Lauren Marie Taylor’s projects often engage astronomy and social practice towards poetic, personal gestures. The San Francisco-based artist invited the public to probe the twin histories of astronomy and astrology as part of Make Things (Happen), an exhibition of 45 artist-created activity sheets which closes this Sunday, March 1 at Interface Gallery.
I was introduced to Lauren’s work by Make Things (Happen) artist Bean Gilsdorf, and took this opportunity to learn more about how her work is inspired by both science and mysticism.
Christine Wong Yap: During the Make Things (Happen) opening on February 6, you invited the public to make star charts, create new constellations, and officially name and dedicate their own stars. Can you tell me more about how it worked?
Lauren Marie Taylor: Each participant drew a constellation on a blank star map of the Northern Hemisphere. I asked them to consider a shape that better reflected their personality than their zodiac sign. In my experience, there are some ways that my zodiac seems accurate, but I often think about how vague it must be if I and others also feel this way. Then I gave participants the chance to have a star in their new constellation registered on “the most popular star registry on the internet.” This included naming the star and giving it a dedication—a sentence or two—which I registered and wrote on individualized certificates sent to participants.
I was moved by the sincerity with which participants named and dedicated their stars. It was even better than I had hoped. The ability to suspend judgment of the ‘authenticity’ of registering a star, and embrace the activity as a poetic gesture (or whatever framework allowed participants to engage) is really special to me. It says something about the power of our imagination that feels really hopeful, open, and loving.
CWY: Your activity sheet for Make Things (Happen), Know and Believe, includes a detailed history of astronomy and astrology. Then it ends on a philosophical note, questioning how we know what we know. There’s a mix of history, science, and the unknown that is very appealing. It feels expansive. The activity calls for reading, reflection, as well as making—three very different experiential modes. In developing projects, what are your considerations for viewers’ receptions and experiences?
LMT: I think of myself as my first audience, and I wanted to make something for myself that inspires the feelings that I want to feel. In this instance, it was about the cosmos, history, and human nature. For me, making is a way of meditating on an idea, and so I always want the making to allow for that. I have a background in teaching, and it is difficult for me to approach any subject in a way that is not didactic, but open to interpretation and chance. So I force myself to consider whether I am giving too much or not enough instruction. I want the participant to have an experience that feels meaningful and personal. I want too much control! And I want to let go as well.
CWY: I can relate! It’s tricky to craft a specific aesthetic experience, yet remain flexible and patient for collaboration or open-endedness… As your art practice is clearly influenced by non-art fields, I wanted to turn the question around: Do you incorporate aesthetics, social practice, or poetics in your role as Bay Area Director of Educator Associates for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics?
LMT: It has been the greatest blessing to be in this position. It has allowed me to bring my social practice into unexpected institutions. At the California Academy of Sciences, for example, I asked satellite engineers to teach the basics of their work to children. Each child made an edible model satellite; afterward, I asked them, “What will your satellite do?” and documented their responses. I was interested in how children conceive of this technology, where their understanding comes from, and what this says about our culture. They had really funny responses, from “It will lead me to my space home,” to “It will take pictures of criminals.”
I also had the opportunity to work with the Curator of Meteorites and Asteroids at the Vatican Observatory this winter. Many people are surprised to learn that the Vatican has an observatory. It’s one of the oldest institutions to do so. And I also worked with Brother Bob, a Jesuit who takes care of this historic rock collection, to learn more about the intersections between science and faith.
CWY: Do you have any superstitions? Why or why not?
LMT: I am not really a superstitious person, but I do all kinds of silly things anyway. I knock wood, I toss salt. I read my horoscope even though I don’t believe. I don’t believe in god. But I want to leave room for mystery in my life. And I want to be gentle with myself. To perform these superstitious acts, for me, is a way to say, “I need help. I am afraid. I need strength.” And that is okay. I love the work of Chilean filmmaker and mystic Alejandro Jodorowsky. His concept of psychomagic—a type of therapeutic practice involving symbolic action—is very inspirational to me. Belief is a strong force, but not as influential as the action that is based on the belief. You can actually manifest the desire through the action, without believing! In that way, knocking wood is more important than believing that knocking wood has power.
CWY: Your practice spans relational projects as well as education and object-making. Can you talk about the significance of each of these, and how they relate or feed each other?
LMT: I don’t really separate object-making and education from social practice. In my work, I think of all of it as social practice. They are all tools that allow for different modes of engagement with ideas.
Also, look for her forthcoming exhibition at Southern Exposure in late May, along the themes of Walt Disney’s audio-animatronic Lincoln robot, civil rights, and science fiction.