The following written content was published in a local arts newspaper in East Alabama known as The Republic. The synopsis covers artist Lauren Alyssa Howard’s installation at Fieldwork Projects Gallery, the satellite gallery of Auburn University’s Department of Art and Art History. Images taken by author Jordan Philson during the exhibition in the summer of 2015.
Marked by open spaces with peculiar assemblages dispersed throughout, Lauren Howard’s exhibit How Did I Not See This Coming? agitates the tensions between not only disquiet and comfort, but also uncertainty and familiarity through an achromatic Southern plain that houses a fallen rural home.
The dark silhouette of a dry, barren tree offers an ominous entryway into Howard’s installation. At the tree’s edge rests a detailed drawing of a crow that mingles with, but does not adhere to, Fieldwork’s gallery wall. Undulating from one cruciform telephone pole to the next, power lines mark a pathway through the wildlife of the plains, such as the crows that have tangled themselves in one another in the otherwise vacant white sky. Some of the birds begin to peel away from the wall, dangerously close to us, while still others are so far away that they are represented by fleeting black V’s and Y’s in the sky. An armadillo lingers in the foreground not far from its neighbor, a coiled snake, both on the baseboards of Howard’s fabricated South.
Various bees, wasps, and mosquitoes swarm into and out of the walls, to and from a throng of tangled arms, legs, animals, curly tresses, and items that belong in the recycling bin. A conspicuous swatch of multi-colored tartan marks the corners of the otherwise black and white assemblage, and joins the similarly woven pattern of the white fence stencil. Upon closer speculation, we see a resting fawn curled up above a woman’s bare breast. The woman’s arm folds over her eyes, leaving visible only the toy animal muzzle that hides the rest of her face. The fighting dogs’ bare teeth threaten us, while the skillet, jug, bricks and bottles create a desolate environment.
Another crow perches atop an outlet on the next wall with a discarded cigarette butt wilted between its talons. We meet a familiar whitetail fawn in the corner—this one three-dimensional, and rather lifelike—neighboring a pile of bricks and debris that gather at the base of a truncated tree, atop of which a crow caws. With a broken chain dangling from its beak, the crow watches from the apex of the pile while the squirrel, opossum, and other birds scavenge. A human arm, however, clothed in a markedly colorful tartan pattern with which we are now acquainted, hangs eerily limp from the underside of the two-dimensional refuse, and appears to have dropped something from its once-clenched hand.
On the other side of the adjacent column, we become investigators: we are no longer in an art gallery, but in an abandoned, fallen home. A crow has taken off in the opposite direction—perhaps it is an omen. The ruins of an abandoned family room look as though they should smell of scorched wood and singed paper. The small wooden armoire, tilted and lit by a murky red glow, resembles a fireplace, but has been inhabited by an avian family and its unhatched eggs. Hymnals and bible guides fall haphazardly to the floor, dodging the antlers that have begun to fall from the wall and crash onto the furniture.
A silly portrait of two young girls contrasts the framed portrait of an adult couple that has been overturned and licked by flames. The charred chandelier above hangs askew, with black feathers stuck to its melted wax, and our familiar white-tailed friend reappears—this time under the weight of the slanted cupboard, with an isolated jawbone that not only parallels its own, but also echoes the skeletal frame of the fallen antlers.
Appropriately reminiscent of the surreal, grotesque intricacies and unlikely hybrids characteristic of artist Marnie Weber’s work, this installation calls attention to the hindsight that accompanies nostalgia. After having experienced the installation in full, How Did I Not See This Coming? becomes an investigation of what Howard herself describes as “self-deprecating” reflection, as well as a transition from naïveté to full comprehension as the viewer, artist, and installation itself move from flat, obscure entities to fully realized, developed bodies.
To see more of Lauren Howard’s work, visit her website.
Special thanks to Assistant Professor of Art History Dr. Emily C. Burns and Heidi-Annette Carroll for their support and for providing this opportunity.