Nancy Lupo

03.21.14

View of Nancy Lupo's backyard in LA. Photo: Jody Rogac.


Los Angeles–based artist Nancy Lupo is a participant in “Taster’s Choice” at MoMA PS1, a group show that examines the role of “choice” in art, both as process and as content. Below, Lupo ruminates on her new sculptures in the exhibition, and reflects on the location and circumstances of their production. “Taster’s Choice” is on view from March 23 to May 25, 2014.

THE TACTILITY OF MY WORK traffics in a kind of erotics whose wires have been crossed and confused. Food is used in many of the sculptures—real food and also fake food. Cherries are bright and sexy, while nutritional yeast might remind you of snot, fat, or the gum soles on some shoes. You aren’t sure whether they stir sensations of hunger or disgust—whether they make you horny or have stirred your decorative juices. The black and white “tuxedo” quinoa in the sculpture Tuxedo Feeder looks at once like upholstered furniture, granite, and a treat for a very large family of birds. Each of these connotations has a different tactile resonance and purpose. I push the sculpture further toward a reading as feeding station by embedding four cast aluminum dog bowls into the part of the sofa where your butt would go. The bowls are thick and heavy—they feel as though they could withstand the stresses of many generations of kenneled animals. In this context they are not transformed but rather maintain a clear connection to their function in the world.

There is already a lot going on with the objects and materials that I choose to work with before I ever get involved. I feel that these new works are collaborative, as the objects that I choose, or that choose me, reveal their latent meanings and associations through my intervention. The small Rubbermaid Brute containers in several of my sculptures are the same brand and shape as the big ones that you see in schools, churches, hospitals, and parks—often they are used for trash or recycling. These containers are so ubiquitous that they are almost invisible, and so a smaller version is suspicious. What is its purpose? The gray, yellow, and white versions all have food safe ratings and are used in commercial kitchens for the storage of foodstuffs. These smaller-scale bins present a disconcerting proposition. It would probably feel better if they were redesigned so that it didn’t seem like your food was being stored in a miniature garbage can.

Many of my works are scaled down. The containers are small and so are the furniture works. Small things are naturally endearing to us. Children are small and so are pets. Pet shops and baby stores always seem to be in questionably close proximity to one another as if one were a gateway drug for the other. The aesthetic experience of these stores is complicated and the visual properities of the objects they sell are enjoyed in distinct ways by a parent or pet owner and the child or pet. My sculptures sometimes feel that they are intended for these audiences. The textures seem like they might stimulate sensory cognation in children and there is the suggestion of pet feeders in many works. When searching for such items I often wonder what a dog cares about the way their toys and food dishes look? I wonder why is it that so many pet toys look so similar to sex toys? It seems that a lot of these decisions reflect at least as much on the buyer as they do on the pet or child.

Things aren’t neutral. The objects and materials that I bring into the studio retain the resonance and meaning that they have in the world. Similarly, my works have been shaped and haunted by the circumstances of their making. This group of pieces was made outdoors and was enabled in its production by a historic (though well-timed) period of drought in Los Angeles. It felt like nature had gone haywire. The squirrels in the yard were indifferent to the quinoa, nutritional yeast, and chia seeds but had a ravenous appetite for the Swheat Scoop kitty litter. The squirrel’s gastronomic transgression made me think of human beings who ingest bath salts as a means of transgressing reality. Of course the term “bath salts” is just language used to cloak an intoxicating compound, but then again, for the squirrels, so is Swheat Scoop.

— As told to Chloť Rossetti