Art Actually: Lora Fosberg

Paul Weideman

Watch Your Step. That’s what the executioner says to the man coming up the steps to the guillotine. It’s also the title of a 2006 drawing by Lora Fosberg. Another piece, titled We Are So Sorry, shows cigarette butts and matches on the ground next to a twig in a burned-out landscape. In Forever, nine naked women madly run in all directions from the word of the title. “Forever. That’s commitment, man,” the artist said in a recent telephone interview.

Her work is featured in the exhibition Michelle Cooke, Lora Fosberg, Shaun Gilmore, which opens Friday, Sept. 30 at Eight Modern. Pasatiempo caught her during a few moments away from her work in her studio in Michigan City, Indiana, near the southern end of gigantic Lake Michigan. “Today the lake is a flat as a pancake, and I’m scrambling to complete work for a show that opens at the end of October at Linda Warren Gallery in Chicago,” Fosberg said. “I just found out my portion of the space is going to triple in size, so I’m kind of freaking out a little.”

The Eight Modern show is her first in New Mexico. She’s excited in part because the gallery carries work by Lance Letscher. Fosberg discovered him through Eight Modern, which has brought his work to the Art Chicago fair. His work, like some of hers, has a collagic aspect. For example, Fosberg’s The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell (2006) is like a million little hand-painted message tags arranged like this, colorful bricks. A few of her messages are “Eventually this will all make sense,” “Welcome to Dullsville,” “Together is the new alone,” and “Tie your shoes bitch.” She has done many versions of this piece.

“I’ve been making it for years,” she said. “They’re all 3 feet tall and as long as people wanted them. At the moment, if I got them back from all the collectors, there are about 180 feet of it. It’s a history painting as well. I’m recording all this information from news, literature, my mother, my lover, lyrics from songs. I call it ‘the air of now.’ My head has opened up to this; I’m constantly listening for things.”

“The personal becomes universal. That’s sort of my modus operandi. There’s nothing special about me. I’m just the recorder of information. I’m really interested in connecting to the view with an open narrative.”

The artist portrays a huge pile of stuff in the new piece Everything and Nothing. “That is a pile of everything you own,” she said. “Books, toiletries, a mattress, chairs—it’s everything you have, but it has nothing to do with anything. It’s about your possessions defining you, about consumerism and the banality of all of it.”

The Truth, a 2010 piece in the Eight Modern show, is from another Fosberg series. Each one is painted on a block of wood and centers on a little road sign. The sign in this one says, “The Truth: next left,” and nearby there’s a skull with rays emanating into the sky. “It’s just an embodiment of our silliness. It’s like the skull is a cellphone, and even though you’re gone, you cellphone is still emitting. I head these stories on NPR about people who die and their Facebook pages carry on, and if you have their password, you can go in there and update it.”

The piece broaches two of the artist’s themes: a general dismay about personal-technology devices and a predilection for painting rays. The latter is demonstrated in several of the works in the Santa Fe show, among them Forgiveness, PFFFT, and Is Any of This True. “This is a recurring image for me, this blasting of lines coming from cell towers or houses. Right now I’m working on some urban landscapes, and they’ll have those rays coming out from smokestacks and antennas.

“It’s what you get when you think of everyone on cellphones and computers and the WiFi-ness of our lives nowadays. If you could picture all this information shooting up to the satellites and back, how jampacked the sky would be with the most meaningless, banal snippets of conversation—the fact that we’re clouding up our paths of information with all this banality.”

She is most distressed at young people’s addiction to cellphones and to being constantly in communication. “It’s incredible to me. I have a lot of contact with college kids, and it’s so sad. They can’t even walk down the street; they’re going to get hit by cars, because their faces are just jammed in their portable devices. There’s no end to it, and what are they talking about? To me it has absolutely no meaning, no importance whatsoever.”

Fosberg got her bachelor’s degree in fine arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2008, she published a book titled The End of the Beginning: A Decade of Work. She said she hopes to do a similar book every 10 years. “The subjects of my work are the subtle intricacies and intimacies of life,” she says in her artist statement. “The artwork is not to be part nor copy of the real world, but a world in itself: independent, complete, autonomous; to understand it fully, the viewer must enter that reality or world and conform to its laws.”

Her heart is grounded in a traditional, personal concept of art making and art sharing. She will have nothing to do with digital art and takes pride in her claim of being a Luddite. She once photographed the process of creating and building an installation, taking pictures every 15 minutes, and later made a stop-motion movie from them. “That’s as fancy as I get.”

Regarding the idea of using the digital world as a gallery space, she said, “That’s very unprofessional. I do a lot of research on the web, including looking at work by other artists, but you see that painting on the web and there’s simply no comparison to seeing it at the Museum of Modern Art. I love that reality that unless you’re there, you don’t get to see it all. I’m all about personal experience.”