VISUAL ART “My ideal world [while making art] is to be on a comfortable chair by a sunny window listening to a baseball game,” says Lauren DiCioccio. For DiCioccio, such a setting is possible, because sewing is an integral part of her work, whether she’s hand embroidering The New York Times, creating cotton facsimiles of 35mm film slides and currency, or making organza replicas of plastic bags and bottles.
The new exhibition “Remember the Times” moves DiCioccio’s unique collection of handmade-readymade hybrids from the “wundercabinet” (to use DiCioccio’s term) of Jack Fischer Gallery to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. On the second floor, she’s arranged a variety of objects on three shelves, adapting the acute vision and evocative perception of still-life painting, vanitas, and memento mori to today’s flurries of consumption and erasure. “Remember the Times” is the only current show at YBCA that can be photographed by visitors, and to be sure, adopting a photographer’s point is an ideal way of appreciating the individuality and interaction of DiCioccio’s pieces, and — especially — her attention to detail. I recently met with her at the museum.
SFBG What drew you to newspaper as a material? The ways in which you use it are unconventional — what are the challenges of working with it?
Lauren DiCioccio All of the work I’m making right now began with the newspaper. For about two years before I was showing my work or thought I could be an artist, I was making paintings. I began painting on newspaper as a material I felt comfortable about using, and that transformed into making sculptures with newspaper. At a certain point with the paintings, I realized I was more interested in the materials.
It hit me after college, when I traveled in Australia, and for six months lived in a town in the outback. It was 12 hours down a dirt road, with a 360-degree view of nothing, and 250 people, mostly aboriginal, lived there. It was a secluded world. We would get our mail twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday, so we were one step up from the horse and buggy. The days the mail came, they would bring the newspapers, and even though they were two days old, people would just gather around and pore over them.
I became interested in the material as this trusted resource and definition of time and physical embodiment of a day. When I came home and unpacked all my paintings, I realized I was more interested in the way the newspaper itself located me in time and place.
When I moved to the Bay Area in 2004, I began working as the resident manager for the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside. I lived on site there, on a cattle ranch, pretty much isolated, and getting the newspaper delivered every day. Again, it was a situation where the newspaper was connected to how people would socialize and gather in the morning. People would really welcome it: “A newspaper! Let’s read that!”
I decided that painting wasn’t doing it for me — I wanted to do something more tactile and physical and also approachable. I set out this challenge to make a sculpture out of one newspaper every day for as long as I could. Then I made a quilt out of the newspaper, and that triggered my interest in the craft medium, which has always been a part of my life. It made me realize that craft and the newspaper have the same language, and I started to explore that more through sewing.
SFBG How did you come to select The New York Times as one subject? Also, the tactile emphasis you’re mentioning extends to the “Thank You” bags you’ve made.
LDC They are definitely specific materials — the plastic of a shopping bag, the soft paper of the newspaper are so unique to those objects, and are familiar feels and sounds and experiences for us. They’re disposable in nature, but they’re engrained in our human memory.
SFBG The “Thank You” bags are so commonplace, but they carry a lot of connotations.
LDC When I began making them, it started a divergent path in my work that I think I’m still in the fork of — I’m making these very loving recreations of both types of objects, and they both have disposable or waste aspects. The newspaper is more of a renewable resource, so the work is also about the loss of the form itself. But with the “Thank You” bags, in making them to talk about their obsolescence, I kind of think of them as ghosts of the actual object — I’m hoping for that.
I use bridal organza for the “Thank You” bag sculptures. When I first bought some, I expected it would fray and fall apart and be too delicate to embroider, but it actually stands up well. I just overlay the organza on the beg and draw with a waterproof pen on the surface before I embroider.
With the newspaper, the main series of works actually has a day’s newspaper in it. That introduces a sense of history or time. It’s important to me that the actual paper is in those pieces. It creates all these issues about conservation, and the newspaper not being acid-free, God forbid. The question would be asked, “What if 100 years the newspaper is just crumbly dust inside a bag?” — as if it that were a problem in terms of presenting it as art. But I actually think that it’s the most interesting thing about those pieces, how they’ll age and evolve.
SFBG Artists who work with paper today face those kinds of problems when dealing with those who view art primarily in economic terms.
LDC It’s so hard as an artist when you’re broached with that problem. When someone buys my work, that’s so special to me — I want them to have it as long as they want to have it, looking exactly like how they want it to look. But at the same time, conceptually, anyone who looks at [one of the newspaper pieces] should understand that it’s about decay and the life cycle and the way we all age — though now with plastic surgery, everyone wants to look as scary as possible [laughs].
SFBG How do you choose a particular page to spotlight? Is it the stories, the images, or both?
LDC It’s a combination. It’s an instinctive decision. I look for something that leaps off the page and speaks to me. At first I was only doing people who were communicating — politicians gesturing, or caught mid-speech. But I’ve loosened up the reins on that. I like sports images because they lend themselves to the way trailing thread can show the blur of time.
With all of my work I try to ride this line between precious and pathetic. There’s something somewhat pathetic about even creating these objects in such an obsessive way. It’s excessive, almost an overly tender act to sew this detailed work through functionless media.
SFBG It creates odd keepsakes.
LDC They’re happy and sad. I’m interested in the bittersweet, and nostalgia contains feelings of joy and sadness. With the images, I try to finish them up to the point where it looks like you could pull one of the threads and the whole thing would unravel.
LAUREN DICIOCCIO: REMEMBER THE TIMES
Through March 27, $5–$7
701 Mission, SF