Trash Talk: An Interview with Claire Lynch

Claire Lynch, a senior majoring in Art and specializing in woodwork, is the Student Resident at the prestigious Recology program in San Francisco, where she creates objects out of materials from the San Francisco dump. In the midst of preparing the pieces for the May 23rd show at the end of her residency at Recology, she sat down with StAR’s Silviana Ciurea-Ilcus to talk about her artwork, her experience as a Student Resident, her creative process, and the importance of conceptual frameworks in art. 


Stanford Arts Review: Could you tell us a bit about how you became involved with art?

Claire Lynch: I did a lot of art in high school, particularly drawing and painting, and then when I came to school here I decided to pursue history and philosophy. I was unsatisfied that I wasn’t doing hands-on work, so I moved to Product Design and I really liked the studio classes there, particularly ME101 and ME203. So I decided to pursue sculpture and since then I have been doing sculpture with Terry Berlier, my adviser. I explore kinetics and large scale sculptures.

What are the things that you approached through these sculptures? Could you tell us a bit about the conceptual framework of your art?

I look at negative emotions and find that though they are experienced by everybody individually, they are universally ostracized as emotions cannot be exhibited on a public platform because they are viewed as primal or lacking in self control.

I think it is fascinating that these are some of the strongest emotions that we experience and yet we bog them down and we view them as being inappropriate.

I try to abstract these types of negative emotions and present them to public platforms where they can be appreciated for their complexity.  These are experiences that everyone has and they can be shared.

Could you give me some examples of works that you are particularly fond of that are related to that theme?

Last year I built a 12-foot-tall tornado made out of steam-bent wood that was in veneers, so those are very thin pieces of wood. They are individually steam-bent, which means you add moisture to them, bend them over a frame and then you let them dry. It was an installation piece that hung from the ceiling and one of the most important things about that piece was the shadow that it casted, which was this very chaotic tornado. The idea behind that was that I equated anger as being very similar to tornadoes. They build up though they are not really seen in the buildup, they strike, they are very destructive, and then they completely go away, but there is still this echo effect. They evolve into these tremendously powerful forces, but they are very intangible.

My work has been described as angst-y and also having a violence to it but it is very balanced. From a distance it’s very beautiful. If you look at how the pieces are constructed, they look like they’ve been violently constructed, but they’re very much in harmony with what is happening. That’s funny, because whenever I build something I never view it that way, and think ‘Oh! This is how it should be made!’, and then other people think it’s really shocking…I am just desensitized to my work, so I do not view it that way at all.

You talked about the shadow of the tornado and how that was really important; could you give us more details?

A lot of times in my work I pay very strong attention to the lighting of it and how that is going to look. That piece I have built on site, so I put the lighting fixtures as I wanted them. Then, I really paid attention to the tangible object itself, and how it casts the shadow against the wall. So the shadow was cast on a corner, which gave it a stronger 3D effect, because it bent away the light that was hitting it. It started on the floor, so the tangible piece connected with the shadow and then it sort of crawled up the wall. It mimicked the motion that was created by each piece of wood that was bent in this very chaotic cluster, but also very contained.

Lighting in relation to your pieces is very important. I think a lot of young artists really overlook that, but lighting makes your pieces much more powerful because your piece is incorporated into that space, as opposed to being something that is just visiting the space.

Also, if you incorporate the space with your work, the viewers are penetrating that space, so they are becoming incorporated into it; they can be viewed as a voyeur of the space or an intruder of the space. One of the reasons why I do a lot of large-scale artwork is because I want the person who is viewing it to be incorporated into the piece, and I found that with scale, it automatically incorporates somebody because it’s very different to what they’re used to. Most people are used to having a small object and looking at it and being very separated from that space. But to have a large scale space that you can walk around and you are automatically warped by—it makes you feel different about the art work. It’s something I strive to do.

As a student artist how do you go about finding the spaces for which and in which to build your artwork, and what happens to your work after an exhibition? 

Spaces and materials are always a struggle. Most of my materials are found objects, so I’ve done a lot of work with found wood, found metal, or other recycled materials. My biggest pieces, I have either built on site; so for example in the installation center of the sculpture room, which is like, the best spot to be in! I built an eight-feet-tall wedding cake made out of cardboard, wood, newspaper and matches last year, and that was something that had to be destroyed afterwards; the tornado was also destroyed. Because they were such large scale objects they could not be kept. So I had a huge bonfire—it was great! (laughs)

A lot of time with my larger works I do have to discard them in some way, because I do not have the space to hold on to them now, which is frustrating; I hope in the future I will have the space. But at least I am not particularly attached to the finished piece of my artwork, I am much more attached to the process. I’d much rather make large-scale pieces which can be viewed in an exhibition and then later are destroyed than small pieces that I’ve shrunken so that I could, I don’t know, show them again…. I like to make pieces that are specific to each show as opposed to just filling up the space.

With the current piece which I’ve just completed; it’s called Narcissist, it’s a peacock made out of mirror and wood and it has a seven-foot-wide plumage; which is enormous, and I wanted it to be enormous. Because it’s made out of mirror, I wanted to viewers to see themselves in it. It is also fragmented, too, so I think that will be really interesting. That’s something that will probably be taken apart some way, unless Recology, my residency program, wants to hold on to it, because they have technical ownership of it. So, I am much more interested in the process than in the final product.

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You mentioned Recology. Could you tell us more about your experience with this program? What have you been working on for this program apart from Narcissist?

I am the Student Resident at Recology, which is an artist residency program that is at the San Francisco dump. Their deal is that they want you to make artwork out of reclaimed materials; so we have access to the dump (laughs) of SF and 90% of our work has to be made out of the materials we find there. So we scavenge our own materials; it’s great for sculptors, as you could have access to anything you can think of.

I want to do a show that is all about demons, which is not the right word but, unfortunately, is the word I’ve been using—it’s more of a combination of demons and vices. They are exhibited through people at random points in their lives, and to show how we cope with those demons or those vices, I’m personifying them into bird-like forms. For example, peacock is narcissist; I’m making a dove that is naiveté, a crow that is judge, a vulture which is the opportunist, and an owl which is the pontificator.

The reason why I chose birds is that I feel that we ascribe these very glorified personalities to birds because they are objects of flight, and that has been always a source of fascination: ‘Oh, they are so free and not tied down to certain things!’. They are such objects of beauty, but if you think about them in another light, they can also be objects of negativity. Like the peacock being the narcissist; how it has a certain vanity in it, but it is also trying to reflect what others may want to see. The mirror is especially important, because it incorporates the viewer into it, how they may be so fascinated by the piece because they can see themselves in it. It’ll be interesting to see how they’ll interact with it. That is the bird series I am working on, and it is going to be called “Birds of Prey”; my show is on May 23rd if you want to come to it (laughs).

It’s really interesting that you mentioned the idea of the peacock as the narcissists, and also the fact that it reflects what others want to see, because female peacocks are not spectacular in any way. Yet through natural selections male peacocks got to be so colorful, because that is what the females wanted to see.

Yes, and when they spread their plumage it’s an act of mating, showing how good their genes are. Then we also use the term peacocking for when you are showing your own feathers, show how good you are and by doing that you are sort of catering yourself to what others want to see, as a form of attraction. Narcissism in terms of the peacock is attracting the audience, because they are attracted to themselves.

The crow is the judge. It’s going to be this black crow that is going to stand on this very high pole, looking down at the viewers, the idea being that it’s on a lofty perch looking down at all the people that it is judging. The crow is always omnipresent in a way, in the sense that it’s always looming. I chose to specifically do a crow, instead of a raven, as this is generally associated with death, Edgar Allan Poe…Crows are also very loud, obnoxious, and nagging…

What materials are all these objects going to be made out of?

All the frames for each bird are going to be made out of wood. Again, the peacock’s made out of mirror, the owls are going to be made out of black tire.

The idea is that with wisdom comes age and time, and time is also equated through space and travel, so it’s going to be a very extended analogy of that. However, instead of wisdom, it’s going to be the pontificator, so—wisdom you don’t have, which I think will be a nice jab at that particular thing. That’s also going to be very large-scale; I am thinking, four feet in wingspan.

The vulture will be made out of fiber glass, which will be interesting…The vulture is, again, the opportunist, meaning that it just waits until the right opportunity comes along. Vultures just wait for some animal to die, then take their chance at it. Fiber glass being this type of material which, when you break it, consists of these shards that are very scary to work with (laughs).

The dove, which is naiveté, is made out of broken toilets, which I think it is kind of funny, with its being the symbol of innocence, which is now fallen from its naiveté into….shit; the dirty grudgingness of the world…I will put that in a bird cage that is going to be crumbling, sort of like falling from innocence into this closed-up world. The bird itself is already constructed but it’s going to be bleeding into the floor of the bird cage, with more of these pieces of toilet.

I wouldn’t have thought that fiber glass is a material that you can find so easily at the SF dump…

You can find anything; it’s astonishing what people throw out. I specifically chose materials that I thought would be easy to find, because I am doing this in a mosaic-like way, which means I need a lot of material, not just to do one solid layer, but I have to do at least three solid layers. I found fiber glass the other day, and loved the texture of it; apparently, it was on some sort of patio roofing, and was very scratched and gnarled. I was also surprised how much mirror I found; about 35 pounds of mirror.

Can you tell me about your creative process? Do you get inspired by the material, or do the materials and your ideas converge? 

Most of the time when I come up with my work it’s through conversations I have with people. I mostly come up with the concept first, and the materials come afterwards. After the image of the object comes to my head, how it needs to be done and how it needs to look like, I very rarely diverge from the original idea. I think it’s always very important to do concept first, and then materials, because I think it’s more important to have that conceptual sense of direction: what does it mean, why are you intentionally choosing this?

Also, in terms of talking to people: a lot of young artists believe that if they don’t talk to people about their work, they are being more creative and have more ownership over their ideas, but collaboration in terms of conceptual inspiration is super important. I have talked to many professional artists about how you pursue art after school and they told me that you need to live in some sort of an artistic community where you are constantly challenged by the things around you and where you are with creative people who think differently. You can’t just bounce ideas off yourself, because you will end up making work that doesn’t communicate what you think it communicates; you have to have people to talk to. I definitely have my “key people” who I bounce ideas off of, because we think so differently.

Who is one artist that you admire?

I really just love Eva Hesse, and the organic and almost carnage-like quality of her work . She has these wonderful, almost simple string sculptures which she hangs in the space that they are given in, and they cast these beautiful shadows; they work with the space so beautifully. I think it’s amazing how someone can take as simple a form as that, and have it be so powerful, and make something so conceptually complicated. Art doesn’t need to be about making something really showy so that people can appreciate the technique. If you can convey something as raw, intimate, and as direct as possible, then that is all you need to do.

Claire Lynch will be showing her art on Friday, May 23, 2014 from 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m at the Recology San Francisco Art Studio.

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