Marie Lorenz fabricated a small, precarious kayak and floated down the
San Antonio River along the Riverwalk. She consistently revisits themes
surrounding waterways, boats and navigation. The New York-based artist
took some time out before a walk-through at Artpace’s Hudson (show)Room
to talk about her work and her refreshing approach to art. She culls
ideas from rich historical contexts and introduces them into urban
Michelle Gonzalez-Valdez: I was looking at your website, and there seems to be this real playfulness around your work, particularly the installation for Scope Art Fair. Where was it again?
Marie Lorenz: It was in New York. It was a weirdly fortuitous thing because they wanted me to do this installation in this huge warehouse. And they decided to put me in this show and I got the loading dock [as a place] to build my installation. So I built it in there: I built the wave that kind of covered the loading dock, and the river went around the wave. Somehow, two days before the show, they were opening the garage/roll-up door of the loading dock and it stuck open. This is downtown New York, so you can’t leave something like that open. So they decided to build this temporary plywood wall behind my piece. You couldn’t see the plywood wall because my piece was covering it. Then I realized, well, I had always thought of [building] a secret entrance or porthole, and there’s just this plywood wall. It cost like 15 bucks to get into this fair, so I unscrewed some things and I made this entrance in the plywood wall. It was perfect because you could squeeze through this entrance, and then you would have to get into my boat and go through the installation to get into the space. And this is sort of a theme I have… I did another piece where you had to crawl through the wall of my studio, then get into a boat, ride the river through the house and come out into the party. So there’s this theme that you have to go through this environment before you can get out. The Scope Fair worked out perfectly that way, and they had no idea I was doing this. Only five people actually got in that way.
MGV: I love the photos from that show. You can tell by people’s expressions that they’re having so much fun, and it reminded me of the playfulness found in works like Carsten Höller’s slide at the Tate. A lot of your work focuses on waterways and boats or ships. Do you feel that there is an element of metaphor to these ships as well?
ML: Definitely. You know, I came into an interest in boats more through building boats to navigate city waterways. Initially my intention was to build these boats so that I could explore the back end of the city. But then, for years and years, the nautical imagery and romance of shipping and all these things started to come up. Everybody has this pocket in their minds where all this romantic stuff is stored. When I was first starting this, I thought that kind of stuff was boring. The idea of pirate ships or that kind of thing just seemed like boy stuff. Now, after being in it for so long, that inspiration has definitely come into play. I see the boats in my work…they represent a way to get you into the story. It’s a way for the viewer to enter the piece, literally. It’s a vehicle to get you into this story, into this world and into this environment.
MGV: Do you feel that is pulling the common thread from previous works into this work here in the Hudson (show)Room?
ML: Basically, I started with reading journals from explorers. The thing about journals, specifically navigational journals, is that they are trying to tell a story that’s actually happening. The explorer is telling a story as it is happening, and they are in the moment. He doesn’t have the benefit of hindsight. He doesn’t have any editors or any filters. He’s just telling the story as it happens, and that’s the immediacy of these navigational journals. So, these five carvings illustrate moments of explorers from navigational journals. Here, Robert Juet was keeping the navigational journal for Henry Hudson’s trip up the Hudson River. This is Donald Crowhurst, who tried to fake a circumnavigation of the globe in 1969 and basically went nuts doing it. He was hiding out in the southern Atlantic and was writing this philosophical revelation. His brain was getting scrambled, and he was filling books and books and books with this revelation. He saw himself as the second coming of Christ and he decided the only way to fulfill this revelation was to die. They found his boat without him in it, so they think he killed himself. There’s a really good book about him.
MGV: What is it that compelled you to create a precarious canoe and sail down the San Antonio River? Will you try this performance in another city with the same canoe?
ML: I made the boat just for the San Antonio River. I won’t use it again. I wanted to see the city from the water and record what I saw. And the boat becomes its own kind of record — you can look at the bottom of the boat and see a long cut in the plastic where I scraped it over a rock and eventually sank it.
MGV: Can you tell me about some of the larger works on paper that line the gallery walls and draw us to the woodcuts centered in the exhibition?
ML: I got pieces of paper and I was rubbing the surface of these woodcarvings with charcoal or chalk, and I was making images of my own navigation down the San Antonio River from elements of these images [woodcarvings]. Here’s a dam, and it’s made from Lewis and Clark’s boat and the sails from Thor’s [Heyerdahl] boat.
MGV: Can you tell me a little bit more about Thor Heyerdahl’s boat and the woodcut’s representation at that time of his life?
ML: Thor Heyerdahl was an adventuring anthropologist famous for his 1947 expedition on the Kon Tiki. He built a balsa raft and sailed from South America to Polynesia to prove his theory that people navigated the Pacific long before the Europeans. For that carving I chose a section of Thor Heyerdahl’s [journal] from the Kon Tiki expedition. Because they were traveling through areas out of the major shipping channels, and because the raft put them so close to the surface of the ocean, Heyerdahl and his crew were recording descriptions of fish that they had never seen before. It is possible that they were seeing new species. I chose to represent those passages because I found them uniquely unselfconscious — just pure observation.
MGV: There are a multitude of etchings and rubbings from the various woodcuts, and you’ve amalgamated an interesting documentation of your trip down the San Antonio River. Do you often use this technique of being resourceful with existing works to create new works?
ML: This is the first time that I have really tried to combine the boat making / exploring aspects of my work and the sculpture / installation side of what I do. For a few years, I have had a project in New York where I take people around the Harbor and record the trips on my blog. I really love that project, and it has been hard for me to connect it to the other highly crafted and hand-built sculptures. So in San Antonio I was trying to make something that functioned like my blog — a personal account like an adventurer’s journal — but one that could come out of something highly crafted.
MGV: How was your experience at Artpace? Did you find it challenging? Did you have enough time to truly work on the project at hand?
ML: Artpace was great. Matthew Drutt contacted me about doing a show in the Hudson (show)room, and he said that he wanted me to think of it as an opportunity to take my work to the next level. At the time I really didn’t know what that would look like. But I remembered that he said that when I was done hanging the show in July, and I was thinking — OK, this is the next level. Everyone at Artpace was really great. I think it was a difficult time to be there, but it was a great experience.
MGV: So, what’s next after this show? I saw that you had a show in Madrid…
ML: That was actually the beginning of doing work like this, carvings and rubbings. A lot of the stuff I do isn’t really meant for galleries, so this was a big challenge for me: to make stuff to put on the walls. A lot of my work is temporary or outdoors.
MGV: Really unconventional or somewhere you wouldn’t really expect to find art…
ML: Right, so this has been a challenge.
MGV: Was it enjoyable or would you rather be outside? This is a good start to a question, but we should ask her about public verses private and more about her overlap in mediums.
ML: I felt like making the boat was a good way for me to do both. It’s a way for me to bring you, in a sense, out of the gallery in this boat to point to the river and point to my own experiences there.
Images courtesy Artpace
Michelle Gonzalez-Valdez is a an artist and writer currently living San Antonio.