Artist Q&A > Nancy Lupo

Nancy Lupo's first museum exhibition is on view MCASD through March 15, 2020. Here, the Los Angeles-based artist speaks with MCASD about her work and current exhibition.
MCASD: Your work is often described through your specific use of materials, from super foods and dental floss to mass produced items such as trash cans or folding chairs. Such materials draw our attention to ubiquitous but often overlooked objects. What is at stake for you in these materials and the ways you bring them together? 
NANCY LUPO: Material is a way of making sense. It is language, although it unfolds differently and has color and weight and texture. Food and objects have an intense, endless, oceanic inertia that can intertwine desire, banality, violence, pleasure, care, comfort, confusion,  embarrassment, and disgust. The list could go on. Many of my works are juxtapositions of things, whether one thing is embedded into another, or placed in a certain context, or a tableaux of many things. In each case I’m considering the placement of things in context. There are
aspects to the craft of my works that slows everything down and allows them to be seen in different states and places in the imagination.
MCASD: Early in your career, many of your sculptures had a relationship to furniture, and over the last five years, you have produced a series of artworks which reproduce benches that you find in different civic or commercial spaces in 3/4 scale. What role do these usable objects have within your work? 
NL: I am interested in furniture for its mitigating relationship between a body and an architecture and for its endurance as a form. I wanted to make couches so that the viewer would be in a position to sit with things, sit on things, and be implicated and a part of the work. I feel that the way your perspective is shifted based on “where you are sitting” can be rendered in an even more palpable way through a surface that comes in contact with your given skin or chosen skin (clothes). The meeting of these two surfaces and materials is very charged.
MCASD: This exhibition is anchored by the installation, Open Mouth, which is composed of sixteen benches, cast in aluminum and rendered at 3/4 scale. Unlike many park benches, these have a distinctive shape. The project was initially conceived for Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles. What significance does public space have to the work?
NL: The ends of the bench appeared to me to be a kind of tombstone or a tooth. When you are sitting on the benches does that mean you are sitting inside of a mouth? Does that mean you are being consumed? Would it be like Pinocchio? There are, of course, many people with no homes who sleep on park benches. What does it do or mean when that image comes into your mind? What does one do next? When I was beginning this project, I decided that I wanted to spend as much time in Pershing Square as possible. I had been there a few times, since it is the meeting point for architectural walking tours that I went on when I first moved to LA. The most intense thing about spending the summer in Pershing Square is that there is very little shade. It feels hellish and cruel and a deliberate act of cruelty somehow by the city. In researching the park, I understand that it was originally called Central Park. It was always only one city block, but was once lush and green and filled with prostitution and political soapboxing.
Here in the present there is not enough shade. But I’m not sure it it’s an artist’s job to fix the ills of the city. As an artist, I have to make things that live on; that can speak to some potential future about this present; or that make you suspicious and look closer at things. It is important to ask what or where or how these things might mean something? Since it seems like everything is on the edge of meaninglessness. Everything seems on the verge of apocalypse, but it seems more productive and also interesting to understand that it’s not.
MCASD: And how do you see the piece changing in a new context, as the sixteen benches move into the Museum?
NL: The “scheme” that I conceived for Open Mouth is one that is active in an Imaginative Space like the mind. It will be interesting to see how it literally plays out over the month that it is in Pershing Square. Bringing it into the museum, I was very interested in the labyrinth of pre-existing walls. I was thinking about these walls as a kind of scripted space that leads you around this gallery. Open Mouth intersects with this labyrinth, retaining its double catenary curve formation, creating the opportunity for different kinds of psychological spaces, mini dramas, and theaters to arise and unravel.
MCASD: Alongside Open Mouth, there will also be other sculptures and collages throughout the exhibition. How do these different objects come together in your installations?
NL: My works are usually composed of several different materials or elements. Most of them are recognizable and nameable, while their configurations are held together by language. So I am often asking, what is meaning? How do things mean? How do they feel? What might be  communicated through weight, scale, and color that is not being communicated in other ways? But let’s not take meaning for granted. Let’s not pretend it’s shared. Let’s be okay with not knowing. I also wouldn’t expect the question to be answered in the space of a gallery. I think  confusion is often more generative. I think that my highest hope with my work is that it acts as a mirror or reflector that is reconfigured in ways that I hope trigger thoughts and feelings that lodge inside of you, that you take with you back outside and reflect on things differently.