Phoenix is brimming with creativity. And every other year, we put the spotlight on 100 of the city's creative forces. Leading up to the release of this year's Best of Phoenix issue, we're profiling 100 more. Welcome to the 2014 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today: 79. Lauren Strohacker.
You could say Lauren Strohacker has animal instincts.
But a more accurate way of putting it might be by saying that she has an instinct for animals. The Scottsdale-based artist recently was awarded a Contemporary Forum grant for her work with Kendra Sollars. Together the duo projects footage of native wildlife onto urban spaces as part of their collaborative video venture, Animal Lands.
The duo recently participated in ARTELPHX at The Clarendon, displaying large video footage of animals on the walls of the hotel. Now, though, Strohacker and Sollars are back at work experimenting, projecting, and shooting. "Which means spending time at the wildlife centers we have partnered with for animal footage," Strohacker says. At places including Scottsdale Wildlife Conservation Center, Tucson Wildlife Center, and Liberty Wildlife, the pair films animals that are rarely seen in the wild like Mexican wolves, mountain lions, black bears, and raptors.
"The experience can emotional as well and very different compared to traditional art practices," Strohacker says. "Sometimes, it's exciting and joyful to see an animal that is about to be released. Other times, it can be devastating to see and hear about the trauma or abuse that some of these animals have suffered before their arrival. Juxtapose those horrors with the actions of caring, engaged volunteers who dedicate themselves to rehabilitation/education and we have a very authentic cross section of humanity's view towards wildlife!"
I came to Phoenix with ambition. I moved from Ohio to Arizona in 2008 to pursue my MFA at Arizona State University. I chose ASU because of the claim that Phoenix was considered an "emerging art scene", meaning I wouldn't necessarily have to assimilate to an existing aesthetic culture, but rather, I could help build the creative identity of the region. After being here for nearly 6 years, I have to acknowledge that the description was spot on as the Phoenix art scene seems driven by experimentation, collaboration, and creative place-making.
I make art because it is an incredible form of communication. I started my undergraduate career at The Ohio State University as a political science major, with intentions to become a lobbyist or a lawyer for environmental causes, particularly those relevant to wildlife. I was quickly ( but not surprisingly) disenchanted with politics, and found a greater sense of identity and purpose through my art classes. Even through the career shift, my goal of participating in the dialogue of ecology remained steadfast. By creating ephemeral public art I am able to articulate my concerns about our regulation of and politics towards non-human animals in new and innovative ways.
I'm most productive when I work in collaboration with others. I've worked with several wildlife organizations such as Defenders of Wildlife, the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project, and Mexican Wolves to create temporary public works that address species loss, recovery, and cohabitation. To me, these partnerships enrich the process, and force me to consider my work as not just art but as an action, or a tool to alter perceptions of civilization vs. nature. My current work, Animal Land, is created in collaboration with artist, Kendra Sollars and local wildlife rehabilitation/education centers. Kendra brings a digital and time based understanding to our work as we populate urban areas with large, moving, digital projections of native animals. Beyond being good for the work itself, collaboration allows me to expand my own skills, be open to new processes, and above all, continue to stay curious, current, and aware.
My inspiration wall is full of . . . nothing, I don't have one. Working almost exclusively in public space, I tend to be inspired by moving through and reimagining the urban environment. Luckily, I also find time to travel outside of the city relatively often, re-energizing myself through natural spaces and remembering why I make work about wildlife.
I've learned most from my own missteps and failures. Each piece is part of the larger objective: to communicate and expand the urban awareness of the native species. Each installation has been more enlightening than the last, and I can only hope it continues in that way. I would be remiss if I left out the impact of an ASU course entitled "Systems: Art and Ecology, taught by Julia Anand (Photography) and Claudia Mesch (Art History). That class connected me with the origins and evolution of environmental art, a lineage that continues to engage me and inform my work.
Good work should always allow the viewer to gain a new perspective of themselves in relation to the world around them. Good works are connective: It's similar to good science, in the way it can make us feel humble yet special all at once.
The Phoenix creative scene is something I cannot critique just yet. I am quite happy with the Phoenix's creative scene at the moment!
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