thing that the object reveals about itself. I compile a long list of excerpts from books or essays, overheard phrases or misheard sentences. I like the collision of a tangible object, made up of fairly representational parts, with a vague but emotionally intense piece of language. The outcome is open yet bound.

There are a few books that have been incredibly influential recently, particularly When Watched by Leopoldine Core and Man & Wife by Katie Chase. Both of these books are collections of short stories by women primarily about women’s experiences, exposing the sticky, complicated nature of the psyche. These beautiful, wrenching, and raw stories about misled desire and unexpected turns of human nature breathe life into some little corner of my consciousness.

Are you working on any new projects these days?

I’m currently working on a four new wall sculptures and one indoor fountain as well as a few videos and various drawings for a solo show coming up in Pittsburgh. It is so exciting to see these objects take physical form as they have been brewing in 2D form since the spring. It also looks like there is some outdoor work coming up in 2018, which I am super excited about!

MATERIAL GIRLS, the collective of female-identified sculptors and digital artists I am a part of, has several exciting shows coming up that we are all hard at work organizing. We will be headed down to Austin in January and then hopefully LA before too long! The Virtual Studio Visit Network is currently being reworked and we are currently in the planning phase for another international collaboration that will hopefully come into reality in 2018. I am also curating an exhibition between the faculty in the Multidisciplinary Department of Art at Chiang Mai University and nine contemporary Chinese artists that is set to open in 2019 at the Yuan Xiaocen Art Museum in Kunming.

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Do you have any bad habits; do they affect your work?

I’m awful at work/life balance: I want to work 12+ hours a day, every day. It is unsustainable and actually ends up decreasing my ability to be fully present with the work. I’m trying to learn how to stop before the breaking point and build in hours of reading or writing into my studio days.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I grew up with horses and have been working with my horse Tigger for 15 years. He is now 23 and is leased by a lovely lady a few hours away from where I grew up in North Carolina. Horses and riding have always been an incredibly important part of my life and the cornerstones of horse life have served me well as an artist. I also love macramé and started an artisan bagel business, Bagel Babes, with a dear friend while living in Chiang Mai.

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