A conversation with Lindsay Lawson, a Berlin based artist.

by Nina Thorstensen

Beyond The Inner Lives of Objects

Lindsay Lawson is an artist living and working in Berlin, whose heterogeneous practice incorporates sculpture, video and performance. Many of the threads that run through her work could be described as object-oriented, evidence of which can be found in the multi-faceted series of works centered around the ‘Smiling Rock’. Lawson took her fascination with an object of desire, a hand cut rock ‘that smiles’ listed on eBay, as a starting point for conceiving a set of semi-fictional narratives and scenarios. These took the format of a short story, an exhibition and now a feature film, which is currently in production.

In her recent exhibition at Gillmeier Rech gallery in Berlin titled ‘The Inner Lives of Objects’ the artist presented a collection of sculptures filled with objects in the form of panels and solid vases. They are mostly personal objects she has found around her apartment; random objects, objects given by friends or brought from travels. Embedded within a mixture of plaster, pigment and resin they appeared like fractured archaeological artefacts. Partially concealed, layered and buried beneath the surface of the resin they acquire a new set of properties and multiple narratives.

For this exhibition you employed more of a hands-on, direct way of working with the objects. Could you say something about the exhibition’s premise and some of the ideas you wanted to communicate?

LINDSAY LAWSON For me The Inner Lives of Objects stems from two primary concerns: the subjective value of objects and the possibility of an object experiencing its own reality. I’ve been an avid eBay user for years, and I regard that kind of online object-hunting like being a digital archeologist. In the online marketplace, a pre-owned object’s value is determined by rarity, demand, but also its history, particularly if it has a compelling narrative. The panel works in the exhibition contain many objects (some of which I had even bought on eBay) that were embedded in plaster and look a bit like artifacts in an excavation site. Some of the smaller objects were “lost” in the poured plaster so I had to use an archeologist’s tools (a chisel, mallet, and brush) to dig them out.

My interest in the possibility of an object reality was partly inspired by Erika Eiffel, who identifies as an objectum sexual: a person who has emotional, romantic, and sexual relationships with objects. In an interview Eiffel, who married and took her name from the Eiffel Tower, explained that The Berlin Wall (another love of hers) did not choose to be an instrument of war. She says, “The purpose of the Wall is not the politics, it’s the suffering the Wall went through. If you look at it strictly that way, the Wall was misplaced in the world. Everyone hated this wall and could not accept its existence. I felt that way in my life being an OS person misplaced in a society of people who are all in love with each other.”

Most of the objects you used in the sculptures are your own, how do you think about them now, seeing them both enclosed and exposed to the public?

LL Yes, many of the objects are mine and their particular histories are only known to me, however I did not want the secret past lives to be the forefront of a narrative constructed by the proximity of dissimilar objects cast together in a single sculpture, but rather I wanted to suggest the possibility of a narrative. I have already made one commissioned work in this series, which is made entirely with objects collected from the person commissioning the work. I love the idea that a collector commissioning one of these works might have more emotional investment the piece than I do, simply because they’ve already spent time with the objects embedded inside.

You mentioned the multiple histories of the objects inside converging into a singular sculptural object. How do you feel about the nature of objecthood in the sculptures, being at the same time objects of their own and objects made out of objects?

LL One of the embedded objects is a pencil with a plastic octopus on the end given to me by someone I was not that close to, which I had never used and never even sharpened. Somehow I owned this pencil for 13 years bringing it with me as I moved from between both coasts in the U.S. and eventually to Berlin. Although there was nothing special about this pencil, it seemed wrong to get rid of a thing I had owned for so long and now it is embedded, or even entombed in a work of art that will last a long time, be accounted for, and cared for. It’s like an afterlife for objects.

“I’ve been an avid eBay user for years, and I regard that kind of online object-hunting like being a digital archeologist.”

I am interested to find out a bit about your relationship with the objects that you own. If you could choose one or few objects that you would like to keep for a long time, which object or objects would it be?

LL I’m working on another project about people’s most valuable objects. Often these are things without much objective market value, but rather a personal value. In developing this work I’ve also thought a lot about what are my most prized possessions and have come up with a few. One is a small digital clock in the shape of a PC computer owned by my late grandfather. It has a metal plaque engraved with his name and the year 1986 and it still has the original paper instructions for how to set the time stuffed into the slot that is supposed to look like a floppy disk drive. Another object is a human femur bone I found near a highway in Cairo in 2011. I was teaching a workshop just before the Arab Spring erupted in the region and you can imagine how intense it was to be there by chance at that time. Flying back to Berlin, nobody noticed or cared that I had a large bone in my luggage.

An eBay listing for a peculiar ‘rock that smiles’ and the seller’s asking price of one million dollars has caught your attention a few years ago. Since then your fascination with this object has evolved into a series of projects. Could you talk about your interest in the object, its shifting online life, and what you feel it embodies in our digitally networked global environment?

LL I’ve been watching the smiling rock for 3 years and it’s been listed on eBay for 6 years. It’s a visually striking rock and it’s a quasi-miracle that a smiley face formed inside a rock that a guy happened to discover by cutting it in open. The eBay seller is asking for $1,000,000, but the auction has the option to Make An Offer. Right now 104 people saved the smiling rock on their Watch List, it’s been viewed almost 33,000 times, and nearly 200 (unaccepted) offers have been made for less than $1,000,000. So I’m not the only person keeping up with the smiling rock. The seller even writes in the item listing: I Enjoy all the people that looks at it cause where its at right now it sees nobody and would love to be seen by people. [sic]

For the ‘Sad Hetero World’ exhibition you created your own eBay listing of the virtual ‘smiling rock’, which you also used as a press release. Could you say something about why you decided it was necessary to make the listing?

LL Many works in Sad Hetero World used online text from eBay listings and online dating profiles as a space for a kind of amateur found poetry. Putting the press release in an eBay listing seemed like a natural relation of two platforms made for sharing text in the service of promoting objects.

How did you arrive to the physical objects like digital prints and sculptures that were part of the exhibition’s narrative and resulted from your online listing?

LL Sad Hetero World  was really more about surfaces and facades in a digital landscape. The implicit narrative running through the exhibition presented eBay and OkCupid as online marketplaces where “impression management” runs rampant, where people can easily manipulate how they chose to represent themselves and things to others. It’s about senders and receivers. All the prints (framed and sculptural) were made from digital 3D-models, which are essentially skins and textures wrapped around forms. The 3D models depicted dating profiles, eBay listings, profile pictures– the spaces and material for impression management.