The Graceful Sorrow of the Goose and the Moose
Eric Robert Dallimore
The beauty of Lauri Lynnxe Murphy’s work is her ability to allow her art to balance between graceful beauty and the grotesque; to balance between playfulness and sorrow. Throughout Lauri’s latest exhibition Lament, she uses paintings, sculptures, and photography to reference our addiction to oil and the devastating effects it is having on our planet. Lament is a body of work that is not spiteful, nor can it really be considered activist art. It is merely a comment and observation of our current ecological condition brought forth in the most elegant fashion.
There are all of the ingredients present within Lament for it to become the aforementioned angry, activist art: references to dying animals, iceberg and glacial imagery, oil rigs (including the Deep Water Horizon Disaster), and petroleum everywhere…on everything. However, with each of these elements in this exhibition there lies Lauri’s delicate touch, her powerful swing of the bat, but a soft blow to the viewer’s senses. Bright and playful colors are carefully present next to the off-putting black and slick bitumen and resin. Lauri very nimbly walks on top of the sticky resin from which she will not let herself, or her work get bogged down in.
The show opens up with two very striking pieces: The Sound of a Blind Flight and The Physical Impossibility of Extinction in the Mind of Someone Living, two sculptures created from taxidermy animals. At the entrance, a young moose is precariously walking across a white landscape with oil dripping from its feet. The positioning of the animals quarters and its malnourished form give off the impression that this animal lives in a barren land, one that has been taken over by the oil that it is so desperately trying to avoid getting stuck in. The moose does not have a head, but a Rainbow Bright assortment of colors for an elongated neck that turns into a glowing white chandelier. The missing head does not disturb you, you may barely even notice that it is not there, for the power of the chandelier resting on top of a lake of dried, shiny, black resin is almost too beautiful to care. This broken and twisted chandelier could represent the actual antler of the animal itself, but due to the elongated neck, Lauri’s narrative carries you so far that you don’t even look back to wonder how or why it exists. It’s a new animal, born of the twisted landscapes tar sands and fracking can only produce, yet it is still of nature, so it is still full of color and beauty. Sitting just across from this piece is a taxidermy goose, with a head that is also missing; in place of the missing head there lies a trumpet bell. Behind the goose is a splatter of auroral, holy, purple powder that trickles down to the floor. This creature too must have spawned out of the wasteland of our industrial encroachment, it floundered and flied to try to survive but its death came to it against the gallery wall. The holy soul of the goose is splattered across the archway, released in a final, triumphant blast from the billowy body. The last delicate words of this creature are inscribed on the foot: be kind. Are you listening? We have deformed these creatures, yet their majestic colors do not fade, and on their way out they beg for kindness.
There is A Fine Mess within the gallery. It carries with it more shimmer and shine of petroleum and plenty of color from petrified cotton candy and thread. These macro photographs are stark and draw you directly in with the glisten of the petroleum. It lifts the chroma of the cotton candy and thread off the 2 dimensional photographic planes, floating them within its mass of billowy layers, covering some of it in the depth of the Vaseline, still visible but in a shrouded mystery of soft focus. The images are appropriately sized at 30”x40” allowing for a vast work to be presented. An alluring balance is struck by presenting four of them for the exhibition at Leon.
Plastic is everywhere. You may not be aware of it, but in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there sits a gyre, a floating mass the size of Texas—the majority of the debris is made up of tiny pieces that measure in millimeters, the remains of larger objects broken down by the ocean environment. In other words, it's much more of a plastic soup than a plastic island. And it turns out there is a rather huge helping in the Atlantic Ocean, too. Lauri has created her own Gyre inside of Leon, made up from hand blown glass and a magnetic lab stirrer. Watching this small Gyre swirl and float, you can be lost in the beauty of reds, oranges, pinks, whites and blue, hypnotically floating across the white bowl. Then you remember what it represents, and you try to tell yourself not to become angry, to not go out and rent a giant speed boat and grab the biggest net you can find, and swoop this trash up because it will all be in vein. The particles are too tiny pick up; the fish are already feeding on their minuscule pieces. Don’t worry, the scientists are coming up with plans to fix it. The scientists will fix it, right?
I thought I would not become worked up when writing this curator’s note. Lauri was able to present environmental tragedies in such an elegant fashion; I must learn to be more like her. I wish more of us were like Lauri; aware and conscious of our effects. Lauri made a very respectable and conscious decision to use the very same product in her work that she loathes, petroleum. She will not hide from the fact that she lives in today’s society, that she cannot hide from the fact that it is present, it is not going anywhere, so she will embrace it and use it, as a person of modern ilk. That is also what makes this show not activist art, she knows the creation and viewing of this work will change nothing, it is simply a comment on where we are now as a society.
The 7 Iceberg Asphaltum Paintings and 5 Spills are two sets of more delicate works of art in this show. The paintings have a powdered, translucent grade YUPO backdrop to which Lauri has painted oil and bitumen on top of. The soft greys, blues, pinks, and purples create a late afternoon sunset to these glacial forms, perhaps wishing them all adieu, for they will all melt soon and these monoliths of ice and rock will sink back into the ocean. I must give a nod to my co-curator Eric Nord for recognizing the power of hanging these pieces according to their horizon lines; this curation creates a magnificent display of imagery. Sitting next to them, the 5 Spills are perfect little tragic worlds, places where rivers of oil spills move across sandy landscapes. It’s as if Lauri took a small slice of a Los Angeles waterway, a small puddle of water underneath a broken power line across the empty Midwest, or a broken carnival at Christmas and placed it upon the gallery walls. The shadows beneath this set of sculptures potently mimic the 7 Iceberg Asphaltum Paintings (once again, hat’s off to Mr. Nord for this discovery).
A small dream was finally realized for Lauri with the opening of Lament. Lauri told us that she always had a specific concept in mind, but never executed it. She wanted to create a pile of resin antlers, stacked tall and interlaced with one another. This vision was finally realized at Leon with the creation of Ghost. The individual antlers come together as a nest, a collection of twisted lines cast in clear acrylic and milky white. Ghost reminds me of the old black and white images of the great buffalo slaughters. Ghost is a Wild West where the buffalo no longer roam.
Where Ghost is the remnants of a trophy animal, Kodiak is a once mighty beast that has been reduced to a slumbering version of itself. Oil is seeping from the head, neck, and eyes, with two beautiful drops of drool hanging from the mouth. Kodiak’s expression is almost begging for mercy or help. Much like The Sound of a Blind Flight and The Physical Impossibility of Extinction in the Mind of Someone Living, Kodiak is an animal transformed because of oil abuse and greed. A grove of trees grows from the head which also makes the piece seem as if it is a representation of the spirit of a mountain. The spirit of the mountain was that of a great ancient bear from which the forest grew, from which he hunted and in turn protected. In order to protect his forest, he has allowed it to grow from his own body. He has lifted it as high as he can and as far away from the oil as he can carry it, but it is leeching too quickly through his skin. He cannot protect the forest for much longer; the oil has grown too powerful and too widespread. Perhaps that is what he is begging for, a new protector of the forest.
A large part of Lauri Lynnxe Murphy’s work over the years has had to do with bees. She has given her artwork over to bees to allow them to create honey combs over them. She has collected dead bees and honeycomb fragments as she has collaborated with them and found new uses for them. Frozen is made from a rare moment in a bee colony. When the temperatures drop low so suddenly, bees will dive into the comb surrounded by one another seeking warmth. These impeccably preserved corpses are eternally frozen in this dire state and Lauri has placed them atop a resin glass with elegance and poise. The textures of the honey comb, the black death of the corpse of the bees, and the hard striations of the resin glass work well together. It’s an odd pairing, but Frozen is a great link between her past work and her present show.
Several of the works in the show were born out of the process of another piece or created using the detritus from a work of art. The 12 Oil Slick Collages came about from such a process. These abstract paintings are created from bitumen that flows across arches paper like aerial photographs of rivers and valleys. Some have a rainbow slick that you would find in an oil spill. They remind me of the media coverage from the Deep Water Horizon disaster, the holographic shine of the oil across the water’s surface. Sitting just across from these is a reference to that exact disaster from Lauri’s Doilies of Imminent Destruction series. The two present at Leon (Crystal Clear and Deepwater Target) are created from borax crystals and plastic bags, respectively. Though the borax crystals aren’t poisonous, one can’t help but feel like they are deadly (much like the dispersants used after the Deepwater Horizon disaster). The plastic used in Deepwater Target are from plastic bags and the Target logo can brilliantly be seen all over the delicate lacing of this laser cut work of art. The other bags used in this piece melt into a soft hue of blue’s and pinks. Sitting beneath the Doilies are three Oilglobes, a clever reference to the snow globes we all played with as children. Oil and water do not mix and this interactive work of art mesmerizes as the oil floats across the surface of the trapped water. Again, I cannot help but to think about all of that oil floating around the Gulf of Mexico after the BP disaster.
Perhaps the cleverest title in the show is The Ass End of a Painful Situation, the back half of a taxidermy Nyala, its body hollowed out and filled with a forested mountain landscape with a single oil derrick placed within and is illuminated by a bare light bulb. The oil from the derrick is seeping down the valley within the body cavity like a river and a single drop gathers on the wood stand below. The Ass End of a Painful Situation is the most direct reference in the show to the destruction our greed for oil is causing. I am glad that Lauri made such a direct comment. I enjoy the beauty of each piece and it’s elegant and sometimes abstract reference to oil, but in this moment, I am glad she put it out right there in front for us. The directness in the piece also comes from the use of a red paint on the interior…there are no rainbows here, no glitter, and no happiness. It’s a gutsy, frank and forward piece of art.
Lauri Lynnxe Murphy’s voice is more powerful than ever, so I hope you are paying attention. You do not want to miss out on anything this brilliant artist has to offer. With Lament, she was able to experiment and stretch out her artistic limbs. I think she realized that she can reach much as far as she knew she could, Lauri is a jovial and confident artist. She will continue to present her work with grace and dignity, and will always be true to her artistic genius. It has been the greatest honor to work with Lauri to present Lament.
Ms. Murphy's Curious Emporium of Conspicuous Oil Consumption
Eric G. Nord
In order to successfully discuss Lauri Lynnxe Murphy's art, and her most recent exhibition, Lament, I feel the need to first address the subject of the artist, herself. A while back, Ms. Murphy shared with me that a colleague had once called her an artist's artist. A distinction that she felt was both exceedingly honorable and subtly dubious. And while I am sympathetic to her concerns, that success can be elusive, often late in arriving, or even posthumous, for those whose work might be admired more by their peers than by the public at large, I have to take this moment to reassure her of the tremendous appeal of her work, and remind her of the level of honor that moniker bestows. In my opinion, she is an artist's artist because she is an individual whose artistry is expressed through every single atom of her being. It is not a past-time, a dabbling, an interest, a vocation, nor even a "profession," for Ms. Murphy. Art, for Lauri, is as inherent as breathing; it, quite literarily, is.
Taking the above into consideration, I hope I am able to do justice in discussing her work through explaining my very personal experience with it.
Murphy begins her exhibition, Lament, with a striking installation piece which, not only sets the mood and defines the subject of this body of work, but slyly references another work, offering a critique of artistic fame, and implying an entirely different type of lament. The Physical Impossibility of Extinction in the Mind of Someone Living, a riff on the title of Damien Hirst's iconic shark, is a captivating, deceptively simple, yet surprisingly complex, psychological work. Murphy has taken the taxidermy form of a young moose, stretched and extended its neck with a rainbow-colored, malleable tube, and replaced its head with a chandelier, lying in a pool of oil (represented by a petroleum-based black resin.) For me, the piece addresses our dependency on energy, as well as our act of distancing ourselves from the results and repercussions of that dependency. The chandelier, which remains lit for the entirety of the exhibition's run, is not directly connected to the animal form. Instead, it is limply placed upon the floor, unable to be supported upright by the animal's long, candy-colored, serpentine neck. We, as a culture, obliviously consume tremendous amounts of energy, while somewhere far away, beyond our immediate concern, a young moose trudges through a barren, snow covered landscape, its legs piercing the crust and dredging up sticky, black oil, that drips from its hooves. In a particular small detail, Murphy has succeeded in creating a hair-thin tendril of oil which connects the rear hoof to a pool forming below it. The detail is both achingly fragile and immensely powerful, qualities I find to be apt descriptions for much of Ms. Murphy's fine work. With regards to the artist's Hirst reference, I see it as a critique of artistic fame, and its ability to deceive the lucky recipient into believing they are immune to becoming obsolete, losing their relevancy. In contrast, throughout her Lament, Murphy's relevance is very apparent to me.
Lament is a unique exhibition for Ms. Murphy, and exemplary of a new direction for the artist, though not through any change in her artistic process or output, but in the inclusion of a wide array of her work that, in the past, was often overlooked or ignored by gallerists and curators. Murphy is an explorer, who will find purchase in a concept, then thoroughly investigate a myriad of artistic possibilities. She is fearless in her utilization of materials, and tireless in her experimentation. In preparation for the upcoming launch of her Tiny House Project, Murphy has been evaluating her usage of petroleum-based products throughout her daily life as well as in her artistic process. By analyzing her own dependency, she has come to realize just how pervasive these oil-based materials are within our contemporary culture. This, understandably, has created a certain degree of cognitive dissonance in her practice, yet has allowed her to come to terms with this contradiction by embracing the use of these materials in order to make a statement about our dangerously casual use of them.
Lament includes a variety of sculptural installations, paintings, and photographs, that all incorporate some type of petroleum-based material. From micro-digital photographs of petrified cotton candy suspended in petroleum jelly, to laser-cut plastic Target bags, to mono-prints of bitumen - a printmaking substance retrieved from the Tar Sands - on arches cover, Murphy has created a variety of provocative images that strike a skillful balance between aesthetic appeal and substantive content. Visitors of the gallery are often first struck by the disparity of the work, sometimes assuming they've wandered into a group show, yet through their process of discovery, quickly realize the true cohesiveness of the artist's work, and the impressive dexterity with which she is able to successfully articulate her ideas through the various media.
In addition to the first work I mentioned, there are several other works within Lament that I feel are standouts, based on what I have witnessed through the public's reactions, as well as my own attraction to them. Crystal Clear, is a wood laser-cut depiction of the Deepwater Horizon, the site of BP's infamous and disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Murphy has treated the surface of the wood, allowing Borax crystals to form. Borax can be used as a mild detergent to clean up oil spills and stains. The delicate precision of the laser-cut image belies the enormous destructive mess its subject released upon our environment.
Occupying the center of the gallery is, Kodiak, a sculptural work composed of a taxidermy bear head with gauges taken out of its face, and on which Murphy has created a diorama of a forest, with oil (black resin) emerging from beneath, pooling, and dripping down the sides of the form, while two hand-blown, glass droplets of drool hang from its mouth. Though more direct in its expression of the artist's theme, I find that it succeeds in capturing the imagination, perhaps through its sense of playfulness and use of humor, despite the clarity of its foreboding message.
Of all the work included in Lament, The Ass End of a Painful Situation, appears to be the work that resonates the strongest with most visitors. Within the hind quarters of a Nyala - an antelope-like animal from Southern Africa - Murphy has created another diorama of a forest, in which a derrick is pumping oil to the surface, covering the landscape in black tar, and dripping out of the animal onto the pedestal below. The back wall of the animal's interior appears similar to intestines, imagery that is also prevalent in the artist's bitumen mono-prints previously mentioned. For me, the appeal of this work is in its evocation of an oddity one might find in an old curio shoppe. It also recalls the dark mahogany walls of a study in a large mansion owned by a Victorian-era oil or railroad Baron, littered with the taxidermy remains of exotic animals, and the scale models of his industrial holdings. It is one of the most disturbing, and yet, most fascinating works in the exhibition.
In its entirety, Lament, is an art exhibition of great breadth and depth in its materiality, yet possessing a definitive focus in its subject matter. Similar to the plethora of oil-based products we regularly employ within our lives, Murphy has provided a wide array of provocative artworks that reflect and reinforce this pervasiveness. The aesthetic beauty of her work parallels the seductive appeal of these toxic products and our reliance upon them. She successfully captures the imagination of the viewer through her explorations, her inventiveness, her playfulness and wit, while never losing site of the implicit seriousness at the core of her reasons for these lamentations.