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Lauren Kalman

But if the Crime is Beautiful... (Strangers to the Garden)


This play is a reflection on the (im)possibility of accepting diversity and the other. The fragmented body of the neoplasm—the fruit of unstable conditions—overcomes barriers, loves and denies itself and others, wanders around, forgetting its profession. It frequently and with pleasure divides, goes through dangerous palpation, questions the possibility of contact with the experience of the other. Poorly brought up but very successful, it invites us to a trans-species transition.

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But if the Crime is Beautiful... (Strangers to the Garden) responds to architect Adolf Loos' 1910 lecture Ornament and Crime, where he proposes that ornament is regressive, primitive and that, in (his) contemporary society, only criminals and degenerates are decorated (this includes women). Loos' writings on architecture and functional art helped to define the principles of the Modern architecture and design movements. The influence of these movements permeates the contemporary built environment and therefore impacts our psychological and bodily relationship to space and objects.

Though Loos' philosophies have been critiqued for decades, we continue to live in environments where Modernist constructions remain, and Modernist design objects have morphed into coveted icons of status, aligning the owner with the taste level of an educated or elite class.

The iconic furniture in (Strangers to the Garden) represents this Modernist lineage. In this installation, the decorative metal Kudzu leaves contrasts the male-dominated Modernist aesthetic and its utopian values of minimalism and functionality. The color white in this work is a symbol of restraint and intellectual control, a color historically used by oppressive entities, including the Fascists, as a symbol of superiority, purity, and control.

This work utilizes the political power of a craft vocabulary with an emphasis on decorative metalsmithing and gold. In recent history, craft has been theorized as a medium that has remained vital outside of the white, male, Euro-centricity of the contemporary art world. Crafts are often conceptualized as being in the realm of the other, domestic, social, corporeal, and female. *Kudzu is an invasive species. It overtakes native trees and brush, coating them with a new skin of lush green leaves. The Kudzu in this work serves as crafted decoration, interrupting the pure white furniture. These golden-colored leaves play on the common association between the feminine, the body, decoration, and crafts.

The images house the bodies notably absent from the Modern seating. The juxtapositions between figures and objects, along with the groupings of images, point to a variety of historical, political, and social sources like religious iconography, and vernacular images of pleasure, power, and control. Inevitably the nude bodies in this work call upon constructions of identity and the complicated politics surrounding gender, race, and power as related to the systems underlying these environments.

*Lechner, Jenna. "One of Portland's Most Important Art Spaces Is Closing. Now What?" the Portland Mercury. Mar. 16, 2016. Web.


Factory Installed: May 20, 2016 - February 12, 2017
About The Artist

Lauren Kalman is a visual artist whose practice is invested in contemporary craft, video, photography and performance. Through her work she investigates beauty, adornment, body image, and the built environment. Raised in the Midwest, Kalman completed her MFA in Art and Technology from the Ohio State University and earned a BFA with a focus in Metals from Massachusetts College of Art.

Kalman exhibits and lectures internationally. Her work has been featured in exhibitions at the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Museum of Contemporary Craft, Museum of Arts and Design, Cranbrook Art Museum, Contemporary Art Museum Houston, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Mint Museum, deCordova Museum, and the World Art Museum of Beijing, among others. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, and the Detroit Institute of Art.

She has been awarded residencies at the Bemis Center, the Australian National University, the Corporation of Yaddo, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Bruch Creek Arts Foundation, Haystack, and Santa Fe Art Institute. She has received Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, Puffin Foundation West and ISE Cultural Foundation Emerging Curator grants.

She has taught at institutions including Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design. Currently she is an assistant professor at Wayne State University.

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