Lauren Carrera: Beyond Victoriana

“Butt-erflies” and Armchairs, Expeditions and Wunderkabinetts: Lauren Carrera’s “Museo du Profundo Mundo” at the Newport Visual Arts Center. Photo: Colin M Park

In a world increasingly divided into smaller and smaller specialties and sub-specialties, artist Lauren Carrera has established an equal and opposite approach to life. Enter one of his exhibitions of three-dimensional paintings and installations and you enter a compound environment in which time, science and culture collide and merge, overlap, blend, creating dissonances and harmonies. unexpected, as if caught within a particularly fertile moment of creation.

You might see a flight of what Carrera calls Butt-erflies (handcrafted from discarded cigarette butts) or a miniature pictorial story in a small glass display case, or a large-scale painting, or even an Ice Age family in a diorama, dressed in faux fur, walking in a snowy landscape. Every aspect of the work plays with and pushes against the overall impression: science, art, nature, reality, fantasy, past and present and perhaps the future, rustling like obsessions impetuous in a strangely elusive Petri dish.

By Design, Carrera’s work is on view through July 31 in the Newport Visual Arts Center exhibit. Profundo Mundo Museum: The Carrera Expedition suggests Victorian Wunderkabinett, or cabinets of curiosities, often hodgepodge of quirky room-sized objects designed to amaze and delight visitors. Carrera’s exhibition is fundamentally a reimagining of a 19th century naturalist’s worldview, a rethinking of the often imperialistic collections and assumptions of museums, and natural history museums in particular.

As in a natural history museum, and again, not: the “nuclear family” of Carrera crosses its “New New World”. Photo: Colin M Park

“Absolutely. Voluntarily,” she says. “I visited as many natural history museums as I could to see what made them work.” One of these institutions was the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford, England, founded in 1884 with the gift of the collection of General Augustus Pitt Rivers, who had played an important role in the development of archeology and evolutionary anthropology, and whose brought together artefacts from cultures around the world reflected, sometimes incorrectly, the scope and presumptions of the British Empire.The museum’s curators are acutely aware of the cultural contradictions in the collection and, as Carrera does this with his own artistic reinventions, striving to reimagine how these fragments of history fit together and what they mean in a contemporary world.

Unlike traditional natural history museums, whose collections abound with the furs and bones of creatures on display, Carrera’s art evokes but does not exploit the natural world. So, for example, the reused mannequins became explorers of the “New New World” in its three-dimensional display Nuclear Family: Rise of Man aren’t draped in fur, but over a year of recycled junk and bubble wrap, textured and painted to create the illusion of figures trudging through snow and ice. Most dioramas or small assemblies are constructed from found objects. (“No animals were harmed during shipment.”)

Collector’s curios under glass, with a view: the Carrera exhibit and its specimens of an imaginary world overlook Nye Beach and the Pacific Ocean beyond. Photo: Colin M Park

Carrera’s work seamlessly blends analytical and intuitive approaches to the observed world, responding to scientist and novelist CP Snow’s famous lament of “two cultures” – a world in which science and the humanities have become separated from one another. each other and see the universe in fundamentally different ways. Despite the stereotypes of scientists peering through microscopes and artists waiting to be struck by flashes of inspiration, both rely heavily on trial and error. For artists, a mastery of craftsmanship and a willingness to make subtle changes and new discoveries are crucial on the journey from original idea to finished work.

“I think the fields of science and art use the same side of the brain,” Carrera says. “We kind of relegated artists to the right side of the brain. And that’s just not the case. Scientists and artists are often one. Where things get lost in translation is that artists explore things that are ineffable, that cannot be articulated” – departing, in this sense, from the search for measurable results.

Indeed, Carrera began his academic and professional career as a scientist, earning a degree from Rutgers University in psychology as well as fine arts. Her journey from science to art, she told writer and fellow artist Jeffrey Scherer in a 2021 interview, was a surprise. “From about age 10,” Scherer writes, “Lauren wanted to ‘cure cancer.’ a balance between my studies and I trained as a painter at Rutgers University.By the time I went to graduate school, I had honed my sense of direction and chose to pursue a career in psychology with an emphasis on behavioral medicine.1

Then came a scholarship to work and study at the Atlin Center for the Arts in northern British Columbia with twenty artists from around the world, and a realization that she could make science-informed art. Much of the art in The Carrera Expedition crosses the common territory of science and art in an almost mysterious way, discovering beauties that speak of both.

The richly geometric paintings in his “Alchemy” series, for example, based on the work and journals of Newton, combine mathematical precision with shimmering colors to suggest the vastness of the universe in ways both large and small, as if we could see them. through a microscope or telescope. With the mason jar additions in the foreground, some, like Stardust, suggest collecting specimens. A different, more slyly comedic kind of gathering takes place in his series dust bunnies, specimens of which are conscientiously collected and displayed in display cases. The pieces, notes Carrera, “take a humorous look at Linneas and the Classification Types, with a special nod to Ward Kimball, one of Walt Disney’s top animators”, who created similar displays.

In a non-didactic way, Carrera’s art is also partly about equity across cultures and genders. In the rapid scientific development of the 19th century, she notes, “women were mostly naturalists and ostracized by the Royal Society”. They have been largely relegated to studying the ‘soft’ realm of botany, or illustrating botanical life, like the great globe-trotting British botanical artist Marianne North, whose work forms an astonishing collection at Kew Gardens. , in London. When women scientists made important discoveries, they were likely to be sidelined while men wrote the academic papers. With the exception of an honorary position held by Queen Victoria, women were not allowed to become Fellows of the Royal Society until 1945.

“Science as such has become the domain of men,” says Carrera. For a long time, this acquaintance ate at the confines of his own works: “I really struggled with the idea. “I will never paint flowers. Never.’ And yet, as inevitable forces of nature, medicinal flowers, birds and butterflies appear.

Butterflies and specimen cases, the natural and the collected, the free and the constrained: To analyze is to transform. Photo: Colin M Park

The work in The Carrera Expedition is an extension of an exploration she began while living in San Diego and continues in Oregon, where she lives in Portland and maintains a studio at NW Marine Art Works. Some of the current show’s work has been created over the past two years, during the cocooning of the Covid pandemic, a time of almost inevitable questioning of its vision and work. “I became more serious about the direction of the work,” Carrera says, even while “realizing that all my work always has a sense of humor. … Those two years have really enlightened me about what’s important in my life. I need more time for my art. I’ve become a lot more disciplined about my time in the studio and a lot more disciplined about what I cut out of my life.

Her exhibition at the Newport Visual Arts Center, she says, aims to evoke a unified environment, offering viewers “a complete immersion into the Carrera Expedition to the New New World…to evoke the feeling one might have in a natural history museum. She sees there something like a naturalist’s tent, out in the field, with a desk, cot, and room to study and display newly found artifacts. Taking advantage of the gallery’s exposed woodwork and its view of the Pacific Ocean, she aims for a sense of rawness, and perhaps tentativeness, to the point of removing frames from some of her paintings.

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Whatever else happens – and there are plenty of them – an undercurrent of humor and playfulness remains in Carrera’s work, often built on a sense of something pleasantly out of place. Everything fits, if at odd, tickling angles. “You can think of my show as one big cabinet of wonders,” she says. “A group of artifacts both fantastic and imaginary. I try to create beauty so that people feel a sense of wonder and want to reflect a little.”

Mapping a deep world. Photo: Colin M Park

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  • This test was written for Lauren Carrera’s exhibition catalog Profundo Mundo Museum: The Carrera Expedition, from June 4 to July 31, 2022, at the Newport Visual Arts Center in Newport, Oregon, and is published here with permission. The art center is at 777 NW Beach Drive, on the bend in Nye Beach.
  • Hear talking the exhibition at first hand: Lauren Carrera will give an artist conference in the gallery on Profundo Mundo Museum at the Newport Visual Arts Center at 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 25.

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