Falling with Lora Fosberg

July 26, 2010 · Print This Article

GUEST POST BY DAMIEN JAMES

Great art shows always seem to find me. I don’t really check the listings or catch the buzz, but if it’s a show I’m meant to see, it somehow happens and I don’t like to think too much about the mechanism at work which makes this possible – whether it’s “fate,” blindness,  or happenstance – for fear that I’ll lose that mechanism. Sometimes the right person will give me the tip or I’ll be wandering around and just fall into a room full of amazing. Regardless, when I do find my way into such a show, it leaves an often indelible mark on me. Lora Fosberg’s show at Linda Warren Gallery is no exception.

(Nice preamble, right?)

Liza Berkoff, a photographer whose work is worth your attention (I’ve been watching for a while now and it’s been fun), told me about the show. She conspiratorially stated – through email, if that’s possible – that she was collaborating with Lora on three pieces.  “I am beside myself excited,” Liza typed. I asked if I could visit the gallery while Liza and Lora were installing, and the answer – again via email – was given as  “‘yes’ with exclamation points.”

On the scheduled day, I walked into the gallery and met more people than I expected. The music was turned up and there was food and it felt very relaxed, like walking into an intimate party with friends you just know have some fascinating piece of information to impart since you last saw them. Then you remember that they are mostly strangers, so you hope they have something fascinating to say because you’ve volunteered to spend time with them. Lora Fosberg was installing the final piece, you can’t fall off the floor, and Liza, along with Forsberg’s paramour and the incredibly competent staff of Linda Warren were helping. Warren herself was there to offer a sort of moral support and occasional direction.

Lora Fosberg building you can’t fall off the floor.

After introductions, Berkoff showed me the collaborations. All three were made with some kind of rare equilibrium which allowed each artist to completely state themselves without losing clarity. Liza’s black and white photographs are of buildings and streets given to the kind of quiet ruin we imagine our future to be made of in darker moments, dizzyingly recognizable and Cormac McCarthy-esque. On those photos, Fosberg painted and collaged her own colors and variations, wryly balancing on a tightrope between pessimism and its inverse.

Lora Fosberg and Liza Berkoff, dare to fail, 2010, gouache and collaged digital photograph on paper.

dare to fail is a gray cityscape with brightly painted billboards advertising the ideas of truth and belief, all set against a chaotic sky full of searchlights. i fall in love every day and yes can be such a surprise are quieter gestures from Fosberg, but those gestures imply a narrative between the two photographs which allow us to project limitless meanings into the work. Her collaged paper on the photos feel like satellite transmissions emanating directly from the brains of the solitary men in each photo. Maybe they connect or mingle in space or maybe they miss each other by light years; either direction is worth considering for it’s social implications. (Or just admire how great they look.) One leads to the hope for connection and the other to empty space. Berkoff’s work has often been aimed at some iteration of that empty space, which contrasts curiously well with Fosberg’s spark for filling it.

Lora Fosberg and Liza Berkoff, yes can be such a surprise (top) and i fall in love every day (bottom), 2010, gouache, collage, and photograph on paper.

Liza and I walked through the whole gallery for a cursory look before getting back to Fosberg’s installation. Everyone had already resumed the banter that had been going before I interrupted with my entrance, and that banter seemed to almost propel Forberg as she paced along the wall to finish her piece, never missing a beat in the conversation though acutely focused on the task at hand. The energy of the whole group seemed to be hyper-focused on one single point in the gallery: Fosberg’s hands as she made – or remade, rather – you can’t fall off the floor.

Watching Lora work, the thought struck me that she might actually see the world in terms of flowing energy. Not in some Oprah-endorsed-“Secret”-or-“Dr. Phil”-The Forum- pop-psychology-Ponzi-scheme-seeming-Church-of-Scientology sort of way, though. Rather, that she understands the way we connect and uses her own expressive energy to do just that; you can even see it in her posture. She’s a walking “fuck yes” of cellular awareness.

“It’s all about flow,” Fosberg said. “Nothing can be preconceived or preplanned. It just has to happen.”

And it does. She walks back and forth before a 14-foot assemblage for hours, rarely taking her eyes more than a few inches away from the surface while looking at thousands of shapes and shades and sizes of paper to be pressed down with adhesive goo, each paper strip covered in words and strange scrawls which upon focus reveal themselves to be little vaginas and penises, breasts and severed heads, random thoughts, lyrics, and bits of collected conversation and spare words which chaotically make their rounds through Fosberg’s internal processor. But taken in together – while watching her flow and receive and transmit – the thousands of parts which make up you can’t fall off the floor speak with each other, a breathing and moving organ. The piece practically blushes at you from a distance a la Robert Irwin.

“It’s all current, you know, everything I’ve been thinking about for the last year. And I’ve been so stuck on 80’s art. Warhol and Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, I just can’t get enough of it,” Fosberg said as she filled in the lower right corner of the collage. Nothing about the work feels retro, however. It’s as tied to the present moment as Lora Fosberg is. “I want to cover the Guggenheim with this. Think big, right? It can just go on and on. It’s a piece that will never be finished.” you can’t fall off the floor is a different work every time it’s installed, which means, among other things, that it will always surprise you.

“I need more boobs!” she emphatically announced as she leaned over the table covered in pieces still waiting to go up. Everyone began looking through the strips of paper for the elusive little drawings while chuckling and cracking wise for a moment. Then there was a discernable change in atmosphere as the boobs eluded discovery, which made me realize just how much everyone wanted to please the artist. I myself considered joining the search, interested only the progress of the installation. Fosberg shrugged it off, though, refusing to lose momentum. I’m sure she knew they would turn up, despite the hundreds of pieces to sift through over the course of the evening. Occasionally pieces were discarded, having been found incorrect in some way, either with unintentionally elided words or spelling errors, and dropped in a box-top beneath the table. There weren’t many, maybe a dozen give or take, and I only actually saw one with a misspelling, which I found just as interesting as those deemed wall-worthy. Were those discarded pieces ever to be resuscitated as a collage of their own, I might argue that you could, in fact, fall off the floor.

Fosberg’s prints and paintings and collages simply work. Sure sure, it’s great art and maybe that’s all that really needs to be said. You should see it and have your own experience with it, give some time to it, get close and look at the individual lines and where they intersect. Look at the tiny roll of toilet paper she draws on if it’s heavy, put it down, a modern Atlas not yet ready to shrug off the planet-sized ball of everyday objects crushing down on bent back and stooped shoulder. And the stacks of records and books and furniture and boxes which make up the refuse-laden sprawl of 10,000 different versions of myself. It’s like a tribal tattoo of stuff, manmade objects which only have the meaning we give them and only for as long as we allow. We can see ourselves there as well. There are so many little details to see and each one is ready to soak up your stories by offering you excerpts of Fosberg’s stories, beginnings and ends, fragmented middles, threads waiting to be picked up and carried indefinitely.

Lora Fosberg, 10,000 different versions of myself, 2009, gouache on paper.

“I found them,” said Dain, an employee of the gallery, holding up a piece of paper no larger than a half-inch square with breasts drawn on it. There were cheers.

So many different things have been said about Lora Fosberg’s work; that it confronts our nearly gleeful destruction of nature, how it wittily illustrates our cognitive dissonance and invites the sharing of personal narratives, or that it asks us to engage with ourselves and with the artist, all of which ring true. It’s highly interpretable work which also happens to be beautiful to look at. But not much has been said about being around Lora Fosberg, which is why you’re not reading the standard-issue boilerplate “art review” here. You can get that in pretty much anywhere else you go for reviews. I just don’t want to read theory right now. I’d rather have the experience.

Regardless of how alluring, provocative or simply gorgeous her work may be, I’ve been leaning toward the idea that the real beauty and genius of art occurs in the making of art rather than in the exhibition of it; that the quiet and laborious and countless hours of creation are where the true brilliance resides. (No, I don’t think I’m the first to have ever thought such a thing.) And spending time with Fosberg while she remade her massive collage of concentrated and effusive thoughts gave that idea some real flesh for me. I asked her if this was how things simply were for her, a constant party with her posse? “No, this is the fun part, the sort of crazy social outcome of making art. The rest of the time I’m alone, sitting there just writing and painting, in total solitude.” Plucking our stories out of the air, putting them on paper and turning them into art. you can’t fall off the floor is the inevitable social outcome of Fosberg’s greatness.

There will be an artist’s talk at Linda Warren Gallery on Tuesday, July 27th, from 5 to 7:30pm. With Chris Cosnowski, whose show Apocolypse is in the project space. Conrad Freiburg will also be on hand performing music inspired by the art. 1052 West Fulton Market.

All images courtesy of Linda Warren Gallery and Liza Berkoff.