Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Scary Gorgeous: Virtual Studio Visit to LauraSplan.com

Laura Splan's work is beautiful, delicate, and disturbing.  (An alternate title for this posting could be "Blood and Beauty Products.")  Her website showcases sculpture, photos, videos, other digital art, and works on paper that make you cringe while also making you want to lean into the screen, looking closer and closer until you fall into her world.

JJS examined this website from the bottom up (largely bypassing the section titled "installation views," which shows not installation art but the installation of other artwork on the site).

Because she mostly magnifies and alters materials we all own, particularly blood and skin, there is a natural fascination with Splan's art.  You'll want to continue to look, though, because of the skill with which she examines and manipulates her materials.

For instance, in the video "Disbursement & Accumulation" the initial beautiful burst of blood-like fluid evaporates into a more disturbing residue left behind.  According to the artist, another work, the photographs "Underneath (1-4)" display what we see when we peel back the layers of our hopes, fears, and ambivalence towards the human body.  A perfectly reasonable interpretation, but the surgical drawings on skin can also be read as humans' precise, beautiful attempts to understand the body through science and cosmology (the drawings look a lot like astronomical charts).

Given Splan's subject matter, the more tactile her work is, the more successful it is.  More conventionally-produced work, such as the photographs "Exam Gown" and "Simple maneuvers" are not as compelling as the "Underneath" series or "X-ray Visions and Morphine Dreams" photo collages.  Ironically, her 2-d prints and drawings pulse with life, not only because many of them use her own blood, but because they appear to be microscopic organisms caught in action.  And many of the drawings are actually based on scientific forms which, of course, have their own beautiful design.  The second and third "Reflexive" drawing series particularly stand out with thin forms that appear to crawl across the page as you watch.

Splan's sculpture wisely veers away from trying to portray the body to presenting everyday objects – especially medical tools – in extreme form.  Her 25 foot-long functional stethoscope, four foot-long tongue depressors, and huge functioning catheter make us cringe in a different way than the blood-soaked drawings and prints.  But the sculptures' impact does not go far beyond shock value, while the drawings and print images linger and call the viewer back for third and fourth looks.

The question of whether Splan's work would be as compelling if we did not know that she is using blood or representing the body is moot – the whole point of her work is its relationship to corporeality.  When considering her wallpaper and doily designs painted with blood, we cannot separate the material and the image.

The website is impeccably organized and extremely user-friendly.  And the art images themselves flow together well partly because Splan's subject matter is so consistent across media and representations.  Finally, it is great – and rare – to read an artist statement that accurately describes how someone other than the artist might view the work.  Splan, who seems to have been honing her craft for years, understands the inside and outside of her own artwork as much as she understands the body's surface and inner systems.

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