What is an hour? a piece of time. a piece of day. a piece of life.
The notion of time as intangible is errant. It has a deeply conspicuous materiality, local to the point of the microscopic. To create a fourth dimension, to build it, to enfold space with gravity so that matter is bound by temporality, prerequisites the thickness of length, width, height.
In the legacy of artists such as Richard Long and Robert Smithson, I have been investigating this inseparability of time and space. My work hovers between material and phenomenological. It is born out of moments of personal perception of time––minutes lost to a daydream, the body’s compensating for jetlag, the subtle shift of sky from blue to green to pink at sunset. Memory, possibly our only form of retrograde time travel, is triggered by the sensory preceptors within our bodies. This propensity to link multiple temporalities by a shared physicality reveals the tactility of time.
In this vein, I have been conducting experiments with the material of clay. This material has its own structures of time, both geologically, with the origin of its particles, and in relation to its behaviors of drying, cracking, and the process of recycling into its initial wet state. Out of these investigations, I create installations employing video and photography to activate the body’s innate physical reactions to sunlight. Other works engage the more somatic gestures of walking, tracing, handwriting, and engaging with clay as it interacts with the body.
In a parallel practice of writing, I have been exploring the related metaphoric motifs of absorbency, psychosomatics, and the processes or elements of nature. I participate in research and dialogue around concepts of time-keeping, quantum physics, and sense perception––trying to grasp at that fourth dimension, transience itself.
1. LV: Every time I encounter your work I feel myself slowing down, becoming more sensitive to otherwise overlooked objects. In States of Matter II, specifically in regards to your ceramic "tray", the artwork oscillates between centerpiece and pedestal. A lost mitten, a single fallen leaf, pieces of bracelet scattered across the sidewalk have all been "homed", and in that, cherished. Have you always been such a keen observer of the lost and overlooked? What role does empathy play in your work?
SL: I love hearing that the work slows you. That's something I've been thinking about a lot lately - the matter of attention. I feel that I enter a contemplative, meditative state when making my pieces, so it's great to hear that it translates. I also think there is something so valuable about what I guess I could simply label consciousness. That's part of what draws me to those overlooked objects. It's both my own act of noticing the objects, and the fact of the unknown "other" that left or lost them. I recall a very early piece I made in undergrad, which I titled, "Artifact of Consciousness". It was simply a receipt I had framed, which I discovered tucked in the pages of a library book. When I found it, I was just so struck by the idea of someone else having engaged with the very same pages I was. It seems like a really simple thing when I describe it, but for me at that time it was an intense experience. I could picture this other person's brain processing the very same words as me, and it created a connection with a person I would never know. The objects that I collect are also artifacts and points of connection. I love walking around the city of Chicago, looking up at the buildings, hopping over puddles, smelling food from local restaurants, noticing the colors of brick and concrete. I think better when my body is moving, and I see so much that would be missed in a car, or on a bike. All the objects I collect are picked up during walks. Sometimes it's in Chicago, sometimes on visits to other cities – times when I'm truly a wanderer. To me, the objects commemorate something, but very small somethings. They are little markers of time and place – a stone from a park where I stopped to read, a flower I found that cheered me on a bad day, a rare buffalo nickel that reminds me of childhood friends. It becomes compulsory to pick these things up because I feel a connection to them that I can't quite explain. I do think your word, empathy, is a good one. It seems strange to talk about empathy for objects, but I really do feel a certain kind of care for the objects I find. Even the act of cupping them in my hands as I continue walking to my destination is a type of protection, and it's something somatic that produces a mirrored effect cognitively, in other words, a physical gesture that alters mental state to match it. So, I collect the items until a collection feels complete somehow (a determination I make completely intuitively) and then I build boxes for those collections that are customized to their size and shape. All throughout this process I'm interacting with these objects in a very gentle way, so as not to damage them. It's almost archival. And yet, I don't treat any objects with sealant or chemicals to prevent their natural decay, because I'm not interested in preservation in that kind of way. My memories of the objects also fade over time, and often I can't recall where I was or what I was doing when I found them. I think there is something beautiful in that as well. Even though I protect the items to an extent, there is also a letting go. All these gestures do feel empathetic to me, which I like quite a bit more than nostalgia or sentimentality.
2. LV: I'm hesitant to use the word "tray", as that feels a bit too simple. but that maybe, is precisely the point. Your work is deceptive. Its gentleness and meditative qualities belie its complexity. Tell me a little about the split disc. Immediately I think of half moons, but again of separation.
SL: The disc is part of an ongoing series of similar pieces. They are markers of time spent in my studio as clay particles collect in the bottom of water buckets that I use to clean tools and wet sponges. I think of them as geologic records that can be "read" both like tea leaves and like layers of strata. The splitting of this disc was why I chose it to be part of the tryptic of States of Matter II. In my work, I'm often thinking of the micro and the macro simultaneously, and am interested in relating the two in the experience of the viewer. I'm hoping that a shifting feeling of expansion and contraction is felt. There is also something "awe-full" about vastness and the unknown - like the disorientation of the photographic slide in the piece, which pictures a cloud-filled sky with no horizon or other grounding information. So, there is something cosmic and lunar about the disc. The split allows more legibility of the layers of clay, and also adds a certain unease because of the break. For me, it's a metaphor for the forces of nature that are both beautiful and terrifying.
3. L.V When's the last time you had spaghetti?
SL: Haha, I love this question. I grew up in a very Italian part of the country in Westen New York State, so spaghetti always reminds me of childhood. Since moving to Chicago, I have it so rarely, but did actually happen to make myself some this summer. I had it with red sauce, slices of grilled sausage, plenty of parmesan, and a glass of red wine.