All Photographs Lauren Silberman
Lauren Silberman is an artist based in NYC. Her images capture urban counter-cultural scenes in a quasi-baroque light. She really creates an environment with her work that leaves room for the viewers’ interpretation or fusion of personal memories to the subject. AD Projects is presenting Lauren Silberman’s The Recent History as the second installment in the rotating series, Reliquary, at 200 Avenue A. Reliquary transforms the vacant Avenue A storefront into a display venue for contemporary artifacts and Lauren’s work is housed perfectly in the setting. Her jaunty wild aftermath images, juxtaposed with the history of 200 Avenue A, makes for a kind of transcendent environment where you’re in the picture but also looking at it. Ladygunn asked Lauren a few questions about her work and most recent exhibit.
What intrigued you about the aftermath of parties?
I’m not just intrigued by any aftermath, but by the aftermath in the DIY spaces that I photograph. See, I’ve been going to parties like Rubulad for years – I think since 1999 or 2000. The Rubulad is my favorite party, and I have seen it go through many iterations; it used to be in Williamsburg right by the bridge, but they eventually lost their space and moved around until they settled in the old Happy Birthday Hideout, which was near the navy yard, which is where I took the image that is in the exhibit. The party is a true labor of love by the people that throw it and work at it. I am really drawn to this care that people put into creating their own culture, and the Rubulad is a perfect example of that. I photograph the aftermath because, for me, it’s the proof of the celebration. I want to see how much love went into making these party spaces beautiful, layered with decorations, and how much love went into trashing them! I love to party – and partying is messy! There’s melancholy in these empty spaces, and event though I’m a pretty happy person, I love beautiful sadness.
What was your favorite part about taking these photos?
The thing that people don’t necessarily know about these photos is that I often work at the parties that I photograph (particularly the Danger parties). So I’m bartending at this crazy dance party all night, wearing some ridiculous outfit with all my gear stashed somewhere behind the bar. At the end of the night, when the sun comes up and the last few people leave, I set up my camera and I take the photos. Once I was taking photos on the Bushwick Boat, which is an old Martha’s Vineyard ferry that’s docked in Newtown Creek. About 5 or 6 people were living on it and a few summers ago they threw some really wild parties. It was about 7 or 8 in the morning, and I set up my camera on the front deck to take the picture of Jessie’s Taxidermy. I had to get up a on a stool to get the angle I wanted, and I was wearing a little sailor outfit, and some guy was just staring at me in disbelief wondering what the hell I was doing and why I was doing it at 7 in the morning.
When people ask you what kind of pictures you take, how do you describe it?
I kind of hate that question, but it’s the question that everyone asks. I think it’s because my style really changes with what I’m focused on at any given moment, and I can’t sum it up into one answer. I think what’s more relevant is that, as I continue to make more work, though it may vary from genre to genre photographically, I can affirm that it is all just variations on a theme; my work continues to be about personal vs. shared experience, identity, and culture. I’m fascinated by how we find our own identities through the communities we create as well as the spaces and the objects with which we fill them. My photographs are questions about these things.
Can you explain The Recent History.
I was really excited when AD Projects approached me about doing this show. I have such a strong attachment to the East Village, as it’s the first neighborhood I lived in on my own in New York (post-college). All of the work in the show is specifically about the past, nostalgia, and obsolescence (including the space, which used to be a bar called Superdive). I really wanted to tie my current work in with my personal past in the neighborhood, as I think that so much of my work is influenced by urban life. So I drew from my past in the East Village, my present in Brooklyn, and my relationship to culture and nightlife. I think all of these inform the “recent history” of which I speak. My own “recent history” dates back about 13 years, which is pretty recent history in the greater scheme of history.
Did your education in photography effect your work at all? If so how?
Oh my god, yes! Graduate School changed everything for me. I had been working in the commercial side of the photo industry for about six years before I decided to get my MFA. I usually tell people that I went into school as a photographer and came out an artist (for better or for worse!). I studied under Nayland Blake, who is one of the most brilliant teachers and artists I have ever met, and he helped me realize that there was so much in my life that I wasn’t drawing from to include in my work; because of him I started working with performance and video more seriously. For instance, I didn’t really consider all of the underground events that I participated in to be a part of my work – I saw them as just this thing I did for fun. But when I started to really think about them, and make work about them, and make work for them, I realized how important it is to be able to work in different mediums in order to express your ideas, and how crucial it is to really look at your life and experience and see that it’s all this one big beautiful mess that is inextricably bound to your work.
When did you get your first camera?
I had a Yashica point and shoot in college that I loved, but I (permanently) borrowed my Dad’s Canon AE-1 when I was 24, which is when I got obsessed with photography. I still have it.
What was the most defining project of your life up to this point?
Busy as a Rainbow and 30 Days Has September were both really important for me, and function really well together. I made them at the end of an extremely tumultuous year of heartbreak. I had recently lost my brother to cancer and had my heart broken. Busy as a Rainbow was about dealing with this heartbreak in a really lighthearted way. There were rainbows and unicorns – all happy things, but this all came from a bad dream I had about the end of an affair in which I received a breakup e-mail whose subject line read “Busy as a Rainbow.” I used video and installation to complete the project, and exhibited it against photographs from 30 days… , which were of the painkillers my brother was on the last ten days of his life. These two bodies of work showed two very different ways of dealing with pain – Busy as a Rainbow was really lighthearted and fun, while the images of the medicine are serious and ethereal. As an artist, I saw that installing the work together allowed me to see how different bodies of work can function together and support each others’ meaning. Furthermore, they show that you can’t have happiness without sadness.
The Afterparty series is kind of a continuation of this idea – lush, rich images of abandoned spaces. The images invite you into a party that is over, which is kind of a bummer, but they are beautiful spaces, so that’s less of a bummer.
What was the best party you ever went to?
There are so many best parties! One of the first best ones was at the Madagascar Institute, which is an art collective/metal shop/art studio in Gowanus. It was a Running of the Bulls party, and people built life size bull puppets and ran them through the streets of Gowanus dressed in white, or like matadors, or as Spanish dancers. The Afterparty was at the shop, and there was a mariachi band and a 360 degree swing that the guys at the shop built and it was terrifying but fun as hell. I had been living in New York for about four years at that point and had grown tired of the same old bar scene – so I went to this party and there were amazing puppets and costumes and a mariachi band and it wasn’t ironic. Everything about it was real – everyone was wearing real costumes, really dancing, and having real fun. I took pictures the whole night; that was the way I experienced a lot of these events and parties – wearing a costume with my camera in my hand. That night was a real turning point for me.
Another great party is Burning Man. I’m serious. It’s like a dream. I think everyone should go.
How did the idea of Dance, Dance, Isolation come about?
I had just made the video Karmic Fulfillment: Busy as a Rainbow, which is a video that I filmed at 5 Pointz in Long Island City. I became obsessed with things like graffiti and boom boxes (what they have to do with dancing unicorns – I have no idea). I photographed a friend’s collection of boomboxes and found this Lasonic iPod boombox and thought it would make for an interesting conversation to see the image of the DiscoLite paired with the Lasonic. They look very similar, so it takes a minute to realize that they are, in fact, very different; one is an obsolete, vintage boombox and the other is a real modern iPod boombox. So the piece is about nostalgia and the passage of time and technology, manifest by both the physical space between the object and the photograph as well as the transition from physical object to image. It was one of those pieces in which I wasn’t sure what I was doing when I started out but I had to try it and it worked.
What is the process like for as working as a multi- media artist how does this affect your photograph?
The process is everything – the work is just the result, or the byproduct of the process. I think working in different media enriches it and informs my photography, and vice versa. I think it’s really important to not separate the work based on the medium. I think any sort of label is really dangerous when it comes to describing types of art or artmaking. Fundamentally, expanding to different mediums has been extremely liberating and terrifying at the same time. Liberating because I realized that I am not limited to one language (i.e photography) to express my idea, and terrifying because I’m trying to do things with materials or technology that I sometimes know very little about.
If you could do one thing for the rest of your life what would it be?
Hmmmmm….I’m way too ADD to choose one thing. But I really love dancing. And I love Italy. So probably dancing in Italy. And I would probably be taking pictures of it. But if you ask me that question tomorrow I will probably have a different answer.
When you are taking pictures is there ever a point when you feel like you are creating your own reality?
Constantly. In fact, I think if I didn’t feel that way, I don’t think I would make photographs. I believe that each and every one of us perceives the world around us in such personal ways, so for me, making images (or working with any other medium) is the way I can express and create my reality. I mean, who isn’t living inside their own reality? I think it’ really important to be aware of that – that the way you perceive the world around you could be totally different from the person next to you, and the way they perceive the world is different from the person next to them and so on and so on….it’s finding the balance between this perception and this desire to communicate with other people. That’s where the art is. Visual art is a language and it takes two to speak a language, so as important as it is for me to create my own reality in my work, I want it to be something that the viewer can understand and relate to.
How do you feel right now?
The Recent History will be on view at 200 Avenue A on Sunday, May 22 from 12-6pm and Monday, May 23 to Thursday, May 26 from 7-9:30pm and a reception for the artist on Wednesday, May 25 at 8pm.