LOST AND FOUND Lauren Yeager / Cleveland

Lauren Yeager’s studio on the fourth floor of a near-east-side warehouse is filled with the dry humor of accumulated cast-off products, mostly made of plastic. You wouldn’t call any of it beautiful, at least not to look at, not in any conventional sense.  There are five-gallon paint buckets brimming with drips and smears, mostly white and neutral. There are balls of all sizes and varieties. There are faded, bent, snaggle-toothed combs, and those ivory-colored filter tips from little cigars, and rough, cobbled-together poles made of construction stakes, each carelessly marked with spray paint, marker, or plastic tape for function alone-then put together for no purpose at all. All these are evidence of life. The accumulation of such scavenged objects point to life in the city: what landlords use to freshen up their properties, what construction crews use to mark lines for foundations, toys for children and dogs at parks and beaches, beauty tools, the evidence of widespread bad habits.

“I’m drawn to collecting,” she says “You fabricate a goal for yourself. Sometimes I have an idea and collect for it. Sometimes I collect, and an idea comes.”

Creative-Fusion-yeager cone trade install 2015

The objects themselves are not funny; these are not ready-mades. Yeager–a sculptor who came from Nashville to study glass blowing at the Cleveland Institute of Art, but who turned quickly toward making conceptual work—brings the dry humor by her presentation and contextualization. There are 32 buckets, stacked one inside the next, fit up tight against a ceiling beam, echoing the adjacent pillars, seeming to do their part in holding up the studio ceiling.  She found them, one by one more or less, in the back parking lot. Landlords are always painting. This was originally installed as part of Women to Watch: Ohio, a 2015 exhibit at the Cleveland Insitute of Art, curated by Reto Thüring of the Cleveland Museum of Art and Rose Bouthillier, of MOCA.

Overhead are scores, maybe hundreds of colorful plastic balls, suspended in a net.  Nearby, hanging from another pillar, are dozens of necklaces—those plastic cigar ends strung like dangling beads. They have something in common with necklaces we associate with primitive culture—threaded animal bones, or teeth, each representative of a kill, or the commemoration of the associated life. And then nearby there are trays filled with colorful combs: old combs that fell out of pockets or purses, found in parking lots and on sidewalks and beneath park benches. Pinks and blues and greens and browns, bone-colored combs. All these accumulated objects together might seem just like that, accumulations for their own sake, but to Yeager they were part of a larger installation and performance. They were inventory for her work in the Waterloo Sculpture Garden in 2016, and then at Waterloo Arts Festival: Balls, Combs and Necklaces was a store. Yeager staffed the counter, clear-eyed, straight faced, deadpan: Balls, combs, and necklaces for sale. She’d take any reasonable offer. But it had to be a reasonable offer. None of this lowball stuff. You had to really want it. She had a friend working the counter with her, but she had to kick him out. He kept breaking character.

Yeager says lately her sculptural work has turned a bit to a focus on documentation by photography. On one wall a matrix of photos of plastic cones from road construction sites shows an astonishing variety of sizes, colors, shapes, and patterns. All the photos have the same number of cones positioned in the same way, and they are mostly the same, but from one photo to the next, one cone is swapped out with another, making for a gradual evolution, like change ringing bells at an Anglican church. After a certain number of rounds, it’s completely different.

Next to that is another photo of cones, this time a scattering of them in the road, tossed from the roof of the building and then photographed from above. Some landed upright, but most are on their sides. Entropy rules.  Is this a crime scene? What happened here? Yeager means not to tell a story, but to give just enough information to make you wonder. It has a little bit in common with an Andy Goldsworthy photodocumentation, but if the Scottsman were interested not in nature, beauty and its order, but instead man-made, city life, its randomness, and the potential humor to be found there.

Yeager doesn’t have a plan for her work during the Madison Residency as part of the Cleveland Foundation’s Creative Fusion program, preferring instead to let something present itself. But her interests have plenty of possibility for revealing the city to its residents. “Lately I’ve been thinking about things in terms of their origin story. How did it happen?”

But it’s more about enabling viewers than about story telling. “I’m not telling you the story. You are telling it yourself. I want the material to be accessible and easily spark analysis or give gratification.” That’s why I like found objects, because they have layers to their story.”