MARCH 1-6, 2017
Room #2243

leah piepgras

We are all made of stardust. We are as old as the stars. 99% of the mass of the human body is made up of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. Under different heat and pressure, we could have been rocks instead of people.

In Gateway, we present a solo exhibition of work by Leah Piepgras who deals with how subtle shifts in a conscious state affect the relationship with the seen and unseen environment. Under a veil of cognitive science, physics, cosmology and the human time scale, she examines indefinable universal truths. Taking the concept of a black mirror (or "Claude mirror"), a small personal object that provides an individual viewer with a pointed reflection of the world,  Piepgras turns it outward- providing the viewer with tools to instead reassess their position within the universe. Gateway uses Piepgras' autobiographical works not only as a way to force the viewer to see themselves in someone else's reflection, but as a way to encourage consideration of their place in the visible universe.

Consider that there are two timelines; the human timeline, one which has humanity at its center and pushes everything else outside of consideration. The other is that of the universe; one of rocks and trees and sky and earth. Gateway is of the latter: a separate experience that exists in tandem with our own, found through a search for personal phenomena. It is Piepgras’ belief that we are more than the individual, more than a single self- but instead, connected through unseen tethers.


Leah Piepgras received her MFA from Carnegie Mellon University in 1997, and has since exhibited and performed throughout the United States.  She has work in the permanent collection of, among others, Wilmer Hale, New England Biolab and Fidelity Investments, and has been featured in Beautiful Decay, The New York Times and The Boston Globe.




Passenger with Horizon by Scott Lawrence at GRIN



ALEXANDER CASTRO: You refer to minimalism as a “misnomer” when discussing your work. What separates your work from minimalism proper? Thinking of your use of objects of supreme banality (wire hangers, chairs, business attire), you do seem to interrupt the self-seriousness of a reductive aesthetic. But why the hesitation to associate yourself directly with minimalism? Does it imply a philosophical or discursive mission you don’t share? Would you say you create art that’s anarchic or disruptive?

SCOTT LAWRENCE:  I try to achieve a level of visual clarity or directness in my work. I try to strip away the non-essential. I’ve casually (confusingly, maybe) called this a minimalist approach. My interest in minimalism proper - the canonical work of Stella, Serra, McCracken, Smith and the others – is more satirical, to be honest, and I’ve referenced it pretty directly in a number of pieces. The values I associate with that minimalism, like the domineering approach to space, its declarative attitude as opposed to receptive or sensitive, its embrace of commodity and alignment with industrial capitalism, are values I question. So you’re right that there’s a disruptive impulse at work. My motivation there is more in the spirit of David Hammons’ Shoe Tree from 1981, where he tossed all these pairs of sneakers up on top of Serra’s giant steel sculpture T.W.U.

There are a few reasons I choose the objects that end up in my work. Universality is maybe the most important. I want them to be recognizable to practically anyone. Instead of the high-end corporate interior look, as in Judd’s brass boxes, I’m doing something a little bit pathetic, more human – while still working in this reductive A. These aren’t high-design objects pulled from the consumer landscape. Their forms are engineered for the bottom line and in that sense I think of them as being impoverished, or desperate, in a way. The exceptions to this are the pinstripe pants and dress shirts which I intend to be associated with a more white collar environment and to make this connection between minimalism and corporate hegemony more explicit.

AC: You mention Max Weber’s idea of “disenchantment” --the loss of mysticism to positivism-- as an influence. The asceticism, efficiency, organization and bureaucracy that defined Weber’s sociological concerns were arguably instrumental in establishing the world we have now: one in which ontology is grounded in predictability, rationalism and forms (visual, social, or otherwise) whose contents are clearly defined. How does your work engage or tussle with disenchantment Aits metaphysical implications? Furthermore, how do you see disenchantment expressed in the arts? Thinking of Weber’s Protestant Ethic, one does find some overlap with the goals of minimalism.

SL: Weber’s thesis of rationalization has been a useful framework for me because I think it’s an accurate, relevant picture of the world and it describes what I imagine is commonly thought of as progress. Basically he said that the entire history of western civilization could be summarized as the gradual disenchantment of the world, and the replacement of magic with rationalism. The end goal of rationalism being security, via control, predictability, description, convenience. But I’ve always been struck by the extent to which art is the exact inverse of rationalization. Like, I can’t think of a less interesting quality in art than predictability. And when I’ve ever made anything that’s very hard for me to describe to someone, I know I’m onto something. Or, all the art that gets its power from the amount of care that went into making it - efficiency would kill it.  Wolfgang Laib’s installations with the pollen he collected, for example.  But obviously there’s this very long history of artists thwarting the rational in all sorts of ways, trying to access the subconscious, doing anything to allow something other than their conscious brains to take the wheel. Dreams, stream of consciousness, Mark Tansey had his spinning wheel of random subject matter and Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt had their Oblique Strategies. And then on the other hand there was this group of minimalist artists fully embracing the values of rationalism. So I’ve tried to use this odd window where art and rationalism overlapped as cover in some of my work.

Exit, 2016. Painted stacking chairs. 18" x 34" x 70"

AC: You reference a minimalist or reductive aesthetic, but the objects you create seem to contain a jouissance that spills outside the boundaries of pure form. So what place does the euphoric or visionary experience have in your work? Are your pants sculptures writhing in ecstasy, perhaps, rebelling against the utilitarian purpose for which they were created?

SL:  This is a great question. I’ll start with the easy part. I had wanted to find a way to make sculptures of people in suits falling down, in a slapstick way. I realized I could do this with just the pants. For me, those sculptures have always been about... well, falling down.  Pain (in a funny way) more than ecstasy. But they are really ambiguous and get a range of interpretations. Dancing is one I hear sometimes. If you look at them as objects, they’re very static and architectural. Each one is its own design problem. But if you look at them as figures, they’re writhing or falling down or crushed. So there is this structure/ anti-structure interplay, not just in these but in a lot of my other work, too. I read once that Victor Turner said we conserve through structure and grow through anti-structure, and that always stuck with me.

As for the visionary experience – it’s always the place to try to get to, right?  Proof that there’s more than just rationalization. I think it happens but it’s unpredictable, at least in my experience. But processes, and seeing materials do unexpected things, can be like a hard-earned substitute.

Pants Sculpture XII, 2016. Dress pants on aluminum, carpet. 19" x 32" x 18"

AC: You mention R.H. Quaytman as an artist who personalizes her work despite its ostensibly “rigid and formal” nature. Your art seems to exist in the same realm: personal without being confessional. So how —or through what— do you express your self in your work?

SL:  Quaytman set up her practice as a sort of open system. She imposed a set of limitations to work within, like setting standard painting sizes for herself. Her work progresses in ‘chapters’ within an overarching archive or book. But within these set decisions she incorporates shapes or images taken from the locales of her exhibitions. She doesn’t have to reinvent what she’s doing every time, but there’s space built in to incorporate her life. In my case, I’m sort of an ‘everyman’ in my own work. The same way I pull in ubiquitous objects as subject matter, I pull in some of the more mundane details of my everyday life. And it’s not in an ironic way but more of a way for me to make those otherwise insignificant times count for something, to give them significance. Part of the way I want these pieces to spill outside the boundaries of their restricted forms, as you said, is to give them a narrative quality, to tie them to a larger story outside themselves.

Passenger with Horizon_Passenger with Horizon_Scott Lawrence_ GRIN_September 17-October15-min.jpg

AC: Did your experiences commuting between Providence and Brooklyn for several years inform Passenger with Horizon? More broadly, how can an artist represent or visualize their interiority —even through the detritus of mass consumer culture?

SL: They did. I moved from New York to Rhode Island and then started commuting back and forth once a week, because I kept my job and my studio there. The 3 ½ hr train rides along the coast became really valuable time for me and the details of that commute started finding their way into my work. For example I had been having this odd feeling that I wanted use an ellipse. Then I realized that the mirrors in the Amtrak bathrooms are all ovals and I was sure that’s where it came from. So I traced the mirror and used that shape in the coat hanger piece. Other imagery too, like the backs of people’s heads.  I saw so many amazing sunsets over the ocean on those trips and I took all these snapshots of them. I looked at them a lot and the gradations of color sort of took hold. It got me thinking about the Light and Space movement in California, and also the way that those gradations can be used to show motion or dematerialization. All those elements worked their way into this show.

You’re absolutely right that in general, and especially in New York, so many things compete for our attention that it’s really difficult to ‘listen’ – or to be open to subtle possibilities. In a lot of the art I like the most, I find myself asking, how did the artist even hear that? In those several years, my studio space was not necessarily a fixed physical spot but more of something I had to carry with me internally. The time on the train was quiet and was its own sort of empty space. I would rush to finally make the train, then just sit there, decompress and watch the landscape go by for an hour or more. I’d think and think until I basically had no more thoughts and then I could just keep watching the landscape. That emptying of thoughts helped me to get down to a receptive place.

I wasn’t surprised at all to learn that Amtrak actually has a residency program, like a cross-country trip, that they offer to writers, because the train is such a good place for that. You should apply!!

AC: Ha! Very neat. I just looked up the Amtrak residencies. What a fascinating program. Like you describe, those long train rides certainly invite both stillness and daydreaming -- definitely a good place for a writer. Thanks for the interview, Scott!

SL:  I’ve enjoyed it. Thanks Alex.

ALEXANDER CASTRO Alexander Castro is a journalist and writer based in the Providence/Boston area. He regularly covers the Rhode Island arts scene for publications like Newport Mercury. He won First Place in the 'Arts Review or Criticism' category at the 2015 Rhode Island Press Association Editorial Awards.  










Aborophilia, Acrylic on panels & felt. 60" x 54", 2016

Aborophilia, Acrylic on panels & felt. 60" x 54", 2016


ELIZABETH DEVLIN: Separately you both maintain your own distinct visual arts practices and Nothing Ritually marks your fourth, and seemingly most complex, collaborative undertaking. Reflecting on your previous collaborations, A Monk Texting, at Redux Contemporary in South Carolina, Just Gaming at Laconia Gallery in Boston and [mon-i-tor] at University of Alabama’s Sella-Granata Art Gallery, Nothing Ritually appears to be guided by a different set of rules. The earlier shows are structured in a linear way; with inputs in the form of variables and data sets identified by you both, which are then aggregated and analyzed to create a visual output. As for Nothing Ritually, the parameters are not as apparent, and the exhibition seems to be driven by qualitative factors rather than quantitative. How would you describe this particular show’s flow? Are there defined rules or guidelines you have in place to drive the creative process?

DEREK LARSON + MARK MITCHELL: This is our most collaborative project, in the past we made things that would hang side by side and the collaboration happened in our conversation. But now we’re sharing and integrating our efforts into singular pieces that travel between our studios. So our approach is similar to past projects---like using data sets to create images, where rules dictate imagery--- but for this project we’ve let go of some of that. The narratives of the seven plays have a role (even if loose) and each piece is titled after a particular play. The plays are obscure and written by American playwrights either during wartime and/or economic catastrophe. Each of the plays are all really good and we certainly don’t do them justice.  With that in mind, we’re not trying to illustrate the plays and we’ve decided that each will be made available to read in the gallery.

LD: As an outsider attempting to wrap my head around the exhibition, it seems like the show construct is purposely vague, there is very little content in the overview which guides audience comprehension as opposed to your earlier efforts; and there are so many complex and increasingly esoteric layers to the exhibition as you drill down that at some point I, as a reader of the overview, surrendered and accepted my own naiveté . Thinking structurally about the exhibition as an artistic org chart, you have Nothing Ritually the overarching project, which can be summed up as a collaborative exhibition of two artists featuring seven works, and then conceptually these seven works are grouped within the context of a script called Dazzle Ships, a name which carries its own distinct meaning, and then the script itself contains seven acts, and each act is named after a lesser-known play by a 20th century American playwright. Firstly, have I got that right?

DL+MM: Yes you’re right.

LD: Second, in structuring this show, you must have realized that the general audience will not readily make the connection between these plays and the art on view, which seems like a deliberate decision given the obscure nature of the referenced works -- so is this connection between the plays and the artwork itself important to you? What are you hoping viewers will take away from this exhibition?  

DL+MM: Since most people will not have the time to sit down and read all seven plays, we thought our idea shouldn’t hinge on all of the background information. We wanted to create an experience with the playbill, one in which a visitor could walk into the gallery and either look at the work as one typically does, or decide to view them in the order of the seven acts. The plays are a metaphor for November and the moment we’re in. We decided to create a narrative with much more competent and eloquent writers than ourselves.

Alms for the Middle Class, Animation on monitors, acrylic, plexi on panel, 65"h x 32"w x 12"d, 2016

LD: What is the significance of the sequencing of the Acts? If they are all standalone works, whose order is interchangeable, wondering why the decision to share in an ‘Act’ format,
unless that was a nod to the use of the plays themselves. Do the narratives behind the individual plays in each Act serve as the framework?

DL + MM: Each act is a singular play and should be read separately. We were thinking about a viewing format that interrupts how people usually interact with art (linearly, chronologically, etc). There’s an order with the acts but it’s more like a suggestion.

LD: Can you explain a bit more about what it is about those plays in particular? Do they all convey and reiterate the same messaging?

DL + MM: Most of the plays are nuanced. They feature violent, dramatic fictions about love affairs that highlight various American landscapes in the South, Northeast, West, etc. They’re pure Americana, simultaneouslysatirical and affectionate, and religion plays a recurring role.

We were initially drawn to the plays for their titles, but also found the plots interesting. Many of these plays are difficult to find. Since they are somewhat obscure, many of the plays are bundled in volumes with other works. This makes them difficult to find in library or in print. While the primary attraction was titles, the stories were also compelling. For example, The Folly of Others by Neith Boyce (1904was set just after the Philippine-American War and reveals an interesting shift from Victorian to Modern social mores and ideas about citizenship. The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers and adapted by Edward Albee (1963), was compelling because it was written during the first phase of the Vietnam War and the story takes place in Georgia, where both of us taught and lived (Derek still lives there). It’s a tense love triangle with a horrible twist.

Finger of God, Acrylic & gold leaf on panel w/ satin & plastic. 24" x 24", 2016

LD: Derek, you previously authored a short book called Composition, Color, and Interactivity, which you consider “an ongoing study in task performance, emotion & design” but to me, it also reflects an innate curiosity with the act of seeing and the nuances of how viewers digest stimuli in different settings and under different conditions. You employ various abstract color compositions as your vehicle for understanding, and Marc’s work also inherently seems to play with color theory and the exploration of visual languages, so, assuming this to be true, can Nothing Ritually be approached from purely an aesthetic standpoint? If so, were there any particular design principles that guided the creation of the work?

DL: Yes you could approach it from a purely aesthetic standpoint, but there’s more. The languages we’re using are borrowed; when we talk about color theory, abstraction, mid-century plays, battleship design, these things are part of our past but continually get represented to us as consumers everyday. Misguided optimism in the project gets to the core of how we feel about the 20th Century and why we titled the play Dazzle Ships.

The eye-tracking studies I’ve been running involve measuring task performance while looking at certain designs. The results have had an affect on the imagery I make but I’m more interested in how this information can be used to enhance viewer performance.

MM: There is always a balance. As Derek mentioned, you could approach the work from a purely aesthetic standpoint, but there is certainly more.  In the studio, all artists have a relationship to previous languages-- borrowing, appropriating, etc. These works have many layers that, as Derek mentioned, speaks to notions of abstraction, color theory, mid-century plays/literature, battleship design, etc.

Ballad of the Sad Cafe, Acrylic on panel with satin. 62.5" x 32", 2016

Giants Have Us in Their Books, Acrylic screen print on panel & felt. 47" x 19” 2016

LD: Apart from aesthetics, what is the significance of having Dazzle Ships serve as the title of your seven act script? Dazzle camouflage, an early instance of art being used as a tool of war, was remarkable in a design sense, but less successful as a wartime diversion technique; would it have been less compelling subject matter if the design proved to be a success? What role does failure, if any, play in the creative process? Did the socio political context serve as an influence?

DL + MM: Both failure and success are at the heart of our project. It’s difficult to find any history that doesn’t categorize things in that way. Our project doesn’t focus on failure alone (in fact, the dazzle ship technique was successful in many ways), however, we’re more interested in presenting multiple dramatic storylines created during times of major conflict. The stories we’ve chosen act more as dazzle ship painting than our actual paintings. The stories aren’t literal diversions but a parallel to the hopeful optimism in creating a diversion. The dazzle ship painting technique was created to protect merchant ships in wartime, a sort of active pacifism, maybe similar to writing a beautiful story in wartime. Most of the plays we’ve chosen don’t point directly at war but allude to it through metaphor and other literary devices.

LD: As we find ourselves in an election year, is there a relationship between Dazzle Ships and our own current political climate? Do the playwrights serve as conduits through which to express your own thoughts as visual artists, providing a verbal/theatrical framework which serves as a backdrop for your own aesthetic language?

DL + MM: Yes totally. We wanted a script that represents our climate and highlights its cyclical nature. American politics borrows too much from the past and social progress is too slow. Many of the platform issues in the 2016 presidential race are similar to those from the 1980’s & 90’s. Where’s the progress?

The Folly of Others, Digital print on dyed cotton, 67"h x 54"w, 2016

Elizabeth Devlin is an independent curator, art consultant, and founder of FLUX. Boston, an online resource for artists and art enthusiasts in the Boston area and beyond. Through event coverage, artist interviews, and educational posts, Elizabeth enables FLUX. readers to feel informed, engaged in, and connected to the pulse of Boston Arts. Her writing has been featured in Art New England, New American Paintings, and Art21 Magazine among others. As a trusted resource and friend to the Arts community, a ABoston Redevelopment Authority artist and curator of several critically acclaimed exhibitions to-date, Elizabeth strives to make the art world more accessible and to champion the endeavors of Boston's creative community.