This month, One Grand Gallery is pleased to show new work by Lauren Prado: Schemes, the Kardashians, and the American Dream. We sat down with Lauren to hear about the motivations behind her work.
Jess: In the past, you worked as a teacher in California, and recently you earned an MFA from PNCA. Could you tell us about the journey, and how you got to where you are today?
Lauren: I just finished grad school and that was fun, right? Two years of school. Before I came up here I was a high school teacher, and I taught at an iPad-only high school: no books allowed. It really showed me a different perspective on this millennial lifestyle.
The kids were always on their phones and always on their iPads, because that’s all they had. In my classroom, it would be like 7:30 am, first bell, and these kids were waiting for a Supreme drop, you know, at 8. They had to be the first ones to buy it. They had everything they wanted in a cart, basically, and were waiting to check out as soon as it dropped. It was this whole other culture I had not been aware of. Seeing kids buy all these fashionable things, then turn around and sell them, or just keeping up with fast-paced trends, was super eye opening. It got me started down this line of research: How much does social media have its grip on us-- what we do, how we act, what we buy, and what we wear? Because I was seeing that a lot in the kids, but also if we look out into the ‘real world,’ adults do it as well. So from that experience I kind of spiraled into looking at celebrities, and specifically the Kardashians. It inspired the work I did at PNCA.
J: So you went to grad school at PNCA... are you back to teaching again?
L: I just graduated in May, so I’m just chillin for now.
J: You’ve been working with sewing and textiles for a long time, how did you get into that?
L: In my undergrad, I start school like “I need to make money, I’m going to be a nurse.” So I start taking all these bio classes and shit, and I fuckin’ fail out. I’m all “fuck this!” Then I don’t tell my parents, and I change my major to be an art major- what I really wanted to be in the first place. I take my first art class and my professor’s this awesome hippy lady. She’s like “Where’ve you been, kid?” and I’m like “Thank God. I finally figured it out.” She was teaching this dye class, with critique and fabric dying and she’s like “Take my class. You’ll love it.” So I jumped right in, and I fell in love. From there I started dying fabric, sewing, quilting, and that was the big turning point for me. Of course I’ve always liked to sew, my grandma taught me how to sew. I would sew my own Barbie clothes and shit. But that class was really the turning point for me to do a full dive into this medium. It’s progressed from dying and stuff like that, to sewing more and tufting now- making those rugs. It’s been quite a journey.
J: Interesting! You went from dying fabrics, to sewing pictures of shoes, to tufting these rugs.
L: Yeah. At first I was sewing the shoes on clear canvas. It’s what grandmas use to cross stitch, basically. So I was using that grid to sew shoes.
From there, I started seeing all these videos on Instagram, of people using a tufting machine to make rugs.
I’m like “What is this?” So I dive into trying to find it. It has to be on Amazon... Syke, it’s not on Amazon. It has to be somewhere. So I google all around and just find this one guy who sells them in the United States.
I bought it from him. The machines don’t really come with instructions, it’s a figure-it-out-yourself kinda deal. And that’s what I did. I was winging it. It was also difficult to figure out, like, what type of yarn is compatible, or what fabric works the best. It was really trial and error for awhile. I think I finally have it down now.
J: Was the decision to make your rugs so big because of the size of the tufting machine, or was it more conceptual?
L: It was a little bit of both. I’m always a sucker for “go big or go home.” Also with the Kardashians, I’m thinking about their range. They’re, like, insane celebrities. I figured these would have to be bigger than your regular throw rug. That’s the number one reason why they’re 12 ft by 7 ft.
Also conceptually, thinking through the Kardashians, what they represent, and their connections to consumerism and the American dream. For me, the saying “go big or go home,” runs parallel to the American dream. Work hard and you’ll get everything you want! or Why just shop for a few things? Shop for everything you want! I saw a lot of parallels with both aspects.
Also, you know, using such a big tool and writing with it, doing details are more difficult when you’re working smaller. But if you want to write KIM KARDASHIAN and you want it to be legible, it has to be a little bigger. So that’s kind of another reason.
J: So the fact that they’re rugs... how does that play into it?
L: I always think about this goal of ours as a society: Reach out and grab it, you know, you CAN. There’s this weird tension where, the piece is an art object, set in a gallery, and you know the rules: Don’t reach out. Don’t touch... Yet there’s something about this tactile quality of the rug where we’re so accustomed to living with it and having it in the home, and we know what it probably feels like. There’s something about that weird tension where you want to reach out and touch it, but you can’t.
This medium really calls out to physical touch. I relate it to the way we interact with our mobile devices. You have to, like, double tap that heart on Kim’s newest sexy selfie.
I think a lot about touch, and I think about this medium as a vehicle for desire, like you want to touch it. Just like when you go into the store and you want to touch a t-shirt before you buy it. Something is there. It’s innate, and it’s human, and I could go on forever about it. It’s super weird that fabric has that much power over us.
I just always go back to desire, and there’s something about making the Kardashians something that we touch digitally all the time into something soft, fleecy and sexy. It’s like a sexy rug of someone who’s sexy, who we already touch all the time digitally, it’s full circle for me. It’s just... the Kardashians, you know?
J: There’s also the association of rugs being on the floor, and you’re hanging them up, right?
L: Yeah, and I’m thinking about elevating. Rug you step on, rug you walk over, but these rugs... after you buy them, sure, do whatever you want. But the way they’re displayed on the wall, there’s a different connotation. We’re elevating. Also the rugs, the big ones, are on frames. They have a little extra space at the bottom. I relate that to celebrities and how we elevate, and put them on a pedestal. Once again thinking about the Kardashians, and this empire they’re created for themselves, and how so many people look to them for so many different reasons.
J: What is the intended effect on the audience?
L: I’m obsessed with things that influence our culture, but I’m not trying to cast judgement at all. I am here to ask questions about celebrity and the American dream, and if this is all mimicry, you know, if we’re just copying what we’re seeing online. In turn corporations are monetizing us and our mimicry. Is everything just mimicry? How deep does it get? Are we all basically being scammed by cliques and coolness online? In the end, if a viewer can walk away with some of these questions, that will be great. If someone wants to take the time to talk to me about it and hear a spiel about my idea behind it, they can.
If viewers walk away like “Damn that’s a sick rug,” I’m happy with that too. The viewer can come away with, at least, “That’s a really big Kardashian rug.”
If you go online, try as you might to avoid the Kardashians, you can’t, I’m sorry. I believe the New York Times just wrote about them. You just can’t avoid it. No matter what you’re looking at, where you’re trying to google, one of them is going to pop up. I think Kanye just got on the cover of Forbes magazine today (July 10, 2019) so, like, you can’t avoid it. If you can at least grasp the idea of these celebrities and how unavoidable they are, that’s enough for me.
J: Where do you think this culture is going? What are your hopes and fears? What are you anticipating for the future?
L: I’m just paying attention to what’s happening, and not really assuming or guessing where it’s going to derail or whether its going to stay on track. Basically just pointing and writing what I see, like an anthropologist. I’m not trying to change everything. I wonder “Is it bad?” but the American dream has always been like this. The only thing that’s changed is technology and how we access it. I don’t see it stopping any time soon, and I don’t really want it to, either! I would get bored.
J: So you usually like it, for the most part? Social media?
J: And are there lessons you’ve learned in the process of making this work?
L: Lots of people have been reaching out because they’re seeing more tufting guns on the internet. They want to know “What gun are you using? What fabric are you using? What yarn are you using?” I try to help people as much as I can from the knowledge I’ve gained through trial and error. But there’s still a lot of stuff I don’t even know, like trade secrets that other people on Instagram won’t share. It’s kind of crazy, you know? If you see someone doing the same thing as you, why not help them figure it out?
But people just won’t share the information like “I got my fabric here, in bulk.” People tell me to go to JoAnne’s and get monks cloth, but actually that’s not the best fabric to use. It’s just hard because I can’t find the real name or distributor for really large scale fabric except for one chick on the internet and she upscales the stuff through the roof. I want to be like “Hey girl, just tell me the name. I’m going to buy it in bulk.” So there are still obstacles to figure out, like for me, the best way to make these rugs without ending up broke. Anyone who reads this and has a suggestion can shoot me an email. Tell me what fabric you’re using! I’m still trying to figure it out.
J: Do you feel your curiosity shifting at all? Do you have ideas for what you’d like to work on next?
L: At the moment, I’m still kind of super obsessed with the Kardashians and making the rugs. I’m going to branch out; I mean she posts a lot of pictures daily and all her sisters do. The three big rugs were of the three sisters: Kourtney, Kim and Khloé. Now I want to do Kendall, Kylie, and Kanye. I think people will really like that one. We’ll see. I have some drawings, waiting to be turned into rugs. I’ll stick with that for awhile.
J: Kanye seems like the perfect bridge between your previous work, where you were making sneakers, and this project.
L: The crazy thing is, Kanye is totally a bridge; but so is Kendall, and basically the way they all have contracts with these other companies is insane. That realization sparked my interest. I sewed the shoes, then other value objects like embroidered Lamborghinis and embroidered Ducati. Then I was seeing all the connections between these value objects and the Kardashians. Their matching G Wagons, and so on. I realized all these objects are important ties to one major family, the Kardashians. (The American dream.)