The countless nails pounded into a coffinlike sculpture made of plywood look as much like the work of Mother Nature as a sunset over the Pacific. The coffin is a piece by artist Fawn Rogers, who is making her solo gallery debut with “Violent Garden” at the Lodge in East Hollywood (through Oct. 7). The collection of deadly-looking spiked coffins gives way to smooth-surfaced ones, some of them elongated, colorful and inlaid with mirrors. It’s not a metaphor so much as an actual garden.
“I advocate a very expanded view of nature,” says Rogers, arriving at her Jefferson Boulevard studio after dueling with a spider in the shower at home. “Nature also involves everything nature creates. Highways are nature, the birds’ nests are nature.”
Originally from Eugene, Oregon, Rogers grew up in poverty, caring for her siblings. She recalls collecting bottles in landfills as a kid, then striking out on her own at age 12. As a teenager, she traveled the world working menial jobs, scrounging for money and sleeping where she could.
“It wasn’t fun travel, it was that thing that I needed to do. It was searching,” she says. “I was sleeping on park benches in Paris and I remember when I went into the Pompidou for the first time. It was the most transformative experience of my life. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. That’s how I fell in love with art.”
A self-taught artist, Rogers has shown her work in galleries and nontraditional settings around the world. I Love You and That Makes Me God, a 50-story LED light installation for American Eagle Outfitters, illuminated Times Square in 2014. A year later her piece Hero featured a live stream of a rat in a glass tank gnawing its way through a pile of $20. The digital imagery in the background comments thematically on Andrew Jackson as a rich slave owner who advocated for the Native American Removal Act. The earlier work SUBJECT included a number of driveshafts collected from produce trucks resting upon the most fertile soil in California.
“I’m interested in materials that sort of mirror the themes of the installation,” she says of “Violent Garden.” “Plywood was kind of interesting to me because it’s a material that’s traditionally associated with construction and building, but it’s also been used for caskets. And everyone has a different association with the concept of a mirror and its use. All of these materials are reflecting back and forth.”
Rogers says the interplay reflects the conflict between autonomy and evolution. As forces of nature, how much impact do our actions have, and how much impact does nature have on us? “I’m interested in this idea about how patterns and randomness are both elements of evolution,” she explains. “Evolution is moving forward, by definition, but there’s also destruction in evolution. Things die in evolution. It’s not just a pretty process of things becoming better and better. Is the spirit involved? Are we thinking about evolution on a very minute cellular level? What are the ethics of evolution? Everything creates an impact. What responsibility do we have as a force of nature?”
She pauses, overwhelmed with questions, which only draws her back to the spider in the shower. “Do I kill it? Do I let it live? Do you let it go on its own way knowing it’s going to die later? Have you already sentenced the spider to death because the shower got built in the first place? Everything is nature and everything has a cost, all the time. So there’s no harmless living. That’s a part of life.”
“Violent Garden,” The Lodge, 1024 N. Western Ave., East Hollywood; through Oct. 7. Fawn Rogers and Lita Albuquerque host a Q&A on Saturday, Sept. 30, 4-6 p.m. thelodge.la/fawn-rogers.