Despite Lauren DiCioccio’s relative youth, “what a long, strange trip it’s been” seems apropos. An eclectic mix of life’s side alleys and back roads have informed and transformed her art. She has both sought and embraced opportunity at every turn.
Shortly after graduating from Colgate University a decade ago, she decided to travel, making ends meet with itinerant employment along the way. Off she went to Sydney, where a chance posting lead her to hitch a ride into the Australian Outback. She worked as a short order cook at the end of a long and dusty road. I cannot help but hear refrains of Jevetta Steele’s “Calling You” from the movie, “Bagdhad Café” rattling around my brain. Much like a character from that movie, she is both social and not. The isolated existence was a low-cost, contemplative place to make art. Quiet interludes offered the opportunity to focus on abstract paintings that, at that time, continued the work she had been doing at university. Twice weekly all of the local residents would gather to share newspapers, letters and other news, albeit slightly time warped. Thus, the café offered socializing as well on a limited basis.
When she returned to the States, she began a requisite job search. Once again, an “outside the box” opportunity appeared and off she went to spend six years as a resident manager at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. It was another job that embraced the yin-yang of her social and hermit natures. Djerassi, which is located in Woodside, is definitely down a back road; with no television and very limited internet. There was, however, a rotating cast of resident artists. Here, like in the Outback, the arrival of mail and the newspaper was a call to socialize. The newspaper, in particular, became a touch point with the outside world – in a way defining her relationship with it. She was drawn to employ it physically in her art. She started by using the newspapers to make a quilt. This was the major turning point in her work. Her art became more physical. It detoured into an exploration of materials that were being being used. The materials that appealed were materials with a particular transient quality. Not only were the materials ephemeral, in and of themselves; they were also representative of a transience in our world; a world where we transition away from books and newspapers and slides and plastic bags. Initially she would transform the materials, beautifully embroidering newspapers that were destined to decay. Later, she began to meticulously reproduce the objects, in the tradition of trompe l’oeil; objects like her Chinese take-out “Thank you” plastic bags, replicated in bridal organza embroidered with silk thread. She took books and embroidered over the letters on the page, using color-coding to create a secret language; presciently forecasting a time when the letters themselves will likely fade into a secret language accessible only to a small cast of scholars. Like trompe l’oeil, with Lauren’s work, what you see is not necessarily what you get.
Lauren is a collector. However, in a life lived out of a suitcase, physically collecting objects is not really feasible. So her collections are not collections in a box or drawer. Rather they are collections of memories. There is a nostalgic, wistful quality to those memories. With Lauren’s art, the process of remembering how things used to be distills them into something more profound.
The current exhibition at Jack Fischer Gallery is an amazing opportunity to see yet another turn in her road. The familiar objects are there. There are the trompe l’oeil objects: playing cards and U.S. currency in various denominations. There is a collection of color-coded books. Then, the exhibition detours with some wonderful new surprises. There are embroidered pages of sheet music and recipes. These are indirectly explorations of our senses. They explore the yin-yang of “sense” deferred then realized. The objects are encoded sensory journeys where, once de-coded, the sound, smell and taste leap off the pages. There is also a collection of white mice and rabbits that been eviscerated. The appeal here is a yin-yang exploration of cute and grotesque.
The separate explorations intersect with a particularly important piece: “Cookbook with Braised Veal Heart”. In dissecting her eviscerated rabbits and mice, Lauren pulled out the organs as separate works. These are not anatomically correct organs; rather they are what she feels the organs should look like. When she pulled out (created) a veal heart, she decided to combine it with a cookbook page containing a recipe for braising the heart. It is one of the most powerful pieces in the exhibition. And, while many of the pieces in the show are available separately, Jack Fischer explained to me that Lauren felt strongly that this was a singular piece and that it needed to stay together. One cannot help but agree.
It was the creation of these fantasy internal organs that led her back to her roots in abstract art. As she was fashioning the organs, her subconscious would take over. Objects took form of their own accord – representing no specific real world objects. She and I agreed that it was almost like doodling. And, when I mentioned it to Jack, he too embraced the idea, christening them “Doodles in Space”. It’s an amusing idea. However, the objects are not simply random doodles and they are not randomly assembled. As with traditional still life, each pedestal in the exhibition is a still life composition. Like traditional still life, there is a celebration of collecting and displaying things. Also, like traditional still life, there is symbolism embedded in many of the components of the composition. And, like traditional still life, there is a level of technical mastery. While the individual pieces can certainly stand-alone, the compositions are greater than their component parts. One cannot but hope that some curator will decide to give one or more of the collections the home that they deserve.
This is Lauren DiCioccio’s third solo exhibition at Jack Fischer Gallery (49 Geary St., San Francisco). It will be on display through September 8th. There will be an Artist Reception this Saturday, August 11th from 3:00 – 5:00 pm. It is a great chance to meet a wonderfully articulate artist. For inquiries about her work, please contact Jack Fischer Gallery here.