We Still Here, There: A Glimpse Into the World of Lauren Halsey

Lauren Halsey at MOCA

 *Photo credit: Zak Kelley for MOCA

Written by Emelia Ho

This summer, artist in residence Lauren Halsey has taken over MOCA Grand’s galleries with her site-specific installation piece, “We Still Here, There”. From March through September, Halsey’s otherworldly, funk-infused, afrofuturist system of caves and grottos will supplant MOCA’s traditional white-cube display. In a powerful artistic reversal of the forces of gentrification, the cultural aesthetics of South Central have invaded the institutional and exclusive space of the museum, located in the trendy neighborhood of Downtown LA.

Entering Halsey’s whimsical world, viewers are immediately drawn into her wondrous caverns bathed in pink, purple and blue light. The walls are embellished with colorful plants and dazzling pieces of broken CDs that have been pieced together to form miniature waterfalls and set the stage for the arrangements of various décor and ephemera that adorn Halsey’s impressive structure. The imagery within her installation is both symbolic of and taken directly from the South Central community that it represents. A neighborhood native herself, Halsey creates many works based on such community narratives. In much of her art she sources materials from the people and places of South Central, illustrating the heart and soul of the area through signs and objects from local businesses, event and protest posters, and other pieces of visual culture.

*Photo credit: Zak Kelley for MOCA

During the run of “We Still Here, There”, Halsey will be publicly transforming the space, building upon her composition and adding new elements. The changes the exhibition continues to undergo speak to the energy and empowering quality of Halsey’s art. “We Still Here, There” subverts the practice of static viewing and contemplation that conventionally occurs within the walls of the museum, and instead serves to mobilize audiences towards participation in real community liberation outside of the white box. Throughout this process of metamorphosis and renewal, her cave of treasures comes to tell a living history of African American identity in LA. Her work brings the historic, present and futuristic together with its incorporation of ancient Egyptian iconography, details inspired by ‘60s era funk music aesthetics, spiritual scenes, images of famous black activists, artifacts from South Central, Black Lives Matter art and trippy cosmic motifs. Halsey has an exceptional talent for organizing space in new ways and creating striking designs as a means of imaging alternative presents and potential futures all while reflecting on a complex past.                   

Such collection of cultural memorabilia embodies the themes of voice and visibility at the forefront of Halsey’s art. Much of her work grapples with the oppressive forces of gentrification that push people out of their neighborhoods, uproot and destroy local culture and quite literally bulldoze over precious spaces.  “We Still Here, There” is a museum in and of itself, an archive of collective experiences representing, preserving and enshrining the hood in the face of gentrification, loss of home, and erasure of community.

*Photo via LaurenHalsey.com / Top: Kingdom Splurge ( detail shot 3, 2014), Bottom: Kingdom Splurge ( detail shot 2, 2013

Lauren Halsey’s DIY construction and artistic style is unprecedented. Her body of work is unique and captivating; she renders storytelling in the 3rd dimension and brings viewers into the dreamlike spaces she builds where she reinstates her own as well as her community’s spatial and cultural agency. While all of Halsey’s projects relay the suffering faced by marginalized neighborhoods, they more importantly underscore the resilience and virtue of the hood to ultimately empower and celebrate areas like South Central. Halsey’s art practice is imbued with passion and personal significance. As she has said herself, her process is all about, “making monuments out of the poetics of the neighborhood that me and my friends are obsessed with, embedding my own fictions in them, and animating them and actually believing in them”. (Artillery Mag) Hear Lauren speak more about her work in this video produced for the MOCA exhibition: