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A Dark Place of Dreams artist Lauren Fensterstock Loves Extremes – from Minimalism to Ornamentation

July 26, 2018 // by Caitlin Swindell

Not only is Lauren Fensterstock an award-winning artist whose work is represented in several museums and private collections throughout the country, but she is also a published author, Professor, Studio advisor, and a lecturer. Her work, as she eloquently describes in this Q&A, explores meaning through material and notions of built environment versus nature. 

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© LAUREN FENSTERSTOCK, The Order of Things, 2016. Shells, wood, mixed media, 78 x 240 x 26 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Claire Oliver Gallery.

Tell us a little bit about your connection to Nevelson. In what ways are you inspired by her perspective on art and her sculpture?

Nevelson and I have many visual and conceptual overlaps.  I suspect we looked at a lot of the same sources and came to some similar conclusions. For example, I am interested in the nonobjective philosophies of Modernism but want to construct them in the objective realities of my surroundings.  I think she does the same. In both of our bodies of work, there is a tension between the appearance of a singular whole, set against the reality of a complex body of parts. 

On a biographical note, we also have many overlaps.  Nevelson was a Russian Jew living in Maine, as am I. While she was raised in Maine and moved to New York as a young adult, I made that exact journey in reverse.  I was raised, studied, and formed my identity in New York, but came to the serenity of Maine to make my mature work.  Nevelson was raised in the quiet- but art rich- town of Rockland and sought out the bustle of New York to frame her adult production.

Grids, cabinets, cubes, and boxes are such an integral part of your work. Tell us a little bit about this compositional approach, and why it is important to you.

I love extremes, including both minimalism and extreme ornamentation. I try to mix these two approaches together - in the same space - to show how two seemingly contradictory languages can accurately describe the same thing.  The geometry of the cube is a reference to modernism's attempt to create a universal language, whereas the shells and papercutting are deeply rooted in specific cultural histories. The grids create a regular system, kind of like a metronome, that is broken up by the more chaotic ornamentation. Somewhere between the contrast of the two is my messy truth.

How is black -or the absence of color- important to your aesthetic?

Black is a mystical color. It has the power to be both full and empty. It is the color of both reverence and fear. Transforming familiar items into an achromatic black palette allows those items to shift from their physical to symbolic value. A shell painted black becomes the idea of a shell. This transformation allows the particular object in front of us to stand in with the greater resonance of a universal symbol.

The monochromatic palette unifies many disparate parts to create a whole. Rendered in the same color, all details become equal. We see the structure of things, not just the skin of their appearance. Things slip into other things. Shadows become as present as solids.

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© LAUREN FENSTERSTOCK, Claude Glass (Cube 1), 2014. Mixed media, 36 x 36 x 36 inches. Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, Museum purchase. Image courtesy of the artist and Claire Oliver Gallery.

Louise Nevelson often described her sculptures as “environments.” With inspiration ranging from eighteenth-century shell grottoes to Paleolithic caves, how does “environment” play a role in your work?

My research focuses on the history of nature-specifically, the garden and the grotto. Through these lenses, I investigate the often paradoxical ways humans have understood their place in the world; and as a result, how these vantage points influence the ways we reshape the world around us. At a time when human activity has developed into a devastating global force, it is critical that we question the cultural and philosophical precedents shaping our understanding of the planet. I am interested in immersing viewers in an environment that gets them to the root of what an “environment” is.

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