2021 Visual Arts
While attending high school in Nashville, Lauren Yeager serendipitously met a glassblower at a craft fair. Entranced by the peculiar requirements of the craft necessary to manipulate and shape glass, she earned an internship credit by apprenticing with him once a week during school hours.
“The colors fascinated me, and it just seemed like this foreign process that I didn’t really understand how it was done,” she says. “It was a mystery to learn about, and once I tried it, it was very addictive and fun and super gratifying to play around with.”
Additionally, she had grown up watching her father, who had studied engineering and possessed a strong mechanical aptitude, repair or create tools and objects out of random parts. She inherited some of his hands-on skills and enjoyed the natural physicality of things. After graduating, she enrolled at the Cleveland Institute of Art because it offered a glassblowing track.
“I was very committed to glassblowing probably until some point in my second year,” she explains. “Then I started learning more about conceptual art and trying to communicate ideas with art, and glass started to feel very limiting and arbitrary.”
With the encouragement of a couple of her professors, Lauren began to explore a wider range of media. Drawn to three-dimensional objects, she decided to conceive an idea and figure out how to make it from found objects rather than glass. She changed her major to sculpture, and graduated in 2009. She won a traveling scholarship from CIA and spent a couple months traveling to approximately 15 national parks to observe the perceived boundaries between the natural world and the manmade environment around it.
Working out of a downtown studio space she shares with several other artists, Lauren frequently heads out onto the streets. Having familiarized herself with the local trash collection schedules, she searches for objects that grab her eye or her imagination. “If I see something that looks like it’s not being used, I immediately try to figure out if I need it or how I can use it,” she says.
Most of her artwork, she adds, has been inspired by the scenery in Cleveland and everyday activities in the city. “I’ve been able to find a lot of old stuff sitting around or crumbling infrastructure and a lot of construction sites,” she says about the fruitful setting Cleveland provides. “So, I’ve done work with construction signs or cones or now I’m working with all found objects, so residential trash.”
Lauren is also an accomplished photographer, and she often works on multiple sculptures simultaneously, depending on what she finds and what she has in storage, whether it’s a cache of coolers or construction cones. She now tries to limit herself to recognizable objects that interest her, but moves on to other objects if it’s too difficult to figure out what it is. “I want people to recognize these things that mean something from their lives,”
Lauren explains. “It’s important that it has a history which is evidence that it has meaning and value. Somebody paid money for this, and they used it a lot but maybe it sat out in their yard for a long time, so you can gauge what kind of life it had or could reference something from your life and how that played into your life but at some point it lost value and was put in the trash. That allows people to bring their own content to my sculptures, rather than me trying to tell a story. So the sculptures are all abstract, but there are all these inlets where someone can access or apply their own experience to what they are looking at.”
“The way Lauren sees the mundane world that we live in is in such a particular way that she wants us to share in her vision of putting the found landscape and the detritus of human creation into a certain perspective that makes us think about what we’re doing here and how we are living,” says Lisa Kurzner, co-founder, Abattoir Gallery in Cleveland. “Land use and the natural world and how the natural world collides with what humans make of it is really at the heart of what she’s interested in exploring.”
Earlier this year, Lauren created sculptures for an outdoor exhibition for Sculpture Milwaukee, and she has exhibited pieces in many shows, including FRONT International, MOCA, and Abattoir Gallery.
“Winning the Cleveland Arts Prize was really cool, exciting, and surprising,” she says.