UMassD resident artist Lo presents: “Community is a question”

By Staff Writer James Mellen III.

While UMassD has many popular and well-represented positions and programs on campus, one that may fly under the radar is our artist-in-residence program.

This position was filled by last year’s artist-in-residence Roz Crews. The position is rotational, meaning that every year a new artist comes to campus to do their work. 2018-2019’s academic year featured Connecticut native Lauren “Lo” Moran. The Torch interviewed Lo to gain their insights on what this program is and the work that they are doing.

Traditionally, an artist-in-residence position is a position that gives artists a place to live so they have time to make work and can create art about the area that surrounds them. An example of this might be a painter who is in residence at a beach, in order to paint the ocean.

This might seem like a strange fit for the UMassD campus, because while the architecture at our campus is objectively unique, it tends to defy normal descriptions of beauty. But this is exactly where Lo and their work comes in.

Lo focuses on a non-traditional type of art called socially engaged art. Their art works with people in a variety of ways. One way in particular is co-authorship, making art with people rather than making art to show people.

Socially engaged art is a growing field of art in regards to the academia, emerged from performance, activist and conceptual art. Socially engaged art is inherently interdisciplinary and political. This is art that you won’t see in a museum or a gallery.

Lo started as an illustration undergraduate; however, illustration quickly proved too solitary for Lo, who didn’t want to make art by themselves. Lo wanted to make art that was accessible and democratic, not just marketable in some gallery.

So, Lo spent two years in AmeriCorps where they worked intensely with the disability community, a group of people whose art is rarely seen.

They put special emphasis on non-traditional, non-hierarchical learning, and so they moved to Tucson, Arizona to start a community print shop. In Tucson they worked for University of Arizona, a day program for disabled people.

Lo discovered socially engaged art, something they describe as “a word that I’ve always wanted to have to describe what I wanted to be doing.” They then moved to Portland, Oregon to pursue a graduate program at Portland State University, that was focused on non-traditional art and experiential learning.

Lo Moran has since done twenty socially engaged art projects on topics ranging from race to apathy to inside jokes. Readers of The Torch can see Lo’s art projects at their website Laurengracemoran.com.

The project they are currently working on during their residency at UMassD is called “Community is a Question.” This project is inspired by their interest in the community and community-based learning.

Lo feels as though they learn best in a community, and not a classroom. Lo thinks that community-based learning gives everyone an opportunity to participate and grow. The project works with different artists on a bunch of little projects to compile into a book compilation.

However, Lo “kind of hates the word community” and feels like “community is an underrated part of education or is at least uncool.” None the less, Lo feels as though it’s the only word they could use for what they want to describe. This dissonance is what inspired the project, Lo set out to find what community means past the dictionary definition. The definition of community has never been more fluid as the internet fosters online communities.

Lo’s art builds community on campus through a variety of socially engaged art projects.

Lo’s community building is done through many methods such as shared activities, identity, or space.

One of their favorite activities that builds community is their ongoing karaoke project.
Lo considers karaoke to be a high art of infinite jest and great fancy, as it “helps people get out of their shell, and gives people a safe way to be vulnerable.”

They also build community on campus through identity and solidarity, like their collaborative project done in remembrance of the twenty-eight individuals who lost their lives due to anti-trans violence in 2018. Genderpunks, The Center for Women Gender and Sexuality, and classes focused on social justice came together to work on this project. The end result was a painting that nearly one-hundred people worked on.

Location, space, and how they relate to community are also a focal point of Lo’s project.

Lo worked with the Sustainability Department and a sculpture class to make a portal (entrance) to the trails on campus. Aspects of the portal are representative of history while using the structures of the forest to display this exhibition.

Lo also worked on the Making Space event, which christened The Dive as a student location on campus.

The event included a special meeting of Fishbowl, mock Rocky horror tryouts courtesy of 20 Cent Fiction, a few local music acts, and of course karaoke.

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