Jacksonville, Florida (Sept. 8, 2015)—Avery Lawrence combines performance, video, sculpture, and imagery to encourage visitors to observe, explore, experience, inquire, and derive their own meanings. Avery Lawrence: Live in Jacksonville opens Sept. 8 in the UNF Gallery at MOCA Jacksonville, a cultural resource of the University of North Florida. “'Live' carries with it two different pronunciations and meanings in spoken language,” Lawrence explained. “Written, it is just live. The indeterminacy of the (l??v)/(l?v) homograph creates a space for exploration in meaning-making. Live can be a declaration. Live can be a promise. Live can describe an event. Live is a verb, an adjective, an adverb.”
© Avery Lawrence, Two Roombas, 2015. Performance, rug, platform, two Roombas, and Bluetooth speakers. Dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist.
In 2011, UNF Art Galleries Director Jim Draper visited the Miami Art Fairs with four-dozen UNF art students and a few faculty members. There he experienced the genius of Lawrence for the first time. When colleagues inquired about any significant work he had encountered, he replied, “Most of it was the usual, nothing very exciting, but there was one artist whose work stood out. This guy moved a tree up a hill.” That was Avery Lawrence.
© Avery Lawrence, Moving a Tree, 2011. Still photograph of performance. Courtesy of the artist.
MOCA Jacksonville asked Lawrence to answer a few questions about his work. Here are his answers.
Tell us about your background.
I grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia. I went to the public schools there and played a lot of soccer and took art classes. In the summer of 2002, I attended the Virginia Governor’s School for Visual Arts, an intensive arts residency. I have an undergrad degree in visual studies from the University of Pennsylvania, and I just got my MFA in art from California Institute of the Arts this spring. I won the Discovery Dash Mile Run five consecutive times starting at age 5 or 6. In 2012, I was selected by Oxford American Magazine as one of its “100 under 100: Superstars of Southern Art.” I received the SCOPE Foundation Award in 2011 and the See | Me Art Takes Miami prize in 2012. In 2013 through 2015, there’s nothing of note prize-wise, but during that time I got engaged and married to the love of my life. I won honorable mention in a poetry contest in seventh grade.
How would you describe your work to someone who’s never seen it?
Ah, the elevator pitch. I’ve been working on this: In my work, right now, I play with various forms (live performance, video, painting, sculpture) to explore how I (we?) reconcile the good and the bad, the uplifting and the depressing, all the seemingly contradictory stuff we deal with in life. Specifically, I’ve found inspiration in stand-up comedy as a form in which the performer is given space to, in front of an audience, process feelings, challenge stereotypes, upend hierarchies, and be a goofball, all in one go. And it’s called entertainment. So, I would describe my work as examining that comedic form as well as the aforementioned ideas and feelings, and then building objects and performances in response.
What ideas do you explore in your work?
I’ll let this answer live as a list: comedy, comedic forms, comedic performance, communication, entertainment, emotions, intersubjectivity, vulnerability, surrealism, absurdism, performance.
What do you want people to know about your work?
All right, I need to come clean: despite being called “Live in Jacksonville,” this show isn’t really about Jacksonville. It’s about how we live and perform as flawed people in a flawed society. It’s about hanging onto a certain indeterminacy in life, struggling to resist knee-jerk judgments. It’s about living in a digital society with physical realities. It’s about using communication, empathy, and study to learn about ourselves, each other, and all our flaws, hoping for understanding and positive change. So, it’s not exactly about Jacksonville, but it’s about a struggle that, I think, happens everywhere, including Jacksonville.
© Avery Lawrence, Arranging Suitcases, 2012. Still photograph of performance. Courtesy of the artist.
What is the next step in your work?
The next step is to keep working and challenging myself to try new things. “Study” is a word that I am really jazzed about these days. I like to think of “study” as a way of being, a way of interacting with people, a way of staying open to the world. “Study” doesn’t have an end-goal; I know there is always more to study. Honestly, I’m thinking of getting “study” tattooed on my body somewhere (it’d be my first tattoo), maybe my left hand, but don’t tell my sweet grandma; she’ll try and talk me out of it. So, trying to hang onto the idea of “study,” I’m just going to make more work and trust that it doesn’t have to be “brilliant” or “groundbreaking” or even “good.” It just has to be something I care about—a project, an idea I want to sit with and work on. Oh, and I need to find ways to make money for paying off my student loans and credit card debt.
How will exhibiting your work at MOCA Jacksonville affect your career?
I always feel lucky and grateful to have opportunities to show my art. I honestly don’t know how showing at MOCA Jacksonville will affect my career, but I’m excited to share my work with the Jacksonville community. And if I had to guess how exhibiting at MOCA Jacksonville would affect my career, I would say that the show will probably be seen by a Cirque du Soleil talent scout who will immediately get on the phone with her boss, explaining why they must hire me immediately. I will receive the call with the Canadian country code and explain to them that I am happily settled in New Orleans and couldn’t possibly move to Las Vegas to perform. They will in turn offer to establish a permanent venue in New Orleans and a school for kids excited by the arts. I’ll say, “That sounds just fine.”