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Interview with Etant Donnés Resident Laure Vigna

The French sculptor Laure Vigna spent two months in residency at the Yucca Valley Material Lab (Yucca Valley, CA) in 2019 to work on the art of glassmaking. The aim of her project Swallowing Surfaces; If They Swell was to explore the relationships between the living and the non-living in the Mojave Desert, which can be applied to the principles of metamorphosis implemented in her sculpture work.

What was your initial project at the residency?

Having spent a lot of time in California in the past few years, particularly in Los Angeles, I wanted to go back there in a specific context centered around a project. That’s when I was offered a residency at Yucca Valley Material Lab in order to educate myself in the art of glassmaking and fusing. I’ve known Heidi Schwegler (who runs this nonprofit) for many years now and when she set up this space, she immediately thought that it would be an excellent means of exploring part of my practice. She is especially interested in artists who have never worked with glass.

The goal of the project Swallowing Surfaces; If They Swell was to explore and interrogate the relationships that exist or could potentially exist between the living and the non-living in the context of the Mojave Desert (as the residency was in Yucca Valley), which can be applied to the principles of metamorphosis implemented in my sculpture work. I studied the similarities shared by transformation myths through the representation of bodies, and through the indigenous and contemporary legends related to this territory, which illustrate the passage from one state to another in the same continuity. In these myths, the plants and animals are perceived as living beings in their own right. As metamorphosis and inter-species communication is at the heart of some of the first nations’ legends and cosmogonies, the connection between human and non-human is conceived like a continuum, with no differentiation between beings on the basis of their bodies. The period of residency for Etant Donnés in California was divided into two phases and two places: a research phase in LA (at libraries, museums, the Getty Research Institute, etc.), and a main phase to learn glass techniques through the creation of ten sculptures with the Yucca Valley Material Lab team.

What were you able to create in this context?

During this period of intensive learning and workshopping, immersing myself in the desert geography and the mythologies that surround it, I created a batch of glass shapes topologically folded up on each other. According to a definition of topology—the branch of geometry that studies objects in their endless distortion—the shapes created would have been reshaped by distortion before returning to their original states. The shapes would represent interior and exterior, blending the two together; passing from endless to finite, they would be upside down and right side up? at the same time, a product of the shapes they held originally.

Glass allowed me to work with shapes in transition, in endless transformation, with a malleable, sustainable material (in the sense that it can be infinitely recycled) in order to grasp these metamorphoses, these passages from one state to another. This medium also allows me to embrace the “failures” in each phase of this long process. Working with glass is working with the unpredictable; you never know exactly how things are going to react with each other, and this aspect of experimentation is at the heart of my practice.

Can you present to us your new creations or the current progress of your research?

This opportunity to learn about a particular medium like glass has offered me a certain force and autonomy when it comes to my future projects. I’m currently working on an extension of this very project with other shapes that will be formed in glass, followed by a series entirely in ceramic. I’m also coming up with a device that will use glass as a material to blend form and structure and will exhibit these different series.

In addition, this year I’m preparing a few collective exhibitions in some art centers in France to share my research on transformation states and transitional shapes, within which I’ve created a dialogue between organic material (in evolution) that I make and the structures that they rely on.

How did your residency unfold?

The two months ended up flying by as I had to split my time between two places. First, I started my research in LA in libraries, at l’Autry Museum of the American West, in various museums and collections, and then in my surroundings themselves, like the Palm Springs Art Museum and the Malki Museum in Banning. There, I found a lot of information about the Chemehuevi and Cahuilla peoples (natives of the outskirts of Joshua Tree), from their alternative ways of living to their myths, basketwork practices, and more contemporary artistic practices. My time spent in the desert was devoted to learning glassmaking and sculpture techniques, which included extensive protocol to respect the lost wax technique. I spent my limited free time surveying the terrain around Joshua Tree National Park, the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Museum, Giant Rock, Integration, Institute of Mentalphysics, and Wondervalley to immerse myself in the particularities of the desert, its ecosystem, and the vernacular beliefs around it. Back in LA, I finished my research on the archives of architect Pierre Koenig at the Getty Research Institute. I’d heard talk of a social housing project in the 70s for the Chemehuevi reservation, so I was interested in Koenig’s faith in modern architecture as a means of reconciling nature and the population, thanks in large part to the use of glass in breaking down the barriers between spaces by assigning it a political and social role.

What future prospects and desires do you have at the end of this residency?

To display these sculptures in other environments!

As of now, they’ve only been shown in the desert at the end of the workshop, on the same sand where they were created.

I’d also love to come back to Yucca Valley to see how the residency has evolved, being one of the first artists to experiment with this new space dedicated entirely to glasswork. The connections we’ve made with Heidi, and the generosity that she and others whom I met or already knew so graciously showed me, have only increased my desire to stay in touch! Since I spent all this time in the US and I come here regularly, I hope I can also one day show my work outside of the context of a residency.

Born in 1984 in France, Laure Vigna lives and works between Paris and Brussels. She studied at the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts de Lyon. She participated in several residencies, including Rogaland Kunstsenter’s Independent Study Program in Norway, the Mountain School of Arts in Los Angeles, and Kunststiftung Baden-Württemberg in Germany.