Interview: William Lamson

Joshua Ballew: What do you feel are the benefits of utilizing video compared to photography, and how do you decide which is most appropriate?

William Lamson: Although I will often use both in the same project, I tend to use video when I am interested in the process of an action more than its result, and I use photography when the reverse is true.

Still from Hunt and Gather © William Lamson

Joshua Ballew: How does the ephemeral nature of
many of your projects reflect your intent as an artist?

William Lamson: On a practical level, since most of my projects involve an action, there is rarely a place for anything more permanent than a photograph or video in the work. I make things to do something, and once its done, it is incredibly satisfying to take it apart, and put the materials away and have an empty studio to work in again. In this way I think my practice reflects my interest in processes that happen in time and which often disappear completely once they have taken place.

Still from Automatic © William Lamson

Joshua Ballew: What role does humor play with your work?

William Lamson: I think its great when a work can make people laugh. Most contemporary art is not funny, in fact, I think artists are worried that by making people laugh they might not be taken seriously. This is regrettable, since work that can make people laugh has the power to reach a much wider audience. In my own work, I have never made anything just to be funny. I think this would be too hard. Even in works where the action itself is obviously "funny" like in Vital Capacity where balloons are exploding on my face, there is always something else that interests me in that action which is my primary motivation for doing the work. In Vital Capacity I was interested in creating a Sisyphean system between my breath pushing balloons upwards and the force of gravity pulling them down. In this scenario, the best I could ever do is to create a temporary equilibrium between there forces, a delicate balance that in some moments even creates an intimate tension. But in the end, gravity will always win, and in this case it means that something funny happens. However, since the piece is 8 minutes long, what is funny at first becomes something much darker by the end.

Still from Vital Capacity © William Lamson

Joshua Ballew: What is the importance of outside involvement/engagement within your projects such as Work and Trade and Long Shot?

William Lamson: In Work and Trade, O set up a system in which I would trade viewers a drawing made from a lo-tech apparatus that I set up in the gallery, for anything they would offer me. The traded object would then become part of the collection on display in the gallery. This project was the first time I engaged with the audience directly, which was exciting, but the most important part of this experience was that it allowed an unpredictable element to enter the show. I was quite surprised at the range of objects that people brought in. There were of course things I expected, pens, key chains, soda cans and other oblivious stuff that a viewer might be carrying and which they did not particularly value. What was really interesting, was how many people chose to trade something that was also not worth very much in dollars, but had significance: a lock of hair, a photograph of a family member, keys to their apt. These objects added a complexity to the installation that I could not have constructed myself.

Although Long Shot also depends upon audience participation, it does so without involving me. Viewers were invited to play basketball on hoop that I made which was twice the size and height of a standard rim. In this process, the viewer became immediately aware of their own strength and limitations. But the idea was not to make them experience failure, but rather to recall a time in their childhood when they were barely strong enough to throw a basketball through a standard size hoop.

Joshua Ballew: Where does your interest in the use of natural elements such as wind, water, and sunlight derive from?

William Lamson: I have been making videos in the landscape since grad-school, and in these older pieces the landscape functioned as both a physical and metaphysical background for the pieces. For example in Monument Valley Flight Attempt, I use a 100 ft cliff to test a 9 ft enlarged paper airplane, but the grandeur of the location is in some ways as important as the height of the cliff. In this case, the representation of the landscape functions as the force itself, one which the protagonist in the video hopes will help him in his flight endeavor.

More recently, I have engaged these natural forces directly, employing their power to help make the work. This year I made a video called A Line Describing the Sun in which I followed the path of the sun all day with a large fresnel lens, slowly burning a black glassy hemispherical mark in the lake-bed floor. In this piece, I could control the size of the mark by adjusting he angle of the bike wheel and by changing my pace, but I could not change the basic shape of the mark. This was determined by the angle of the sun and its location in the sky throughout the day. All of my works in the landscape essentially function this way, they start with the forces that are already at play and then I adapt what I do to the conditions at hand. In this way I see my practice as an act of facilitation making visible something that is already there.

More of William Lamson's work can be found at his website at:

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