People have different driving forces in their life, their work or elsewhere. In the case of artist Lindsay Lawson, hers is less than omnipresent: A smiling stone Lawson found on eBay advertised for purchase for a whopping $ 1,000,000. Although she never personally saw the stone, several of her works were triggered by this inspiring chunk of earth, including the film Smiling Rock, which serves as the basis for her current exhibition at Gallery Lisa Kandlhofer in Vienna.
Sabrina Moeller: Whenever I am thinking about your work, I recall the story of the smiling rock. You reference the stone in several works. So my question is, how this stone influenced your work as an artist, especially in the way it was commercially presented on eBay.
Lindsay Lawson: I have realized that I have been working with the same themes for a long time now. So, when I started to make the film “smiling rock" it proliferated into several other disparate works. I would say the one major topic that became my interest was the object oriented ontology. I think once I finally do show the film, officially, it will be similar to so many other works I have done. It is the result of all the things I was doing. For example, in the show here at the Gallery Lisa Kandlhofer, all the objects are fundamentally visual and digital objects that I either produced, downloaded or collected. Essentially, the idea was to collect things and give them a new context. Although the film is finished and has already been viewed in a small circle at an exhibition in Tenerife, I still want to make a bunch of changes.
Sabrina Moeller: In what way would you alter the film — and why?
Lindsay Lawson: The story is about a woman that falls in love with a rock she finds on eBay. The viewer is made to understand that this woman loves the rock by the way she acts; however, the viewer cannot really experience the feeling of it and empathize with the woman. That is what I want to expand on. I want the rock to be so charming that, maybe, even the viewer falls in love with it.
Sabrina Moeller: In the case of the smiling stone, falling in love does not mean that the protagonist merely likes or admires the object. You applied the psychological phenomenon of ‘Objectum Sexuality’ (OS), i.e., someone is sexually oriented to objects, to the character. So what is it like to fall in love with a stone?
Lindsay Lawson: So you probably know this work that I did for the Berlin Biennale. The woman who drove that crane is Erika Eiffel and she loves cranes. She married the Eiffel Tower and falls in love with different objects. I met her when I was writing about this film. A curator introduced us and we talked a lot about her life so I could get a better understanding for it. As a result, I know a lot about how Erika feels with objects she does love.
But for me and this rock, I am interested in it’s funnier aspects. I have never seen it in person. I found it on eBay and started watching it and realized that I was watching it for a really long time. So I thought, maybe I should write something about it, and then it turned into a video, and then into a film. It developed a sort of aura for me because it is something I have been thinking about for so long. I did this show in Portland a couple of years ago at the university where the students carried an exhibition where they invited international artists to do something there with a very limited budget. For this exhibition, I wanted to show the actual rock, asking myself how it became an artwork. I wasn’t there for the show but other people have handled the rock that is actually smaller than your fist, probably half that size. I did a talk via Skype about my work of the show. And pretty much everyone at the talk had seen it in person or even handled it. So what ended up happening was me asking them a bunch of questions. They were telling me how it actually looks.
Sabrina Moeller: Would you ever be enticed to see the stone in real life like the Portland students? To actually touch it?
Lindsay Lawson: I have a weird relationship to the stone because a part of me wants to have and own it, but the other part of me is afraid to ever meet it and see it in person because then the story is kind of over. My dream scenario would be that the guy who owns the rock writes in his will that I will inherit it when he dies, but that’s unlikely. He is not that old, maybe like 10 years older. So an alternative dream scenario is he writes his will when he is old and he dies, and I get it when I am also really old. I see that as an appropriate end. The end before I die. For me it has been a driving force for a lot of other works that aren’t explicitly about that, but like an interest. Even though, for me, it is related, it represents more a kind of history.
Sabrina Moeller: What is the difference between image and physical object for people that really do fall in love with an inanimate object? And also desire it sexually?
Lindsay Lawson: Erika moved to Berlin because she fell in love with the Berlin wall. She went to Japan to study a certain type of samurai sword and became a master swordsman. It really has this certain point where her life is guided by the things she loves. When asking her about the Eiffel Tower, I assumed she might have lived in Paris before, but she refuted that. She has this webcam where you can see the Eiffel tower whenever you feel like seeing the weather conditions in Paris. She said that sometimes she has it on all the time. It is kind of like a long distance relationship. Dating somebody that is not in the city and you get used to someone via Skype: leaving it on all the time, not even talking but just being there. Another way to be connected is model making. Erika makes models of all kinds of objects she is in love with. So it is physical, but it is also a way for them to feel close. It is like having a photo of somebody you love. A way the objects come alive for the person, and I think that is something that really carried my work as well. The object and reflection of what surrounds it. I am also interested in what occurs in its life when nobody is looking. If you can’t observe something happening, is it even happening?
Sabrina Moeller: Ok, so let’s talk about the work in the gallery. There are different layers of objects but it is not always easy to recognize these objects due to the shiny, reflective surfaces; the viewer’s reflection constantly distracts him or her away from the object’s function. What drove you to choose these reflective objects? What is the story behind it? What are the objects exactly?
Lindsay Lawson: Yes, it is really difficult to see them. A lot of it is actually from the film. I either modeled or downloaded these models. So they are my own reflections of choices. So the choice of what the reflection would be was basically everyday objects that are not of any specific category. So I have been collecting these 3D model of things. Some of them are art works, materials, all kind of random things. It is not about a clear connection, but making the most out of it, to bring these things together, to have this history and this new connection together. So the arrangement tries to avoid being in any kind of direction to read it in a certain way. My tactic is to have it very dark to play with the light. It was a way to make the objects bind together. So for some of them, you can’t really identify what they are through the dark light. Because you can’t really see everything, also with the use of the glossy print, that makes the reflection. Some of them, that I haven’t printed yet, are using this water droplets. It is also an ability to reflect what is in front of you. It is a still life but in a way that makes it impossible for you to actually see what is there.
Sabrina Moeller: What’s the role of the Internet in your work?
Lindsay Lawson: Well, a couple of times I have been asked to do a show online, but the thing is I don’t make work online. I really like working with physical materials. If you think of post-Internet, pretty much everyone who has an Internet account is post-Internet. When integrated into my work, I conceptualized the Internet as a very physical place. I use it to distance myself via communication, which is actually supposed to be connecting, but I use it to keep a certain amount of distance and mystery.
Sabrina Moeller: But you’re still influenced by the Internet? Especially when it comes to the stone, considering your inclusion of the platform eBay itself in your works.
Lindsay Lawson: Yes. As I was saying before, I have seen the smiling rock online and images of it, and I have generated pictures out of them to use it in an exhibition. But as I become closer to the stone, I continually try to keep my distance. For example, the guy who is selling the rock, we have chatted online, but I have never talked with him on the phone or in person. Maybe we will eventually, but I don’t want to hear his voice because it might not be how I imagined his voice to be. I read an article that says apparently in Japan the idea of visiting Paris is something of a cultural fantasy. Of course, everyone says go to Paris, the city of love, and apparently in Japan it is very much the dream destination. There is actually a term for a Japanese tourist that goes to Paris and its disappointment by the reality that is in the city: the shitty weather or the trash or whatever, that they are so much disappointed that they can’t deal with it. I think for me I use the Internet to have my own reality somehow because there is a sort of separation, where you have to interpret what it is. It is just like a tool. But pretty much any artist is online.
Thank you, Lindsay!
Featured images: Lindsay Lawson in her Studio Photo © Alexander Coggin for Berlin Art Link; Exhibition View 'Stranger Days' at Lisa Kandlhofer Gallery, 2017, Courtesy The Artist and Gallery Kandlhofer.