Perched 15 feet up on a 2-ton steel vessel, a figure works with a blue-flamed arc welder. At 32 feet wide and 17 feet tall, the structure is deep enough to contain a small crowd of people and is moveable only by a truck crane. A blond ponytail and ballerina legs tucked into sooty work boots give a hint to the person shrouded by a blackened welding hood – sculptor Lauren Frances Moore.
As her on-and-off roommate and long-standing college friend, I’ve become so accustomed to Moore’s work and unofficial title of up-and-coming artist that interviewing her is like probing a sister. However, as always, Moore’s abstract mind surprises and delights me with her ever-evolving, off-the-wall ideas that have pushed her from our first-year residence hall to the forefront of the College’s studio art department.
When I met Moore four years ago – the first week of our first year at the College – she was a newly registered Honors College business student, recovering high school ballet dancer and self-proclaimed fashionista. (I believe that we first bonded over the Marc Jacobs fall 2007 collection.) She struck me as creative, quirky, clean-cut and a little too prissy for sawdust, cement and steel. The studio grime didn’t become part of her well-planned wardrobe until second semester, when she sought refuge from all her economics and accounting classes in ARTS 220 Sculpture I.
“It’s funny, I had a high school art teacher who told me that I would end up majoring in art, but I started out as a business major because I thought it was practical,” says Moore. “But once I started taking sculpture classes, I found myself devoting all of my energy to creation. When I wasn’t in the studio, I was thinking about my projects.”
That’s not to say that Moore gave up her practical nature for her creative one; rather, she decided to double major in business and studio art.
It surprised her how few other students seemed to invest the amount of time that she did in their art projects – but, having seen the obsessive precision of her work firsthand, I know few others could. From her first sculpture – a steel-wire flower tipped with intricately cut newspaper type – her ideas, technique and aesthetic developed into a clearer artistic concept, with her professors encouraging her to delve into a wider range of nontraditional materials.
At one point, we had a spiral sculpture made of chair legs occupying about a fifth of the tiny room we shared. Another time, I came home to find her watching Desperate Housewives with her hands and forearms plastered into a mold. She started collecting any unusually textured materials that struck her fancy, seeking out dumpsters full of carpet padding, pink insulation, cardboard and scraps of plywood. There was even a phase when she was saving dead birds in our freezer and Googling “do-it-yourself taxidermy.” I’m not sure that project ever came to fruition.
By the end of our junior year, Moore had taken all of the sculpture classes available and relished the opportunity to make her own assignments through independent study and local art expositions. Now she was able to channel the brilliant and bizarre of her previous pieces into a cohesive body of work, creating a signature, if you will.
“Now when people ask, I say that I do sculpture,” Moore explains, “specifically, architectonic, site-responsive, material-driven installations that push the viewer to interact with the created environment.”
In layman’s terms, she means that all of her work is large enough to contain several people and is characterized by structural elements found in architecture. She’s generally inspired by her installation space and materials such as steel, insulation, consumer packaging and carpet padding. Then she starts building, and discovers her concept as she goes.
“The first thing I do is assess my space. I think a lot about motion and how I can manipulate the movement through it,” she says. “For me, there is a huge element of curiosity: How will viewers respond to what I’ve made?”
With her piece Situation Orientation, a biomorphic tunnel of steel and Saran wrap that garnered Best in Show at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art’s Young Contemporaries exhibition last spring, she walked in with a notepad and measuring tape and walked out with a vision. The resulting cavernous, yet transparent form offered an interactive space.
Last summer, her installation at the Charleston County Public Library, titled Situation Destination, expounded on a similar form, or “situation.” This time, using pink fiberglass insulation to cover a welded steel armature, she invited the viewers to linger inside her piece rather than just pass through. Lit from behind, the single-entry cave incited the experience of being in the belly of a living organism.
“The soft, undulating forms are reminiscent of living organisms that are curious and familiar, but at the same time, they are nonrepresentational. You can make whatever you want of them,” she says. “With my work, people have to make a deliberate choice: Do they want to enter and engage with it, or not?”
As her work started gaining local attention, it was time for Moore herself to make a deliberate choice – and so she began looking for funding and opportunities outside of Charleston. Then, last summer, she and sculpture professor Jarod Charzewski received one of the College’s summer research grants to develop a concept for mass-producible modular installation tile.
The idea combined Charzewski’s minimalist aesthetic with Moore’s transparent, biomorphic forms to create a mold and prototype for bubble-like, plastic ceiling tiles that could be used artfully to enhance an industrial space.
“Even great artists tend to be lousy businessmen,” Charzewski notes. “Lauren’s instinct for business enables her to plan out large-scale projects like this one. Working with her gave me a kind of energy that can be hard to come by in the studio. She really knows how to balance spontaneity with strategy and structure with temporality.”
With the summer grant project barely finished, Moore packed up her Jeep Cherokee and headed for Franconia, Minn., to spend time at a 20-acre artists’ commune and sculpture park at the suggestion of sculpture professor Herb Parker.
Which brings me back to where I started – Moore welding together her two-ton steel Vessel, her glorious imposition on the landscape. With unlimited space and Franconia’s big-rig equipment at her disposal, she scavenged Minneapolis’ three steel yards to create the colossal sculpture definitive of her college career. More important, there in rural Minnesota, Moore felt for the first time like she had come into her own – as an artist, a student and a woman.
“When I started college, I didn’t think that I could be a real working artist,” she admits. “But during my four years at the College, I sort of became one.”
As a graduating senior, Moore doesn’t see boundaries. She’s applied to the most prestigious M.F.A. sculpture programs and is waiting only to hear who will offer her the biggest studio space. She and Charzewski have received additional funding for their modular installation project and have applied to show it at local galleries. She will spend this summer teaching sculpture classes at Redux Contemporary Art Center in Charleston and is expanding her portfolio with more installations at the library. As for her goliath sculpture, it still stands in Franconia, a solid symbol of how far she has come and perhaps indicative of the places she will go.
“Lauren has been a bright spot in the School of the Arts,” says Mark Sloan, curator of the Halsey Institute. “She has taken advantage of every opportunity given to her and created many of her own. Her thirst for knowledge and creative ambition are infectious. She’s a rare student and surely a promising artist.”
Yes, she’s all that, but to me, she’s still my frilly, quirky friend. No matter how grand and sophisticated her work is destined to become, I’ll always remember those dead birds in our freezer and that wildly creative freshman girl who thought she would crunch numbers for a living.
– Kristen Gehrman ’11
Check out Moore’s artwork at www.laurenfrancesmoore.com.