Fawn Rogers | "Violent Garden"
Opening Sept. 9
1024 North Western Ave.
LA, CA 90029
By JEFFREY GRUNTHANER, SEPT. 2017
Opening tomorrow at The LODGE in Los Angeles, Violent Garden is Fawn Rogers’ first solo gallery exhibition. Talking with her, you wouldn't think you were dealing with anything less than a seasoned professional. Yet it was only within the last two years that Rogers made a splash in the art world by exhibiting a set of oversized playing cards featuring prominent collectors and art stars. This kind of studious lampooning of the stakes involved in the gallery-collector system not only reacts to a perception of the artworld that some have described as “high school on steroids,” it also demonstrates that Rogers knows very well what she’s getting into.
Violent Garden isn’t a new departure in Rogers’ way of working, so much as a more visible crystallization of the philosophy underlying her creative practice as a whole. “I’m interested in the interplay of violence and human nature,” she says matter-of-factly. “That everything is evolution. Everything is nature—which doesn't mean it’s okay to be irresponsible. At the same time, we’re forces of nature and our actions have an impact on the natural world. There’s a dual capacity to create and destroy.” Spending 12 or more hours a day in her studio, Rogers has been hard at work crafting a full-scale installation comprised of “spirit caskets”: elongated, vertical structures that are shimmeringly expressive of the duality of human nature. “When I was a child I played with soil, everything that has to do with nature. But human nature is complex. That’s who we are; that’s what it is.”
The caskets will have a good home at The LODGE—formerly an artist studio where L.A. luminary Ed Ruscha worked for over 30 years. Rogers’ spirit caskets, which incorporate an aspect of factual brutality, continue L.A.’s conceptual art tradition. Viewing the caskets as reflective of both nature and industry, they also have a menacing spiritual meaning—as a trap for wayward souls as they’re drawn to their own likeness in the reflective surface of each casket’s material substrate.
Rogers’ work could be said to combine the material severity of minimalism with an allegorical take on these same materials. These include urban ash, plywood, ostrich eggshell, nails, plywood, mirrored surfaces, expanded photographs of natural light, and other natural and artificial materials. “I think any of my works could be titled ‘Violent Garden,’” Rogers points out when I ask her if the the title of her show is especially embedded in any particular work, or if it applies to all the works exhibited as a whole. "I want to explore conflict and construction, autonomy and evolution."
Traversing the anitipodes of New York City and Los Angeles, Rogers fielded questions via skype and email about how her two-room installation describes what she calls “the prevailing determinacy of nature.”
Jeffrey Grunthaner: First off, how did you come to work with The LODGE? The space has quite a history!
Fawn Rogers: Yes, it’s the one-time studio of Ed Ruscha for 30 years. I met Alice (the very juicy director of The LODGE) during a museum installation I was doing titled SUBJECT. The installation included 54 oversized playing cards featuring current California artists, and one of those artists was repped by Alice. I stopped by the gallery—which I knew nothing about at the time—and was deeply struck by Alice. I instantly invited her to come get naked at the local Korean spa. She said she had to get to know me first (she was kind of a prude), but that she was excited to see more of my work, and ultimately invited me to exhibit at The LODGE.
JG: Could you unpack how the term “Violent Garden” relates to the work’s you’ll be showing?
FR: There’s an idea of nature that is often reductive. Nature is either treated as elegant and benign or vicious and unruly. The term “Violent Garden” hopefully captures the duality: order/chaos, evolution/destruction, beauty/corruption... Nature is tender, and it can also kill you. Every little action has a trauma and a turbulence and a cost that feels violent to me. I guess that’s why I make this work.
JG: What is the genesis of one of your “spirit caskets”? How are they made?
FR: This is a two room installation with over 50 works. Each of the sculptures begins with plywood, but then otherwise many variations. They have 13 to 15 surfaces each. Some are more mechanical, others more organic, some are both. I’m really attracted to using a range of media, and the spirit caskets use a variety of materials including mirrored surfaces, over a dozen types of nails, urban ash, soil, spray paint, oil paint, and other natural and artificial materials. Some of the sculptures include surfaces with enlarged photographs of natural light. These were taken and developed over the past many years, capturing early morning winter light as it passed through large-scale prisms I constructed and filled with water, with a range of lenses, then I select millimeter extractions and massively enlarge them. The duality I’m hoping to explore isn’t just present in the concept of the installation, and not even just in the material, but each work is also dependent on the experience of the viewer.
JG: You mentioned that your caskets use mirrors, and reflective surfaces generally. What is the significance of making a reflective object?
FR: Mirrors show up in various ways in art, but I think there’s a very contemporary application for ideas of autonomy and the self. The sculptures in the exhibition aren’t just viewed individually, but also as part of a larger installation. When they’re arranged in a room together, the interiors and exteriors start to reflect back and forth. Interiors become exteriors and exteriors become interiors. They reflect colors, nails, soil, infinity, the viewer, hollow spaces, refractions of light… There’s a kind of balance and chaos.
JG: You said earlier that the works you make have more to do with industry than spirituality. In what way are the works you’re going to show at The LODGE a product of industry?
FR: I’m not sure whether the works are more about industry than spirituality, but I’m definitely drawn to the interplay between industrial progress and the violence of the natural world. I’m interested in an expanded idea of nature—that highways, industry, my impact here—are all part of nature. Everything is life, but everything has a cost. The difference between evolution (natural) and progress (industrial) is almost purely semantic. This work includes elements that are ancient, authentic, and organic, as well as some that are new, artificial, and human-made.
JG: In reference to the Q&A attached to your press release, why do you say that "the production of poisons" are necessary to produce the sculptures you’ll be showing?
FR: Manmade materials are a threat to nature, but even the destruction of nature is “nature”. The oil paints on some of these objects is poison, but so is an excess of light or heat. I’ve chosen to use certain elements like the oil paint, the nails, the face-mounting, the mirrors, the binders in the soil … things that are “good,” constructive... But that cuts both ways. Maybe I’m trying to embrace my own humanity: I love cars and to eat a steak, but I want to save the spider in the shower (sometimes). I’m a hypocrite and a pleasure junky and it’s awful.
JG: What do you see as the role of personality in making art? Would you say an artist's personality is somehow embedded in the works she makes?
FR: I’m not sure whether personality is embedded in art, but I think personality comes from the same place as art. Ultimately, both art and personality come from experience. So whether or not my personality is in there, my experience (encounters with life, as well as hostage crises, shark- infested waters, extreme malaria, and everything in between) definitely is. WM
Jeffrey Grunthaner is a writer & curator based in New York. Writings have appeared via BOMB, artnet News, Archinect, Imperial Matters, Folder, Hyperallergic, Louffa Press, & others. Recent curatorial projects include the reading & dicussion series Conversations in Contemporary Poetics at Hauser & Wirth Publishers.view all articles from this author