David Kordansky Gallery presents a solo exhibition of new, hand-carved gypsum wall works by Lauren Halsey. Developed as part of an ongoing project to create a permanent, multiuse architectural structure in South Central Los Angeles, these works celebrate a poetics of place and people, documenting conditions on the ground while proposing new spaces in the urban landscape and the realm of the imagination. The exhibition will also be on view at GalleryPlatform.LA, June 17 – 25, 2020.
For a full experience of the exhibition, please click play below to listen to "T Plays It Cool" by Marvin Gaye (1972) while viewing.
Lauren Halsey rethinks the terms by which artmaking touches the communities that see, experience, and engage with it. Both her standalone and site-specific artworks are rooted in local themes and the kind of lived intimacy that can only emerge with time and proximity. For several generations, Halsey’s family has resided in South Central Los Angeles, where the artist continues to live and work. The images and text that appear throughout her projects reflect not only the buildings, businesses, and citizens that surround her, but the hopes, dreams, concerns, and tragedies that course through them. Halsey is particularly attuned to forces that are bringing change from within and from without—including the specter of gentrification and the pitfalls of income inequality—as well as the challenges faced by people of color and queer communities. She addresses these complex issues by facing them head-on in the real world and by creating an aesthetic—informed by Afrofuturism and funk—that is improvisatory, alive, and otherworldly.
The wall works in this exhibition are indicative of the holistic, municipal scope of Halsey’s vision. Indeed, referring to them as “wall works” is most accurate if one reads the descriptor literally: she conceives of them as architectural panels, complete with her own versions of hieroglyphic markings, that can cover the surfaces of an actual, inhabitable building. Halsey has plans currently underway with city organizations to build a freestanding, monumental structure that will serve the South Central community as a public plural space where gatherings, screenings, and other activities will occur; except for the fact that the works on view here have been mounted for independent hanging, they are identical in form to the panels that will eventually cover this built outdoor environment.
A large-scale prototype version of the structure, then entitled The Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project, was Halsey’s Mohn Award-winning contribution to Made in L.A. 2018, the Hammer Museum’s biennial exhibition dedicated to Los Angeles-based artists. In the catalogue published in conjunction with the award, poet Douglas Kearney explores the connections between the panels and ancient Egyptian architecture, noting that “Halsey is working with the affect of the pharaonic in the everyday lives of the community. Royalty, yes, but also: in this place reflecting you, there is no need to escape. You are where you were going already.” Accordingly, the wall panels feature images of the kinds of writing and drawing that people display on their own bodies and on their own walls. Advertisements for small businesses, graffiti, and shaved hair designs each account for their own kind of communication and personal expression.
The panels go beyond mere depiction of the people whom Halsey envisions moving among them or of the locales where they might eventually be installed. Rather, they respond to a broad array of subjectivities and perspectives, and function as invitations not only to enter a space (whether physical or conceptual), but also to shape the space according to one’s own needs, desires, and fantasies. Like the pyramids, they are realizations, in tangible form, of a spiritual and mythological dimension. On the physical plane, they are even made from gypsum, one of the same basic materials used by the Egyptians. For Halsey, however, pyramids and hieroglyphs are not merely ancient touchstones. They also link her work to the Afrocentric psychedelia of the genre-breaking musical collective Parliament/Funkadelic and its ethos of ecstatic exploration; her panels are, in other words, symbols of what it means to keep one’s feet planted firmly on the ground even as one allows the senses and the mind the utmost freedom of movement.
The ability to operate in two or more worlds or registers simultaneously is a hallmark of Halsey’s approach. Though the making and carving of the gypsum wall works is a decidedly hands-on affair, other facets of her production involve different kinds of labor and engagement with diverse people and materials. Next door to her studio, Halsey founded and operates Summaeverythang, a community center that serves as an extension and natural outgrowth of her art-related activities. As just one timely example of the type of initiatives based there, she has spearheaded a program to distribute boxes of fresh organic produce, free of charge, to neighborhood residents as a means of responding to the local effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this way, aesthetic experimentation becomes the catalyst for an entire ecosystem of exchange. Halsey transforms art into an agent for cross-platform fertilization and synthesis, and a hub for self-empowerment and self-invention where possibilities become realities in many unique shapes and guises.
Lauren Halsey (b. 1987, Los Angeles) has presented solo exhibitions at David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles (2020); Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris (2019); and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2018). She participated in Made In L.A. 2018, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2018), where she was awarded the Mohn Award for artistic excellence.The monograph Lauren Halsey: Mohn Award 2018 (Prestel, 2020) was published earlier this year. Halsey received a 2019 Painter and Sculptors Grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, New York. Also in 2019, Halsey founded Summaeverythang Community Center, which distributes free organic produce boxes to South Central Los Angeles, where she lives and works. A major public monument by the artist in South Central Los Angeles is currently in development.
To learn more about Lauren Halsey, please view these articles from Artforum, PIN-UP Magazine, MUSE Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and this conversation with Erin Christovale from Halsey's Mohn Award monograph.
Image directly above: Lauren Halsey wearing Nike Air Force 1s she designed, Photo courtesy of Nike and the artist, 2019
Background image: Lauren Halsey, thang, 2020, digital collage
Photography of Lauren Halsey works by Lee Thompson, unless otherwise noted
Video filmed by Monique McWilliams and edited by Russell Hamilton, 2020
Image directly below: Monique, Lauren, Emmanuel, and grandmother hanging out, Photo by Steven Traylor, 2019
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