'The Lauren Hevesi Installations'

Bryce Sears

Exhibition Guide


Mrs. Lauren Hevesi and The Anna Maren Gallery wish to acknowledge the support for this exhibition of Mr. Charles Sidney Bennett, Mrs. Edith Roth, Mr. R. E. Ching, Mrs. Mary Korzybski, and Mr. Walter Jenkins. And, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation


The Anna Maren Gallery
125 Prince Street,
New York, NY 10012

October 25 – December 31
9 AM – 9 PM Monday-Friday
10 AM – 10 PM Saturday-Sunday
Closed Holidays


Lauren and I first met on treadmill exercise machines in a row faced toward a bank of tall windows in the gym of the apartment building in New York where we both lived in the early 90s.  The gym was on the south side of the top floor of our dark brick building, and while we jogged toward the windows, dusk turned into night and the lights of the lower parts of the Upper East Side began to come on before us in a view which looked in distraction like gold and white brocade on a black cloth, and in the reflections of us that lights in the ceiling superimposed on our view, I began to recognize the person whom I had then run alongside for some twenty-five minutes, the frizzed black hair and thick-lidded, wide-spaced eyes, the open beautiful face that I matched at last to a photo in a piece about her work I had skimmed some months before in ArtForum, and then to a second I had seen in a later exposé in frieze, the person whose reputation as an eccentric I recalled emphasized in those oddly broken paragraphs.  I was not aware we lived in the same building.

It was several months yet before I would publish Sloth and the Perversions of Love (1993, Graywolf), my first novel, and begin to establish my reputation, such as it has become, in the world of fiction writers, but for me Lauren was even at the time someone whose talent showed immense promise, my awareness of whose gifts filled me with the pride we all have in what we imagine our private discoveries, but at the same time created for me, the several rejections my book had received foremost in my mind, a sense of my own unmet ambition when at last, while I made a semblance of a stretch above my treadmill, five large drops of sweat from my eyebrows still visibly splattered onto the rubberized black belt, she finished her jog and, while she blotted perspiration from her forehead and neck with one of the gym’s terrycloth towels, I introduced myself, mentioned the two articles I had read about her, and tried to articulate those qualities I had come to admire about the works I had seen pictures of.

From those moments to the present one, in all the years of our tempestuous marriage and divorce, a part of me would always admire much about Lauren’s work, and while it would not occur to me then that our closeness might make my knowledge of the context in which she made those works useful to their future viewers, I am grateful that she and Charlie and Mrs. Maren asked that I write what details I can recall of them, and consented to my request for the freedom to express my own judgments, and to mention whatever contextual details I think pertinent.

The exhibits are divided one per room into each of the four large rooms that make up each of the four floors of the gallery.

Room One

Hollow People, 2001, glass and ink, halogen lights, electrical sequencers.
Courtesy of The Mary Korzybski Gallery, New York.

It is unfortunate that the period of the works of the first shown installation should coincide with the worst among the nine years Lauren and I were married.  There is at best weak evidence that the development of an artist recapitulates the development of the arts in history, just as there is at best weak evidence that the ontogenological development of an embryo recapitulates the evolution of the species to which it belongs, but whatever feeble hooks it hangs on, I have for a long time returned to the idea that Lauren began in those most traumatic years of our marriage a feverish creative period, a phase of life not unlike the one Europe undertook in its escape from medieval times.

Years before, when we both lived in the Upper East Side highrise mentioned, it was not known to me that she had experimented with the written word as an artistic form, that she had even published a book, Instant Salvation (1991, Notable Press), a short and forgotten satirical novel about a parochial Texas family, but a work notable at least as regards her future development for its careful dissection of religious hypocrisies, and for the fictional “novel about violence, a kind of indictment of human nature, a malicious farce in which a group of characters with various relationships proceed from mistaken notions to undermine one another in a sequence of pairs which, in the course of the book, returns to the original disputants,” which the narrator cites in the eighth chapter as the work of an Italian friend, complete with a parenthetic mention of the publication and date and even a line to praise the two English translators—evidence of the somewhat excessive influence on Lauren of the metafictional techniques of Borges, of a kind of fiction enthralled with the idea of fiction; and, in several reviews and journals at about the same time, a dozen so-called “gnostic” poems, more admirable but also almost forgotten, the quasi-Christian elements of which point toward the unique use of early Christian era symbols among the drawings etched like tattoos onto the surfaces of the nine human representations in glass opposite the partition in the first room, the crescent moons and stars and shapes like Roman numerals and Greek letters, the crowns and crosses and Chi Rho symbols accidental crossings of lines seem to have formed like the adventitious bulges of root plants among and within images of architecture and foliage, of silhouette images like suspension bridges and leaf-covered vines, for example.

The plasterwork for these figures and the drawings for these etched designs were conceived and all but finished separately in the fall of 2000 in the studio Lauren had in Spanish Harlem, a basement space of what had used to be a Payless Shoes, (though such drawings had used to lie about like so much unexpected debris in the studio and in the high-rise apartment she rented, which I had begun to visit after we had a second and third chance encounter, the latter in a crowded restaurant where we were all but forced to share a table, as early as 1993); but the idea of projection (and note that the source of the projections of these images on the walls are intense halogen lights isolated in pockets behind the tattoos, which are perhaps more like scrimshaw: cut into the glass surfaces, albeit with chemicals), and the idea that the images projected in large in an otherwise dark room might be sequenced so as to cycle within a certain comfortable interval, might have come from certain critical remarks I made offhand at moments about Projection Dominance, the work of the next room above at the stairwell, which Lauren had completed some three years before, and which is rare among these works in that no literal technique of projection is employed.  Of course, what makes the drawings etched into these statues “gnostic” is as debatable as is what made the earlier poems so, and as is what allows even elements of worship to fall under that rubric.  Scholars tend to agree that in Genesis (3:22), God suffered no regrets that man had attained a knowledge of good and evil, but only feared that the taste of such knowledge might tempt them to eat from the tree of eternal life, that mankind might cease to die and so become too much like God, and historians for the most part agree that it was a special knowledge of evil that the earliest

Gnostics claimed, while at the same time they kept one foot in dogma1, but there is no need to debate the special bond a person in America who has said in interviews that she has no religion might feel with the heterodox and the persecuted, and no need to argue that the projected signs and symbols of Hollow People are meant to represent more than that part of heterodox opinion in general that, while it fails to penetrate more than surface qualities for the majority of us, manages still to emerge from us all, to become a part of what we ourselves project. 

Room Two

Projection Dominance, 1998, cast ABS plastic bricks, piezoelectric sensors, video cameras, image modifiers, monitors. 

The ziggurat-like series of platforms you see in the dim room at the top of the stairs from Room One, the semicircular bank of TV monitors about the great stepped pyramid and against the walls of the room, are more than they will likely seem at first.  There are video cameras placed among the monitors, directed to the platforms of the ziggurat, and the top surface of each of the blocks out of which the platforms are made is rigged with weight-detecting sensors, the signals of which are processed so as to change the image in accordance with how people are arranged on each platform, to change in a way such that, when you step onto the lowest platform, you turn to see in each of the monitors an image representative of you and of those about you on the same platform, a negative image with a mobile white corona, an image which would be replaced with a like image of just the one person were someone to step alone onto the next platform, the new image replicated in each of the monitors and shared with those images of others afterward who join that person on the second platform, but again replaced with a solo image of the first person who steps onto the third highest platform, and so on to the topmost platform, a ledge with area adequate for one person.

The conception and design of Projection Dominance were of short duration, and the initial critical reception was slight, and tended to be dismissive—even now I recall how Edith, an agent and friend who once in an earlier phase of her career produced some of the stage works Lauren designed and choreographed for New York theaters (whom she had hired some years before we were married and some months after Lauren moved to New York from Austin, Texas; whom we had used to see socially also over food and drinks at Upper East Side restaurants) would call to report the lack of interest; and in retrospect it seems reasonable to me that some would regard the concept with ambivalence.  On the other hand, what I have found curious for several years is that even the best of critics have missed a certain insight into Projection which might have come to them from the scandalous video quite a few who view the exhibit will have seen, which an officious stagehand recorded with a handheld camera in 1999 in the backstage area of a theater in the Village where Lauren was in rehearsals for one of her short wordless pieces, a segment from an old cassette tape which some unknown person—and perhaps even the same officious stagehand, who would clearly have some cause to hold a grudge—some years ago digitized and allowed to proliferate about the internet, to become proof of and, in the public imagination, representative of the arguments for which Lauren and I had used to be known, which have saddled me since with an undeserved reputation for sourness and even violence: the video in which she curses me, and in which I rant and curse red-faced with the most banal expressions, and at last tell the man where he should put his camera, kick apart a prop of some sort Lauren had made of wood and rope, and leave while she, with tears in her eyes, convinces the fool to back off.

Some will believe I only want to deflect from my own embarrassment; and it is true that I have always felt the banal moment writ large to be unjust—in the future perhaps we will all have those moments when we are least likable broadcast to the world—but it was a surprise to me when the clip began to be referenced even in respectable journals that none even who are looked to for critical insight considered for a moment the importance of the date shown in green digits throughout in its lower right-hand corner, that no one for a moment placed the victim Lauren seemed to have been next to the notion of a person whose “greatest pleasure in life is to indict the harshest instincts of others,” (New York magazine), or who takes “cruel pleasure in guilt leveled against others’ cruelties,” (Playbill), who in the eyes of at least of some critics of Projection seemed in those same years a veritable misanthrope.

Room Three

Four Ways to Look at Violence, 2006, projectors, speakers, photos, video, two actors, eight-sided cage with copper leaf, wooden mallet, sound proof walls.

Others have noted the rise of the theme of violence in certain works Lauren has made in the years since 2003, and most have attributed the change to the start of the Third Gulf War and the American occupation of Iraq, or to the end of America’s adherence to the Geneva Convention provisions on torture, developments I know to have concerned her much; but as is often the case there were also more personal reasons, I would argue, for what should not be seen as a new but, in light of the indirect reference mentioned above to a fictional work on the subject, a revisited theme in her work.

In the first of the four parts into which the third room is divided you are met with darkness and a Babel of voices: a workmanlike description of a physical altercation of some sort between two men projected sentence by sentence onto the walls about the room in white letters, and at the same time spoken in Mandarin, Hindustani, Spanish, English, Portuguese, Arabic, Bengali or one of a dozen more languages when you press the button whose label matches that language; and you are invited to pick out your own native tongue from the noise.  In the second partition, in a well-lit room behind a soundproofed wall, in the images of the two men in the tonal photos about the bare walls of the silent space, you recognize a like scene here and there, where in one photo a man is fixed in supine freefall, head tilted back before the raised elbow of another, where in another the face of the latter is pressed into the bars of a cage like the one described in the previous partition, and in another the face of one man is warped with the wide flat head of a wooden mallet.  But in the third partition you will see that what had perhaps seemed in the first two rooms to be malicious looks comic, in the video projection on one wall of the two men from the photos, engaged in the actions described in the first partition, but in what now seems to have been an inept scuffle not unlike those in Keaton, Chaplin, or Marx Brothers’ films, a scene which for some will exist alongside the violence imagined of it in the first two rooms when, at last in the fourth partition of the room, some will see in the scene which the two live actors on the small stage perform, the same scene and the same actors who were also in the photos of the second partition and in the film of the third, a presentation of multiple layers, of the painful and the farcical, of the clinical and the inventive, the abstract and the concrete.

There is a grand thoughtfulness to the conception and execution of Four Ways, despite scenes which might be miniatures from the fictional book cited in Instant Salvation, now seen as a window into the earliest ideas Lauren had about violence; and beyond perspectives viewers of the four partitions of the room will feel themselves in the middle of an investigation of the profound anti-sublime of violence, the cheap degradation it makes of human life, and the shallowness it produces.  But also beyond the recognized talent of the times and the civilizations of each era to impress themselves on the artists who rise up in them we should recognize that the personal almost always outweighs the societal, and understand the added weight we are in a sense forced to give to a personal experience with violence, such as Lauren and I had on an otherwise quiet uptown six train one night in 2000, at about the time she had finished the Hollow People figures, when from the opposite bench of the car a light brown skinned man stood all at once for no apparent reason and began with terrible force to punch the face of an also light brown skinned man opposite him, who seemed not to have known him in the least but whose conversation with a young woman had perhaps in some unpredictable way annoyed him.  Blood of a red like maraschino cherries (and it should be said that I take no pleasure in the vivid description) sprayed from the nose of the battered man onto the people and the benches next to us while people screamed and moved to the far ends of the narrow space; and the fist of the first man struck again and again, and everyone watched in shocked silence before at last at the next stop the blows stopped with a last kick at the foot of the man then sprawled on the bench, whose efforts to defend himself had been ineffectual at best, and whom no one had tried to help, and the assailant ran out of the car onto the platform and through a rotogate turnstile.

Late into the night and for months afterward Lauren and I had talked about the apparent randomness of the attack, about its casualness, senselessness and wastefulness; and to some extent, the event allowed Lauren and Charlie, whose movies (which most will at least have heard of) have often featured and even made a fetish of such bloodshed, and with whom she also discussed the incident, to become more close: provided one more unrelated but potent distraction from considerations which would otherwise have made difficult the movement of those social barricades in place since she and I had met him some eight or nine months before (at about the time of the now famous backstage argument, I am pained to acknowledge) at the birthday party of a mutual friend, held at Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal.  The extent to which East Side subways figure in their relationship only now occurs to me; but whatever the end to which the moment was used, it is undeniable that there are few things so permanent in their impact on us as an act of violence, even one only witnessed; and few things so evanescent in their impact on us as an act of violence reported in the news, the difference between which is at least part of what Four Ways communicates.                

Room Four

Natural Element, 2003, bronze, projectors, looped audio, looped slow-motion recordings.

Exhibit goers who cross the last few feet at the top of the staircase from the fourth partition of Room Three, where below two men act out an inspired comic brawl on a low stage, and pass the open arch of Room Four, where all is stillness and wavelike white noise, can be said to have crossed between opposite poles in a space of mood.  The bronze representations of heads and torsos and arms and legs sometimes as standalone pieces, sometimes in more or less complete representations of people, are raised to various heights on poles in a way that makes them seem at first perhaps to swim or float in an imagined liquid; and even the most careful of viewers will likely find pacific the slow motions of the film projections from hidden compartments in most of the sixteen figures, which you will see as bright circles of light from the ribcage or the neck or the thigh, from the stomach or the shoulder-blade or the bottom of the foot, even (in the case of one bodiless head) from the mouth of the motley forms.

The arid heated interiors of our northeast winters will likely spin dust motes in the line of these projections and allow viewers to separate overlapped images, which will seem to expand with an orange-tinted white on the white walls, and match each with its source (an exercise made difficult by the fact that the subjects of the several film loops are almost identical); but even those given to such close studies will not likely recognize that the periodic and nebulous motions on the walls have all the while been explosions filmed at so close a range as to make what has exploded impossible to identify, that the wavelike sounds emanated from the speakers high in the corners of the room are the slowed sounds of these explosions in a continuous loop, and that the parts of bodies represented in bronze might not at all represent people adrift in an invisible liquid but people raised with the violent force of an explosion.  Made in a span of years Lauren and I would both perhaps regard as among the happiest of our marriage, at a time when we had managed to cut the high intensities of our arguments of some few years before, at about the time also when Mary Korzybski purchased the works of Hollow People and Lauren received several prestigious awards, and when I began to make a certain steady progress with a second and as yet unfinished novel, the success of Natural Element perhaps separated us too much in mind, and so perhaps helped to spark the sad arguments of the two years before we divorced.

Some weeks ago I happened to see Lauren and Charlie at a forum on the arts held in the Directors Guild Theatre, a space in a large building in midtown Manhattan, and a talk about the future of the visual arts in which several august mandarins spoke from wood and cotton duck chairs in a semi-circle on what was for the occasion an overlarge stage, just some few minutes before the start of which Lauren and I had happened to see each other from a great distance across the bundled crowd not yet settled in the red velveteen upholstered seats, whereupon we waved and smiled in silent contrast to the noise; and when the talk concluded she and Charlie and my date and I met where the crowd, now brim full of new ideas, was thinnest at the front of the house seats beside the abandoned stage.  Separated almost three years, we had spoken little for two; but despite our once terrible arguments we have always remained on good terms, civil when not amiable; and I confess that it was perhaps out of some wish for a renewed friendship that, when she began to tell me about a planned exhibit of her installations, about what would become the exhibit you have just seen, when she mentioned with the slightest neediness of inflection that she had not yet found someone to write a guide, I said that I would be pleased to do so, or to help to find someone who would, and that she might mention the idea to Edith, and in an aside suggested also that the recent bank failures, the total financial collapse which the world at the time seemed on the brink of, would mean few sales.  Charlie and the woman I had come with nodded and said a few words of agreement; but Lauren only adopted a certain sad but defiant look I have often seen her resort to, said she would be satisfied with no one else for the guide and, when she had groped for a while with words to the effect that the show would be for seasoned collectors, reminded me that Mary Korbyzski had purchased the statues of Hollow People at the start of the last U.S. recession.

At times Lauren seems to hesitate a moment between a desire for public acceptance and a compulsion to indict the pubic, like a person who struggles to tote a heavy ocean find from the depths to the surface, who lets it slip for a moment, hesitates, but dives again.  She seemed to me as beautiful as she was the night we first met behind the few treadmill machines and before the bank of windows with a view of the city lights.  In all the years we were close, as lovers and as husband and wife, and even in the years before in her earliest fictions, I was aware that she was compelled to agitate, and appreciative of the fact that the public might know examples such as the blunt exposure of human tendencies to cruelty in Projection Dominance, the treatment of religious ideas as inscrutable surface artifacts in Hollow People (a set of pieces first exhibited, it should be remembered, at a time when most Americans had turned with great fervor to national pride and Christian tradition); the condemnation of blindness to the pain of others in Four Ways to Look at Violence, and the indictment of our self-destructiveness that is Natural Element, a work of profound importance, and a work the calm surface of which intensifies the shock it gives its viewers with the passage of time, but that I had been privileged to know the same drive, in ways both good and bad, at first hand.

1At least one viewer of the exhibit has questioned these two conclusions, for which Mr. Jenkins has not provided sources.  The statements and opinions given throughout this guide are those of Mr. Walter Jenkins alone, and are not necessarily shared by Lauren Hevesi or the Anna Maren Gallery.  [Edith Roth, Anna Maren.  Nov. 2, 2008.]