Regarding Clouds, A Conversation with Christopher Lavery
Stacy Elaine Dacheux: What is a cloud?
Christopher Lavery: Mostly, I think a cloud is made of visible water vapor frozen in the atmosphere that has been sucked up from the wet ground surface of the Earth through the conduction of heat produced by the Sun’s rays entering the ozone layer and warming the surface.
Sometimes, the water is trapped in this state for a very long time . . . a “frozen record physical process” of the water molecules journey on this planet. Sometimes, I think about how those molecules could have been around during ancient times on this planet or could have come crashing in on the impact of a meteor from across the Universe . . . from another galaxy . . . or possibly from the beginning of all things possible.
Really clouds, as most things could be considered, are evidence that all things are connected in some possible way– living evidence that the system of all things is and are contingent on all other things in a collective field of stuff.
I’m sure that there are some Astrophysicists or Quantum Scientists that would tell me differently, but since I am an artist with a high-school level understanding of astrophysics, I think I’m doing well.
Stacy: Why do you want to make clouds?
Chris: Really, I think it is a question as to why I want to make representational art of clouds. Based on my very limited understanding as to how and why clouds are formed, making one might be a pretty hard thing to do.
When I think about it if I really want to make a cloud, the complexities would be so enormous I would need another universe to act as a sort of research assistant to guide me in starting my own universe to produce those dust particles that crash around a lot, eventually forming a sun and space and planets. Brain May, the former guitarist from Queen, just finished up his PhD on the subject of space dust, perhaps he or some Greek Gods could lend me a hand to produce a shortcut for me.
Anyway, the clouds I make are really more plastic and representational.
Contextually speaking, why I made the Cloudscape work at Denver International Airport has to do with my desire to produce something large scale for the public that deals a little with site specificity and reflects upon the perceived notions of landscape and place.
There are some personal romanticized inner thoughts that stem from very emotional places in my memory that reflect who I am as a human being more so than as an artist. These are really just the normal things that everyone thinks about on a daily basis: friends, family, sex, anger, hunger, co-workers, World Wars, Chihuahuas etc.
Being an artist is at the root of your question as well. Why do we want to make shit?
An artist makes clouds or bunnies or abstract representations of their grandparents for the very same reasons why an architect designs a stairwell in a building or the president of the US designs a war. I believe they are biological urges that we hold and have evolved through and with. Sometimes there things are to attract mates and sometimes they are to impress the neighbors, with whatever motivation we have, the primal instincts hold a pretty strong responsibility for why we make stuff.
Ellen Dissanayake wrote a very dry research book called “What Is Art For?” that explores the very nature as to why we make shit. It was a book that I read as a graduate student that has stuck with me for the last few years. I think as I have gotten a little more settled into my choices to make art, the idea of why I am making has resurfaced in a much stronger force.
Stacy: Are the clouds that you make for anyone in particular? Why? If not, why not?
Chris: I’m not sure anything I ever make is for someone else. Cloud(s) as imagery has really evolved from a performance I did a few years back with Matt Weedman for the opening of a new arts/technology building at CU Boulder.
It was a pretty freeform performance that incorporated audience members doing various things: a pre-recorded Talking Heads song titled “Heaven” sung Spanish, a stuffed fabric cloud on a string and stick, bedroom clothes and a guitar player.
I would say that the cloud in my visual language was made for an audience.
The very first iterations of clouds I explored were in graduate school. The three following days after the September 11th attacks, I began to photograph the skies due to the air traffic ban. It was interesting to watch clouds uninterrupted. I also created a video of clouds passing by a camera frame and the sounds of a teapot boiling off for about 15 minutes.
Stacy: Describe to me the relationship you had with clouds while growing up.
Chris: Mostly it was a Charlie Brown kind of interaction I had with a cloud following me around. I grew up on the East Coast and it is pretty much 90% cloudy . . . all the time. When the sun came out everyone ran in horror of being burned alive! I received some of the most ruthless sunburns in those days. I’m not really sure I had any consideration beyond that when I was growing up.
Moving to Colorado in 1999 really shook things up for me as far as atmosphere, sun, and clouds are concerned. I remember how amazed I was when first experiencing the skies in Colorado. Huge, open expansive spaces that clouds could dance around in. I would watch the skies for hours, meditating on a clouds hopping in and out of my field of vision. I also had very little to do with art making at the time.
I had pretty much just moved to Colorado to get away from the East Coast and find a better job. I had very little money, around $400, a bicycle and my girlfriend’s cat. It was a huge gamble whether or not I would be able to make it in Boulder. The sky really took me places when I needed it to.
Living in Boulder can be difficult when you are new and have no money. I did get a job quite fast and began to work as a welder and decorative-painter for a small drapery business. I appreciated this job immensely since it kept me connected to not the “outdoors” but connected to being outside frequently. I was always able to watch the sky and build my tolerance to the sun.
I remember when I was able to finally afford a really beat-up 1967 army green Dodge Dart after changing the water pump I immediately hopped in and drove away from the mountains. The sky gets huge as you leave the mountain areas. This became a ritual after work for a few months. Jump in the car and drive into the sky.
Stacy: Similarly, describe to me the relationship you had with the clouds (real and/or fabricated) while you were making them. Tell me one person’s reaction to your clouds that was meaningful to you.
Chris: Making the cloud sculptures were really an attempt to classify them as an art object. Art tends to wreak havoc on the poetic moments you have in your personal life. People want to create a classification for you and your work.
My relationship to clouds is an intensely personal one in my artistic practice, one that I really don’t share very often for these reasons. The relationship with the public art Cloudscape that I created for DIA is very dramatic and at the same time one of bureaucracy.
At the onset of the performance I previously mentioned, my character was centered on an idea that I was a cloud manager. This character allowed me to be a bureaucrat about clouds. It was meant to be funny and sarcastic. I even handed out business cards to this effect. Ironically, I became known as the Cloud Manager.
I really don’t like being typecast. It is why I wanted to play with it in that performance.
Being a public artist is exactly the same thing-you are branded. I am known to some respect as a cloud artist or the guy who did the clouds. This reputation is both dependent on what has come before and somewhat predicts what you will do.
What I am most interested in now is sound, robotics and light. I am teaching and running a sound art program in Maine and doing a few performances with my noise band Noise Furniture.
Stacy: I would love to hear your thoughts or emotional reaction to this piece by Yoko Ono.
Imagine the clouds dripping.
Dig a hole in your garden to
Put them in.
Chris: Yoko Ono is truly one of the most inspiring artists for me. Her instructional paintings impact the way we think about art. Many viewers’ expectations are that we should make things. I believe that her words are the things we do not need to make. No objects needed. It is in compete contrast to the other works you asked me to look at by Warhol and some young hipsters interacting with his Mylar pillows.
Warhol needed to objectify every art-thing around him. I would be lying if I said that his work had nothing to do with what I am doing but I really try not to pay attention to artworks too much. There are many pitfalls for me in looking at and studying his work. I tend to get caught up in the superficiality of his process and the outcomes developed in art history.
He seems to have a stranglehold on any work that has icon involved with it. It is a type of tyrannical imposition that all artists have to overthrow or bow down to. I’m more into the removal of power. So to answer your question about which video I prefer more it would be the latter because it really illustrated to me how the hipsters have to continue to keep Warhol afloat. They have become his support structure, continuing his reign as pop-art overlord.
You can view more of Chris Lavery’s visual work by clicking here.