Alyssa Lempesis

I was curious about the deeper inspiration behind her sculptures, like people always are when looking at contemporary art. We ask ourselves, ‘Why? Why do YOU make this work.’ From simple observation, we can see that Alyssa’s sculptures and videos speak toward the raw and vulgar side of the body. Something which she has been fascinated by since childhood. To Alyssa, it’s not about her justification for her work that gives it its importance. There is a shared frustration with always having to justify our work through monumental moments in our memories.
Of course, her work is personal but it’s also about the shared dialog between humans. We all have bodies and we all interact with them, we all have seen what can go wrong with them in some degree or another.

“I’ve always been really introspective about how my body works and how it feels. It’s just who I am. I grew up around a really big, extended family in which there were a bunch of bodies undergoing a lots of
different things at any given time. I was always witnessing different stages of life and wellness, so I think that factored into my awareness.” -Alyssa

Alyssa’s mother is one of eight children. Alyssa spent her summers in Miami, Florida surrounded by a large and growing family. The realities of life and health was and is something that affects her interests and therefore her work. But a large part of her inspiration comes from a wild interest into creating imaginative tactile sensations, something that can be seen as a driving force in her practice.

Alyssa created over 12 works for her solo show up at Aggregate Space in Oakland; all of them constructed in the last 6 months. “This body of work started with two very large pieces I thought to be microscopic organisms living in my gut.” (Lumpy & Small Teeth) “They felt friendly, larger than body-sized as if  I could crawl into one and use the other as a large pillow. One was created by establishing a shell and hollowing it out, and the other was generative and labor intensive, creating polyps of different sizes to coat with a waxy rubber. In the process of creating these works the small sculptures along the way began to snowball into larger works, growing rapidly from studio play, their qualities calling out to some kind of unknown body flora.

“A discarded rubber cast of my hand found itself in a relaxed caress of a perched green studio blob. This piece “nice parts” became central to this collection for me.The hand is my stand-in, performing the desire I feel while looking.”

I asked Alyssa how anatomy and surgery, the medical textbook, the hospital, the scientific side of the body affects her practice. “Thinking about sickness and surgery resonates with me for personal reasons, and I find myself very attracted to materials that can stretch, crack, and be cut apart but also can be sewn or glued back together again. I have always been highly sensitive to my own “thingness” and have maintained a strong interest in wounds and repair.

“I also need to have a level of flexibility built into the objects that I’m creating so I can continuously take them apart and put them back together again. I’m playing the surgeon, and this process varies depending on what the piece needs. Sometimes I am jerky and awkward, other times I exercise precise control. I tend to anthropomorphize my sculptures when working on them. They make friends or lose appendages. In my mind they are often animated, fumbling and wiggling in my studio long after I leave…”

“I love rubbers, foams, and resins. I feel like all materials have the potential to be weird if used in an unexpected way, but I think the most uncomfortable materials I have worked with are animal parts. For a while I was working with sausage casings I would purchase from the butcher, and those were fun to use as a thin membrane to wrap and enclose objects, or dried out in sheets to sew up like hollow pillows. More recently I was able to get my hands on two large bags of untouched lamb insides. The parts are beautiful. When I opened this big warm plastic bag I found soft pale blues and blushing pinks. I watched my friend meticulously finger through the intestines, finding a end to cut and tie off so we could squeeze out chunky yellow slime and clean the parts to dry. It was nice to feel the parts.”

I imagined Alyssa did a lot of material tests. I wanted to hear about a particular moment where a material exceeded her expectations or failed her. (or both) “My entire practice seems to be a combination of both. I think what I have come to realize is that the material failures are often the most interesting. I was casting this great hot melt rubber into a mold and tried to use a funnel to guide it into the pour spout. The material was too viscous and cooled too quickly, and instead of casting the object from my mold, I ended up with an awkward floppy funnel casting that was much more entertaining.”

A category that is similar and yet different for every artist. In formal education, as a contemporary sculpture student we often are schooled and ripped into on our pedestal decisions. What or how you place the work is just as important as the work itself. It is something other art forms don’t have to be concerned about. Alyssa’s choices are unique to each sculpture. “I employ all the reasoning of my formal education and in the end I trust my intuition. Sometimes two things just want to be friends.

Alyssa takes a more experimental approach with her work. “I like to doodle. I make a lot of wonky drawings of things, but it’s not often that I plan a piece directly. Often I’m thinking with my fingers, poking at things and making small sculptures. I study the way the materials work, and try to find a tension or logic that relates to something specific. I have all my sketchbooks and I’m always delving back into them and revisiting ideas and sketches that I never followed through with. I also read a lot of fiction. Sometimes in the studio I just read, and then that will give me an impulse to make something. I’ve just been reading The Scar by China Miéville; a lot of really great sea imagery. Recently I also visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium so I have  a feeling that some of the newer work is going to take a turn to reference deep sea creatures. ”

In life she takes a similar approach, “I’m not planning anything, I think it’s dangerous to plan. Especially as a young artist, you do what is best for you to do to make the work. So taking any opportunities that come my way until those opportunities run out in the Bay Area, I plan to stick around.”

You can see all of Alyssa Lempesis’s work on her website and believe me when I say, she’s got a lot of it!

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