America: In Conversation with artist Laura Hunt about Identity, Interpretation and Artistic Practice

 Installation view, "Laura Hunt," Paula Cooper Gallery, 529 West 21st Street, New York, NY, November 15th - February 9th, 2018. Photo by Steven Probert.

Laura Hunt 
Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, NY 
November 15th, 2018 - February 9th, 2019

By LEIGHANA WAIGHT February, 2019 

Through a unification of painting, sculpture, poetry, photography and collage, the artist Laura Hunt addresses issues of identity and differing perspectives of humanness. Hunt’s work is currently featured (through February 9th) at Paula Cooper Gallery’s vitrine space at 529 21st street, the finale of a year-long series Laura curated at the gallery. We met at a coffee shop in Chelsea to discuss the inspiration behind her work as a curator, her current solo show and artistic practice.

LW: So, let’s start off with your curatorial series.

Laura Hunt: The exhibition series started when I was working as an image archivist at the gallery. I started seeing how my peers and other young artists I knew were making work that resonated with some of the work in the gallery’s exhibition history. I would send texts of installation images to friends to let them know about certain artists from the 70s that they might be interested in. The gallery’s archives felt like a library, a rich resource for artists, because the gallery has such a long history, so I would tell friends that they could come by to research this visual material that wasn’t yet publicly available. At a certain point Paula actually asked me and the gallery’s photographer what our ideas were for the coming season; I was like, well actually now that you ask, I have been picturing shows which pair artists from the gallery’s history with younger or lesser-exposed artists. And I thought we should use the vitrine space, which had been in use more as a display for single monumental sculptures, as the exhibition space for those shows.

LW: Sure, interesting.

LH: So, Paula was interested in the idea, and asked me to make a proposal. We started working with Real Fine Arts. That first show paired work by the artist Andrei Koschmieder with a really early Robert Gober piece, Untitled (Pair of Brains) (1982)— Andrei’s pipes and Gober’s brains—and we kept going from there.  

LW: How far in advance did you plan out the show?

LH: Each one came together at its own rate. Some shows I had to pull together very quickly, and others I could build up to over the course of the programming.

Installation view, "Laura Hunt," Paula Cooper Gallery, 529 West 21st Street, New York, NY, November 15th - February 9th, 2018. Photo by Steven Probert.

LW: And then the yearlong curation ending with your solo.

LH: Well that wasn’t the plan. When I gave notice to leave my job as an archivist, Paula offered me a show in the vitrine space. But I do believe in that kind of social practice—if you are in dialogue and making a platform for people, that energy will sort of return to you. In this case, it happened pretty literally. It’s not always the case but…

LW: Yeah, especially in such a competitive environment … like you are saying, giving back always pay off… 

LH: Yeah, but I also think it’s Paula’s style combined with mine. I think being intuitive and attuned to people, reading people, is something we share.

LW: Like some timeless meeting of enthusiasm and approach- and risk as well.

LH: Yeah, risk.

LW: Just to clarify— you are originally from Holland? I wasn’t really sure; I was expecting to hear a Dutch accent.  

LH: My sister and I were born in Amsterdam and lived there until we were three years old… I really grew up in Atlanta. 

LW: With your work in your current solo show, especially the piece featuring your poem America, I felt there was a possible connection to your experience…wanted to try to figure out a bit more before meeting you.

LH: Yeah, it makes sense you brought that up in relation to the poem. There are a lot of elements of identity that are slippery and can be easily constructed.

LW: Case in point— I read you were born in Holland, then read your poem America and imagined whatever I thought from there.

LH: Right, yeah… but that poem came more from thinking about this idea of America that America itself hasn’t fulfilled.

LW: Yeah, hits home particularly now.

LH: Yeah, I wrote that poem a few years ago but it feels especially resonant now so I included it in the show. There’s this feeling I experience over and over as a woman, this feeling of, “I’m here, I know I’m here, but when am I going to be here (seen, acknowledged as existing in this country) from various points of view?” I write poetry to approach freedom, to get out of these constructs that started in language, but then are imposed and we feel them so physically.

Installation view, "Laura Hunt," Paula Cooper Gallery, 529 West 21st Street, New York, NY, November 15th - February 9th, 2018. Photo by Steven Probert.

LW: Would you say the underlying inspiration of your work is usually a political/ social commentary or is the current show more specifically of that nature?

LH: I think our political/social environment always has been and always will be a part of my work, because it’s always been a part of my life. I had a friend once say, in an almost exasperated tone, “It seems like the inequality of women is at the forefront of your mind…”  And, it’s like, well, that’s because the inequality of women is at the forefront of my experience. [Laughs]. Being able to admit what is there and wanting other people to acknowledge what is there is important. This is happening—you see it’s happening—let’s all admit it’s happening. That’s why I admire comedians. Their job is to admit what’s happening.  

LW: If you hadn’t included your poem America in that piece, I may not have understood a political/social statement.

LH: Yeah, I hear that. Writing is one of my tools. Texture is also important, color, image, photo, public space— a lot of my photos are of public spaces. I try to use all the tools I have. 

LW: So, with one of the pieces in your current show, the photograph in the piece with the television screen was actually in the laundromat depicted?

LH: Yeah, I took a bunch of photos of the TV in that laundromat; in each photo a different image is on the TV screen, and for this work I chose the one of the hand reaching out and touching a sequined garment. It must have been a moment from a soap opera.

LW: I tried interpreting your depiction of a laundromat and read the America piece; I noticed a lot of repetition in those two pieces, sort of emphasizing an idea or feeling. I thought of this public space, a laundromat; especially in NYC, everyone goes there, no matter of your racial or socio-economic background. It’s always felt like an all-inclusive space. It’s a rare space where you can find everyone, utilizing a space in the same functional way. You always belong.

LH: Yes, I love that. I remember when I first moved to NY, I was totally alone, living in Crown Heights. I remember this moment at the laundromat there, reading and waiting for my clothes to dry: I felt peaceful and free. I think it was partly that I felt a sense of relief just getting to New York, but it was also something else. When you’re waiting for your laundry in the machine, you get to live in this zone where there is nothing else you have to do, you are allowed to exist without a demand. For this show, in using the image of the laundromat, I was also thinking about how any feeling of freedom, particularly in America, is always connected to labor—whether it’s your own labor, or someone else’s. And then, not everyone goes to the laundromat at all—

LW: Haha, right, some are just dropping off.

LH: Right, haha, yeah— so there’s always going to be stratification—

LW: Before I forget, I wanted to discuss the silver nylon piece— it’s nylon fabric, right?

LH: Yeah it’s made of nylon sewn and stretched over a metal frame. The form of that one came to me as I was falling asleep one night during the build up to the show and I knew I wanted to make it— it was the last piece I made for the show, and it reached beyond what I had visualized; it surprised me and I found it kind of funny, which I thought was a good sign—any time a painting that I am working on makes me laugh, or start talking out loud to myself, I know it’s working. I think of that silver work as a painting circling and going beyond itself, with that extension hanging off of it to the right. The extended part has different associations depending on when I’m looking at it, or on who is looking at it. I thought it looked like a pillow, but then when we installed, I also thought of a cross with one arm missing. When I was thinking out loud about it to Paula, I imagined a man taking off his coat with a big dramatic gesture [gestures swinging coat across and over shoulder]. My mind goes to clothes often—using fabric is a way to bring my attention to and love of clothing and people’s styles into painting. So, there’s a relation to clothing, body and gesture.

LW: It kind of reminded me of those silver blankets given to migrants/ refugees.

LH: Oh yeah, someone else said that too. Another viewer thought of metal ventilation ducts. I like that range of association— the same thing happens in poetry; one thing turns into another. WM


Leighana Waight


Leighana Waight is a writer, independent curator and publisher of OF THE zine. She lives and works in New York City.

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