Karen Lofgren is a skilled polymath in the studio. She draws, paints, sculpts, records, makes videos and books, photographs and casts. Her projects often are steeped in hard-core academic and field research into arcane subjects. But her true objective is the relentless defiance of expectations, and the upending of every last patriarchal, colonialist paradigm she can get her hands on.
In person she’s a glamorous and hilarious badass who always seems as if she arrived riding a motorcycle. She’s also a Fulbright Scholar who used her recent grant period to live in the Amazon rainforest in Peru and study the history of ancient plant-based medicine. She’s a new-wave feminist whose relationship to male-dominated art historical tropes is to reclaim and repurpose that language rather than reject it outright. Her version of matriarchal power is not a storming of the proverbial castle, it’s a realignment of power structures that questions the whole premise of societal fortresses in the first place.
Her interest in the ancient medicinal healing rituals is manifold — it includes a general rediscovery of humanity’s connection to the natural world and an indictment of the pharmaceutical-industrial complex, a negation of imperialist dynamics of power, wealth, misogyny, racism and plunder. Instead she posits a belief in magic, a comfort with mystery, the pursuit of knowledge, and the stewardship of the planet as a better path not only for our souls but for our very survival as a species.
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Before we can figure out, as the show’s title suggests, What Is to Cure, first we have to ask ourselves what exactly is the disease. Is cancer, capitalism or complacency the greater threat to our survival? If art can’t exactly heal, at least it can prompt us to ask better questions. As an artist, Lofgren is not in the business of proclamation but, rather, reclamation.
On Saturday, Dec. 8, Lofgren is joined in conversation by Ron Athey, an artist who knows all about the healing power of transgression and subversive ritual magic.
Artist Talk Saturday, Dec. 8, 6-8 p.m. with Ron Athey, Royale Projects, 432 S. Alameda St., downtown; (213) 595-5182.