The Little Country
Ruminate Magazine / June 30, 2014
by Kristin George Bagdanov
Scott Laumann is both productive and authentic, successfully participating in both the commercial and contemporary art worlds, a difficult balance to achieve. For example, since the mid-1990′s, he has completed numerous commissions for Time, Rolling Stone, Reader’s Digest, GQ, the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, The Atlantic, etc. (and trust me, there are more). He has also lived all over the world, exhibiting in several galleries throughout.
This reception invites you to enter into his process as an artist. Here you will see a series of portraits commissioned for magazines alongside work recently completed for a show called The Little Country, which was exhibited last month in downtown Fort Collins. Scott created all of the pieces for this recent show in the Ruminate barn during his residency. However, not featured here tonight are the incredible installation pieces from that exhibit: including a type of sculpture made up of over 100 tumbleweeds, and a piece constituting a couple dozen hand-painted hanging tree branches (view video of this installation here) These all went into a wood chipper the day after that show, except for the few survivors you see here (as pictured below).
The transient nature of Scott’s recent project raises some provocative observations about art and contemporary culture—primarily how we tend to emphasize the final product over the process, objects that can be mounted on walls or set in corners to be viewed on our own terms. Indeed, my observation of how people encountered the towering tumbleweed installment last month, proved to me that we, generally, have a very limited view of what constitutes “art” or even “nature.” Some regarded the structure with awe, and felt how small they were next to this multitude. However, several kicked tumbleweeds out of their way en route to the drink table; some broke off pieces and crumbled them in their fists. After all, tumbleweeds are a nuisance, right?—scratchy, inconvenient roadblocks that get in the way of where we are going. I found myself wondering if people would respond the same were the structure made up of orchids or even if all of the tumbleweeds were hand painted like the ones you see hanging here. My guess is there would be more awe-struck staring and less kicking. I think this is because many of us want to be told what we should value and how much: should we treat these objects as art or trash? Is this person important and someone I should network with or someone I can ignore? To be unclear about someone or something’s standing makes us uneasy, knocks us off-kilter, and tends to reveal the ugly side of our human nature. How many fairy tales begin with a powerful being disguised as a beggar? The test of one’s humanity is based on who takes the time to uncover value for one’s self rather than assign value based on social cues. Scott’s artistic approach falls into the former category: in the most mundane or common objects, he finds value, and helps us see it too.
This is just one reason why Scott’s work here is so profound and why, I think, he realized that working solely for commercial venues could not, ultimately, fulfill his vision as an artist. Indeed, this show takes what we might consider disposable and inconvenient and raises it to a new level, helping us see the unique form, the integral structure in every twig and branch, the repeating intricacies and nuances of these patterns whether printed or painted or piled on top of one another. You can see the echoes of natural form throughout this show—how Scott’s work traces not simply the green growth, or quintessential “natural beauty” but the erosion and decay, the process of how a form breaks down over time and how that forces us to think about our transient human forms and our relationship to this environment that is always process, never product. Like the tumbleweed, which must die in order to disperse its seeds to new terrain, this show reveals what happens when we embrace this necessary process of decay rather than fight it. The work presented here brings our attention to the upheaval and uprootedness of our environment and our precarious place within it, disallowing the sense of security that allows one to hang a painting in the hallway and simply forget about it.