THE CENTRAL SCRUTINIZER

Perhaps Donald Trump is a performance art piece? Maybe even he isn’t aware of his character’s persona inside his own performance art piece. In the future, children may visit New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and stand in a giant room filled with screens broadcasting speeches, interviews, debates — campaign stickers and news clippings for wallpaper. The immensity of the moment spills over into their young lives and a communal laugh-out-loud spontaneously erupts.

Thus is the nature of true performance art, turning reality in on itself, framing a sliver of time as a worthwhile experience by the viewer. Where is the line between art and reality?

Painters are taken seriously when paint hits a canvas, musicians when notes sound through air, actors on the stage, but what happens when the proverbial canvas is framed as reality itself? Avery Lawrence toys with perception and time, and how to spend a perfectly normal afternoon.

Lawrence is in Jacksonville for an opening Sept. 10 at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Jacksonville. The show kicks off the 2015/2016 season at MOCA’s UNF Gallery. The show, Live in Jacksonville, hits Northeast Florida as a result of the tireless efforts of a well-respected local artist, Jim Draper, who coordinates that gallery and the university’s own Gallery of Art. Lawrence is slated to speak at the school’s gallery on Sept. 10; at press time, the actual lecture time is still being determined.

“I have been trying to get him to exhibit in Jacksonville for several years now,” says Draper. “The first time I experienced Lawrence’s work was during a trip to the Miami Art Fairs, 2011. I did a mad dash through the Scope Fair … walking down the aisle, I spotted an installation that featured a video of a guy cutting down a tree — it was mesmerizing. The artist cut down a tree and moved it to a new spot up a hill where he reassembled it. Since that moment, I have been a die-hard Avery Lawrence fan.”

Lawrence is best understood through his experimental films, photographs, or first-hand experience, but his website (averylawrence.com) is also quite helpful in understanding his work’s surrealism, simplicity, and vastness. Lawrence’s site looks something akin to an infographic artificially inseminated with a choose-your-own-adventure novel. The site quietly pulls the viewer to watch every second of film, investigate each photograph, and read every word, exploring it all in less than a half-hour.

In an artist’s statement, Lawrence says of the aforementioned piece, called Moving a Tree, “I create a surreal, yet familiar world in which I push physical limits as my characters engage in absurd tasks. Drawing inspiration from early cinema and contemporary performance artists, I craft this visual yarn with moments from my family history in mind. The personal stories, implicit in the narrative, enhance the sense of sincerity and intimacy in the film.”

Lawrence continues, shedding light on his own, more personal connections with this piece (and giving insight into his thought process, in general), “Moving a Tree represents the story of my maternal grandfather’s struggle with dementia and how my grandmother came to cope with the gradual deterioration of her husband’s mind and body.”

In another surreal adventure, Arranging Suitcases, Lawrence traverses a railroad, a canal, and a street while carrying an enormous burden of luggage, within which lie the different parts of a mysterious instrument he assembles and plays in the final scene of the film. Lawrence is attentive to every detail including pacing, location, costume, and narrative. As surreal and random as it might appear, the artist’s intent is strong and deliberate.

Lawrence has recently completed his master’s degree in fine arts at the California Institute of the Arts. His appearance in Jacksonville, through MOCA and the UNF Gallery talk, will be an introduction of an art form not given much attention in Northeast Florida — performance art.

“Our audiences have lost connection with the object as art,” says Draper. “I think that it is my duty as an artist and a teacher to reach beyond status quo ideas about art and the act of art-making to start conversations in our community. Looking at Lawrence, not only as an object-maker, but also as a conjurer of ideas, inspires us to look at our craft critically and allow ourselves to dig more deeply into process, perhaps shaking up our roles.”

Draper wants the creative community of Jacksonville to see the work of Avery Lawrence, meet him at the exhibit reception, engage him in conversation, and start to understand some contemporary attitudes toward art-making.

“Beyond this exhibit, I would like to engage others in an attempt to redefine the role of the art-makers. Let’s look at the art experience as it defines our sense of place. I hope we get inspired to question art at its core, especially in the realm of public art. Bringing Avery Lawrence to Jacksonville is a start.”

About EU Jacksonville

october, 2021

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