May 26, 2020

No Faces of Death: Lawrence Seward talks about the graphic content of Covid-19

text by

Jon Santos

photo by

I met Lawrence very briefly last spring 2019 at Aupuni Space where he was showing some postcard collages in collaboration with Drew Broderick in a show titled “Rainbow Hash”. There were a variety of postcard collages wedged into cast rocks, spread out across a room sized, pedestal painted ocean “electric blue”, water line metaphorically raised.  We had a few mutual friends and I found him on instagram at some point and really enjoyed scrolling the casual vibe of his IG @all_in_allart. One day I came across an interesting note about our collective (yet abstract) understanding of death during this pandemic and I thought I’d give him a call.

Discussion Start Date:
May 10, 2020

[JS] There are so many different ways to talk about what is happening right now. Most people frame their understanding of what's going on with a political lens more than with a scientific lens. There's a lot of conversation around economics.

[LS] I find it odd that nobody is really talking about its effect on people (other than the everyday routine).  It's remarkable to me that people are not able to talk about the actual loss of life. Everyone opens up their phone or their computer and they're going to read something about Corona, but you don't actually hear anybody talking about the loss of lives. It seems to be absent from the conversation, which is very strange.

I thought maybe it was just the limited circle of people I come in contact with, but I felt that with people's posts and with the media I was seeing (am I not looking at the right things?), considering how many people were dying (I always use 9/11 as an example) that we're not in that much shock, you know the kind that you get from people dying around you (or knowing that people are dying at an alarming rate).  Why is that not part of the conversation? Maybe I missed it on the news, (I don’t read enough?) or something, I don't know.

[JS] Can you maybe describe what your thoughts on America’s version of humanity during a crisis was like in New York during 9/11 and how that relates to your thoughts now?

[LS] I think a lot has changed between now and then regarding our humanity.  I don't know if it's because of the graphic nature of 9/11 versus the kind of more extended or drawn out version that we're experiencing now. (With 911) I think that people experience shock and then there is sadness and mourning and mixed with anger. I have a friend who actually died, he had his studio in one of the trade centers and it kinda hit home.

Right now there is mostly talk of supporting the people on the front lines, working with patients. The death toll is high but there hasn’t been a lot of focus on that (the victims).

[JS] You pointed out something that's really different about 9/11 and that there were these graphic images that were circulated around with the images of the World Trade Center being hit and going up in flames. That type of media has a very powerful effect, whereas this virus, we just don't have the graphic imagery of death.

[LS] Yes.

[JS] That is what I find interesting about the IG post of your sketchbook drawing. Can you talk about that?

[LS] With art (sketchbook), for me, it's rarely a one to one correlation, but rather, I make things while in a certain mood, and lately I think it’s increasingly morbid.   I don't always paint skulls.  I'm just at a point where I'm just doing a lot of different things. But that black and white skull in particular resonated with me for some reason (even if a bit cliche) I can’t pinpoint it.

With 9/11 there was often a face attached to death. I remember seeing color copies of people's photos up everywhere, covering places by the subway and in the public spaces. There was a constant reminder that potentially, somebody lost their life and most likely did. Whereas now, who are these faceless, nameless people that have died? Two hundred something thousand, globally! You know, are they just generic people!?  Too many to acknowledge?

[JS] What I find particularly interesting about what you said in your IG post is that there is this collective trauma and It does not pick it’s politics. Liberals tend to express anxiety about people not sheltering in place and republicans protest by storming their state capitol buildings with guns. All people are experiencing trauma and they express it with bits of media shared through social media posts and these lines are becoming increasingly blurry.

[LS] Talking about the sketchbook drawing, or my quick painting, I often collage things in my work and layer things.  In the skull image, there is a section that I collaged with a piece of mail. I use mail because it's readily available and I want to recycle objects.  (The postal fragment  and gauze might be seen as connecting to the everyday).

My recent process of art making went from working intuitively, mixing explorations with no agenda, increasingly to Coronavirus themes and being in lockdown.

I did the New York thing, I pursued life in the “Art World” wholeheartedly in my years there. When I moved back to Hawaii in 2008, I kind of dropped the ball,(intentionally). I just let my guard down and I said, I'm not going to worry about it (being an artist). And basically, I didn't.

While in New York, it was always being in production, you know “cultural production” or survival. You are a part of the system, you are trying to make it in art. I showed at the Andrew Kreps gallery and got some reviews. Here, I am hardly in that mindset, and being home now with some time. I’ve started to actually, slowly get back in the habit of working, as if Coronavirus prompted some kind of natural way of making art again, hopefully not just skulls. How have other artist dealt with what’s going on? Business as usual?

[JS] Do you think that the sketch might turn into a serial work?

[LS] Probably not. I don't know how I would continue my exploration of the way things are going and fully realize this as an artwork. The last time I did that was a loose body of work based on the Molasses spill in the Honolulu harbor shown at SPF Projects in Honolulu.  I'm kind of drawn to more environmental things so for that disaster, I made a series based on dead coral reefs in collaboration with Paa Joe, a coffin maker in Ghana. On my request, he made five Hawaiian reef fishes as miniature coffins. Inside the coffins, where you would normally put the body or the ashes, I put Mary Jane Candie's for the viewer to eat during the exhibition. These were also shown at The Luggage Store in SAn Francisco curated by Trisha Lagaso Goldberg.

[JS] Sounds about right to me.

[LS] Having said I would take it easy here, contradicts the fact that we've done so many projects here. (when I say we I mean with my former partner in crime John Koga) For example, we’ve done ARS Cafe for all of these years, various fundraisers featuring art from the community, and an occasional random show based on an empty retail space. We even did things for Fashion Week a few years.  

[JS] Are you a part owner or ARS cafe or are you just curating it?

[LS] Just curating. (now with Roland Longstreet)

[JS] Can you talk a little bit about what you’ve been doing there?.

[LS] In general, we just wanted to create a platform for artists to have a place to show, and the selection process is fairly loose. There are not too many galleries in Honolulu as you know. In this case, the cafe pays for the bigger space to actually be an art space. Thanks to Nori S. who is the manager and interested in art, and his team,  somebody(?) has invested in the community, in the form of a showing space.  

[JS] Any word on when the art part might open back up again?

[LS] Maybe by June.

[JS] Well, I really look forward to checking out ARS when it’s back up with an exhibition. Thank you also for taking time to explain to me more about your skulls and the molasses. In terms of our physical presences, we are like ships passing in the night!

[LS] We traveled some really good ground here. Thank you.


DURATION 23m 10s