Interview with Lauren Gillette
Being & Feeling (Alone, Together)
Spring 2020 – Virtual Exhibition at Lamont Gallery
Artists in Being & Feeling (Alone, Together) explore embodiment, emotion, and being: how we make our way through the world, full of feeling, as solitary individuals and together with others.
Maine artist, Lauren Gillette’s work, Things I Did, was inspired by a character in Paul Harding’s The Tinkers. Gillette often enlists the help of volunteers for her work, and for this project she asked people to summarize their lives in five lines of text. Gillette then etched the autobiographical summaries into mirrors, explaining “I was intrigued with how much ‘memoir’ you could jam pack into the brevity of an autobiographical list.” Reading these lists in the mirrors, viewers see their reflections, too, but only in fragments.
Q: For those of us who aren’t familiar with Paul Harding’s, “The Tinkers”, can you describe “Howard,” who you identify as your inspiration for these intimate and personal expressions – you mentioned on your website that he is “simple” and “complicated.”
A: In Tinkers although it’s never spelled out, Howard clearly is epileptic which in the book’s era is akin to mental illness and a character and moral failing. I thought his list of 7 things he did was such a great illustration of Howard as a person as simple or complex as you or me and that’s what I hoped for the projects things I did lists, simple/extraordinary things the viewer can relate to and recognize themselves in.
Q: How many volunteers answered your call to share their life “in five lines” and how did you decide who to include?
A: Around 400. They are listed on a blog originally created as an explanation of the project to anyone interest in participating which later grew into an opportunity for participants to see their list up and read others.
Q: The body of work revealed in your works, Things I Did, Dymo, and Wish/Regret seems to require a level of transparency that evolves over time and within the safety of trusted relationships. Why do you think your volunteers, some rounded up on Craigslist and Facebook, are so willing to share such intimate details about their lives?
A: Such a great question. I’m sure the answer is more complicated than not but here goes:
Through all these community-based projects I continue to be grateful and amazed that strangers show up to share some part of themselves. In the case of Things I Did, the process was a bit less intrusive than say Wish/Regret. The participants in things I did are not being photographed and only labeled with their first name and age. Still they are being asked for a level of introspection to be shared with others and reflected back on them. My hope is that process is a gift to themselves but introspection is hard and it’s really not for me to say.
A project like Wish/Regret is a much harder ask. With the regrets in particular there really isn’t anywhere to hide and I can’t be casual in asking anyone for that level of trust. yet strangers showed up at the studio with their wishes and regrets ready and in the half hour it took to load up the mug shot boards and take a few photos, they were gone. A lot of intimacy for a half hour.
It helps that I’m a woman, therefore less threatening, empathetic and interested in what they have to say.
Q: What do you hope viewers experience and take away as they come before their reflected image, reading and wandering through these honest and in some cases, painful expressions people have shared? Did you experiment with any other medium before choosing mirrors for Things I Did?
A: My hope that list makers and viewers can recognize themselves in their own lists and others. One of my great joys of these big community-based projects is whatever idea I started with was taken by the participants and made into something so much bigger and better. That we are more than a sum of out parts. That a list from a stranger is a connective thread to their own memories.
There are always a lot of tries before the idea. Before the mirrors, I was asking for 7 things and embroidering the lists on white linen (white on white, a lot of work and unreadable.) So that was 86’d in favor of the mirrored panels, hoping at some point I’d figure out how to display the panels at angles so the viewer could see themselves and the lists in fragments. As many times before, I showed up to show the project at the George Marshall Store Gallery with no working solution and curator Mary Harding came up with the cleat and sets of shims scenario to make it work.
Q: I read an article that stated that you work intuitively and seem completely comfortable with the unknown. Do you agree, and if so, why?
A: The lovely and talented Sarah Bouchard: Nicest thing anyone has ever said about my convoluted (willing to fail multiple times) work process.
Q: Do you consider your work to be an activator of community?
A: I had to look it up! I think of threads of connection, both to ourselves and to others if that is the same thing.
Q: Is there a defining word that encapsulates your motivation to create?
A: Sounds so cliché but, storytelling.
Q: Who are the artists, writers, and storytellers that inspire you?
A: Mary Ellen Mark
George Lois (art director at Esquire in the 60s)
Calder’s jewelry and mobiles
John Singer Sargent
Q: What are you reading these days?
A: Eric Larson, Splendid and the Vile (doing My best to imagine Churchill in charge)
Nick Toschess, The Devil and Sonny Liston (research)
Henry James, Wings of the Dove (reading my grandmother’s copy for comfort)
Ken Fowlett, Eye of the Needle (relaxing easy ready)
Interview by Aimee Towey-Landry
Aimee Towey-Landry joined the Lamont Gallery in the winter of 2018 as the interim Gallery Manager and in 2019 she became a gallery attendant. She has over six years of experience in arts administration from her positions as Registrar and Exhibitions Coordinator at the Gulf Coast Museum of Art in Largo, Florida and Special Projects Coordinator at the Tampa Museum of Art in Tampa, Florida. She is currently working with a team of professionals to build a non-profit that serves the homeless and the housing vulnerable populations of greater Concord. She also volunteers at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.