A Body of Interactions: Lauren Brooke Miller in the StudioNovember 14, 2014
Down in the ceramics studio, resident Lauren Brooke Miller unwraps the large clay vessels sitting on her table, revealing their red wavelike forms. On the shelves behind her sit over seventy bowls (the most beautiful bowls she’s ever made, she says) thrown as part of her Chili Bowl Workspace residency. While she talks, she cups, presses, and shapes variously sized handmade tools.
“[Clay] is where we come from, and it’s where we’re going,” she says with a smile. “We’re so attached to this medium, it’s insane. I’m just working with where I’m going to go eventually.”
Lauren’s practice draws from the ancient history of ceramics to investigate bodily space and knowledge. Utilizing the naturally detoxifying properties of clay and holistic practices of yoga, Lauren shapes her work for healing and personal growth.
Her newest body of work asks, “How do you energetically and physically open your chest?” During her residency at WSW, she’s developing a series of sculptural yoga props, organic clay structures that act like molds to position Lauren’s body in heart-opening postures. She plans to use the forms in a performance, where she’ll invite participants to cover her chest in raw clay using her own beautiful, rudimentary hand tools.
Lauren first approached the body as a source for her work while pursuing a ceramics degree from the University of New Mexico. Originally from the structured urbanscape of Columbus, OH, Lauren found herself experiencing an entirely different landscape—one vast and open—when she attended college in Albuquerque.
“What is the container, our container?” Lauren began asking with her work, drawing from the boundlessness of the environment around her to create the sculpture Inner Spaces. Each of its three 32” handmade brick and wooden cubes has an infinity-shaped cutout in its top, through which viewers look down into a seemingly bottomless space.
“The container kept getting smaller over time,” Lauren says, referring the body as a personal vessel. Gesturing towards her own body, she adds, “This is the container that I’m primarily interested in.”
Researching metaphysics, mapping, and ley lines, she located herself within the new environment and its intersecting energies. During graduate school in Virginia, Lauren staged a site-specific performance in the porcelain mines along the Central Blue Ridge that changed her practice: she invited close colleagues to draw on her body with porcelain while she lay naked on the raw earth until she was completely covered.
“I give them complete control,” she says. “It takes strength and vulnerability, and that’s what I’m curious about.” The resulting installations integrate multiple cast artifacts and black and white analog photographs that document the collaborative process of each performance. Like the interaction itself, the photographs are visceral, tactile, and sensual.
Focusing on “receiving through interaction,” Lauren’s new heart-opening pieces are a spiritual and emotional challenge. Unlike prior performances where she used pre-made tools, Lauren is hand-making dozens of instruments that her participants will use to place clay on her body. The bone-white shovels and trowels bear the repeated impressions of her thumbprints and fingertips, and they signal an important shift in her work. In developing the tools herself and targeting a specific area of the body, Lauren expresses a deliberate intent that’s been previously unexplored in her work.
In her studio at WSW, photographs depicting wheel, camel, and bridge yoga poses hang taped to shelves. Referencing these images, Lauren forms her sculptures by examining the negative space created by the body. One chest-opener repeats an infinity shape which curves in and around, revealing small crevices in its thick clay walls. Another structure repeats an “M” designed to support the bust for sphinx pose. Air-drying in the studio, the forms wait to be activated by her participatory performance.
“There is an inherent knowledge that our body has, and we lose track of it,” Lauren says. “How do I become more aware of being in this space?” With the body and clay as her instruments, she continues to challenge herself through healing, vulnerability, and mindfulness.
Lauren Brooke Miller works and lives in Richmond, VA. She draws inspiration from the work of Louis Bourgeois and Kiki Smith, who she calls her “art mothers and sculptresses.” Her first ceramic sculpture was a hand tool that her mom still holds onto. See more of her work at cargocollective.com/laurenbmiller and on our Flickr page.