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Finding 'Home' in Laura Borneman's Mixed Genre Work

04/13/2015 04:36 pm ET | Updated Jun 13, 2015

There were three distinct bodies of work: A hundred or so miniature houses made from plaster and stacked precariously on top of each other; a large life-sized "shack" that one could actually walk into, but which was equally fragile; and small delicate wooden sticks, also reminiscent of small houses, that came off the wall. Standing before the various bodies of work I could not decide what I was looking at, but instead of being confused, I was excited: I had never seen someone so effectively succeed in insinuating the mediums of painting and sculpture onto and into one another. In Laura Borneman's work, I felt, there was a sharp refutation of something that I had been hearing a lot of lately, that both painting and sculpture were "dead" genres of art. Even more impressive was the fact that this work, so fully realized and mature in its assertion, was Borneman's thesis show for her MFA degree from the MFAST Program at Maryland Institute College of Art.

Laura Borneman hails from Buffalo, New York, and has finally, after years of wandering, "returned home." By this I mean, she has returned to living in Buffalo, New York, after years of wandering around the United States; and her work quite tangibly is all about the idea of "home": Where home is, how one can return home, and indeed what one is doing to their home. In her work -- caught somewhere among painting and sculpture, and even drawing -- Laura Borneman is wandering and wondering aloud about not only the United States as her home, but her work as well addresses larger socio-political issues regarding the planet itself as our home. "At the time I was making these works," she told me, "I was living in Bakersfield in California, and there was so much going on in Bakersfield and in the United States that had enormous implications for our planet. I felt compelled to do this work."

Borneman started making her house and home pieces shortly after the horrific BP oil spill on April 20th, 2010, the largest marine oil spill by the petroleum industry in history. This was also at a time when the United States and the larger world were in the throes of the economic meltdown that has since been termed "The Great Recession." "I looked around me and was confronted, in a way that I had never been confronted before, with the social, economic and environmental fragility and collapse that we were living in within the United States. It seemed as if we Americans were caught somewhere between a state of either becoming or a state of utter collapse. The path forward was so unclear. This paradoxical, and at times absurd, realization utterly changed the character and nature of my work."

Prior to the present body of work, Laura Borneman was a more rigidly traditional painter and sculptor. Indeed, she invested many years in several programs and did figurative and more representational work. At that time she was greatly influenced by both German Expressionism and Modernism and for a long time she made works based in reality, excelling at still life and figurative painting and drawing. Slowly though, she found that the rules of representation were too rigid and that abstraction allowed her to say more with her works, and so she started drifting into doing more abstract works. Because she was struggling to find what she had to say, or even to locate what she wanted to say, she enrolled in MICA's MFAST Program, which forced her to question the work she was doing, and to challenge herself by working in ways that were unfamiliar to her. "The MFAST program radically changed my practice," she told me. "Suddenly I started to incorporate myself and my experiences in the work. Paradoxically enough, the work became both more personal and political at the same time. The work also started becoming more metaphorical and abstract."

At MICA she became very interested in theater sets, specifically in the work of "The Theater of the Absurd." These sets, she believes, embody the message they are trying to convey. She wanted to try and incorporate this idea into her work, to try and convey the strangeness and at times absurdity of the human condition. For here there were people, Americans in particular, striving towards a kind of social or economic utopia or "better thing" but, in fact, creating "a path of destruction" along the way. She continued, "So we are creating this paradoxical situation and I started using my miniatures to make commentaries on what I was seeing. In the miniatures I was thinking about the unfinished housing schemes in Bakersfield, California, where I was living at the time. Housing schemes that remained unfinished because of the recession generated by the over inflated housing market. It bothered me how cookie-cutter-like these houses were, how they were stacked one on top of the other. After a while these houses seemed to represent to me the precariousness of the American dream, and also, they seemed a commentary on materialism."

"In the larger, more life-sized structure," she added, "I used cardboard, tar, paper, wood and paint, to give an interior version of those cookie-cutter-like houses. I wanted to make something that someone could walk into. I wanted this structure to have a more psychological feel to it." The final set of works, made of small sticks, can be thought of as "sculptural paintings that came off the wall. To me, these wooden stick structures are evolving and being built, even as they are falling apart. You can see through and along them."

These works became the starting point for a show that Laura Borneman will be having at Delaware Valley Arts Alliance in New York. This show is set to open May 15th and will be up until the end of June. "I am excited and at the same time a little nervous about this show," she shared. "I feel in this show that I am putting so much of myself out there; so much of my journeys, places I have lived and called home. This show encompasses my most personal and political works to date, and they feel quite risky to me. But I have learnt not only to trust this risk, but indeed to embrace the risk in my work. And this is what I am doing in these works. I have come home to myself as an artist in these mixed genre works."

Until next time.

Finding "Home" in Laura Borneman's Mixed Genre Work