In conversation: Lu Agnew
Step into the vibrant and thought-provoking world of Lu Agnew, a nonbinary, Chilean-American artist and philosopher. Through their experimental and ever-changing body of work, Lu aims to open minds and explore the depths of humanity, challenging societal norms and unraveling the complexities of gender, time, and the human spirit. Join us in this insightful interview as Lu shares the inspiration behind their creations and advocates for a deeper connection to life through art.
27 de janeiro de 2024
Can you start by providing an outline of your work?
My work is experimental and ever-changing– I aim to make things that have not existed before and have the ability to open people up. World-traveling, the idea of being able to take someone out of their world into a new one, is something that inspires me to make art.
Looking at your body of work, you often explore gender identity, the passage of time, and depictions of the human spirit. Can you share more about your motivation to dedicate your practice to these concepts?
I have always been fascinated with the relationship between the natural world and humanity. With this interest, I worked to pull apart what it means to be human on the deepest levels– Who are you? What is your purpose? What does your life mean? These are the sorts of questions I raise with my work. Furthermore, time is relevant in my work because it is the ultimate commodity. We only have so much time to answer these questions and, more broadly, to experience the world. I enjoy creating work that includes a time-based element because of this.
In your pieces, I can clearly see the process of creation. Can you tell us why you enjoy allowing the process to remain visible in much of your work?
Process is what motivates me. I believe that the key to fulfilment is finding what you like doing and then spending your time doing that! For me, I like making. I like working through questions and problems through the freedom of multimedia art. Allowing the process to remain evident in my work rather than polishing it to a clean perfection brings viewers into this act of making that I love so deeply, giving them more insight into how the work came to be.
One of your submitted pieces, "Transaction," is a powerful representation of resistance to assigned gender norms and the experience of dysphoria. Could you delve into the inspiration and creative process behind this particular video project?
Transaction was a piece that I created rather impulsively (it was thought of, recorded, and edited all within a few days) but it stems from tensions that I have toiled with for many years. As a non-binary person growing up in conservative Indiana, I did not have words to describe the way I saw myself. I didn’t have other people around me who understood dysphoria and, with this, I felt trapped with myself. “Transaction” aims to display the feeling of dysphoria, giving other genderqueer people a piece of art that they can identify with and giving people who do not struggle with their gender identity insight into what this struggle looks like.
In your painting "Purple,", you explore the duality between masculine and feminine, chaos, and balance. How do you approach the use of color, form, and texture to convey these complex ideas in your painting?
Abstract expressionism has always been an inspiring art movement to me. I love allowing color and form to flow freely, not adhering to any preconceived plans or rules. With this approach, the idea of androgyny (both with regards to gender and more broadly) comes forth. The freedom of abstraction mirrors the freedom of androgyny. There are no rules, answers, or agendas– there simply is what there is. In “Purple”, I balance blue with pink and a wide array of other colors, intending to stimulate visual chaos and evoke this sense of androgynous freedom.
"Wax bikini" addresses the imbalance of expectations imposed on women and feminine individuals. Can you discuss the significance of using the waste from the waxing process to create the form of a bikini and the pain embedded in this piece?
Hair holds power, as does its removal. To shave, to wax, to let hair grow– these are all choices one must make again and again. All people are faced with these choices but women, and feminine people more generally, are particularly plagued by these decisions. A beautiful woman is expected to have long flowing hair, a slim but shapely body, and silky hairless skin. With this pressure, there exists a clear imbalance of autonomy. Wax bikini, playing on the term bikini wax, aims to capture the absurdity of this imbalance and put on display some of its most essential aspects. Pain, uprooting, cleansing, stripping, and a certain loss of the self are all embodied in this work.
Your work provides a unique perspective on the struggles and complexities of gender. How do you hope viewers, especially those who may not actively grapple with their gender identity, will engage with and understand your body of work?
I hope that my work makes them think and care. Contemporary society is littered with technology that promises to create a “care-free” life– we no longer need to go to the store to get groceries, we can just have them delivered; we no longer need to go out to meet people, we can just interact through social media; we no longer need to think to write, we can just as an AI chatbot to write for us. With this thinking and caring are no longer requirements in life. So much of our society revolves around this ethic of de-caring and I find that incredibly dangerous. My goal as an artist is to work against this trend.
In your opinion, how can art be a positive driving force in the current contemporary atmosphere?
Art opens people up and makes them question what they typically take for granted. Now, more than ever, people need this.
Do you have any projects in the works that you can talk about?
I am currently working on a project where I will be handbuilding one life-sized hand out of clay everyday for three months. I am interested in exploring the process of repetition that goes into a daily creative ritual. Furthermore, in making so many hands (about 100), I want to open up ideas of commodification and criticize the capitalist tendency to mass-produce anything that consumers will buy. Millions of people spend their lives in factories tirelessly repeating the same gesture as part of an assembly line to create some product that no one really needs, but some people want, and therefore corporations can profit from it. The hand symbolizes freedom and humanity but, by taking the time to mass-produce these hands, by hand, I hope to highlight the absurdity of unnecessary mass-production and the harmfulness of forcing someone to waste their time repeatedly making a product again and again and again, treating these people as machine and robbing them of freedom.
What message or call to action would you like to leave our readers with?
In the end, life can be broken down into two things: being and doing. At any given moment, you are either doing something or just simply being. This may seem incredibly obvious, but it is important to recognize because it gives us a way to start understanding how to lead a fulfilling life. It is important to take the time to just be because, after all, we are human beings. Finding who you want to be and then being present as that person is incredibly important. Life cannot be appreciated when you are always busy progressing towards something. At the same time, life is not meaningful unless you do something! I love making art, so that’s what I choose to spend my time doing. My advice, as a 21-year-old who knows very little about anything, is to find what you like to do and do it. Even if it's just a few minutes a day, setting aside time to do what you love or to figure out what it is that you love is the key to finding fulfillment. And then, in the remaining time, just be. As you work, as you run errands, as you sit with friends, really be there. In doing and being, we find a good life.
For more, please visit luagnew.com
Purple by Lu Agnew. Image courtesy of Lu Agnew
Lu Agnew is a nonbinary, Chilean-American artist and thinker whose work is meant to open people up and bring them into a world different from what they know. More specifically, Lu aims to shed light on what we are doing and where we are going as a society and as individuals, in order to bring attention to issues that people ordinarily ignore.
Studying Philosophy at UC Berkeley, Lu is fascinated with the idea of artistically conveying philosophical concepts that are generally inaccessible in everyday life. The human spirit, the unity of opposites, the complexities of individual identity, the constructedness of time– these are all topics that inspire their work.
As a genderqueer person raised in a conservative Midwestern town, Lu has always used art as a way to release internal tensions that have nowhere else to go. They allow the process of creation to remain visible in their work, electing to include chaotic brush strokes, unconventional materials, raw footage, and other unedited elements to maintain the authenticity of these expressive experiences. With this, they work to create things that have never been created before, inviting others to experience something new.