For much of her career, Lucia Simek's work revolved around what she describes as, "the grand adventure of domesticity." Her exhibition at the Dallas Contemporary (a collaboration with Kristen Cochran) was made from marble, which she describes as an aspirational stone, a material that represents or projects a certain image. In this way, she used her artistic process to explore homemaking as a grandiose attempt at something. But last year, Simek, a mother of three, found her interests diverted. Her life was imploding, and she needed to get out of Dallas. She loaded her kids into the car, and drove to Yellowstone to visit family. There, she began to create her solo exhibition Occiput, which opens at The Reading Room this Saturday.
For Simek, the trip was a sort of self-exile. And in Wyoming, she found her personal turmoil reflected by the landscape at the base of the active, but quiet volcano. She imagined Cormac McCarthy's The Road manifesting should Yellowstone explode, yet the landscape had never seemed quite so beautiful to her. Everything around her dripped with significance, her own emotions imbued by the outside world. And that significance seemed worth documenting, so she began using her phone to capture images and create a series of 10-second videos, with Wyoming and its scenery becoming an overarching metaphor for her personal life.
You've been working on this show Occiput for a year. Where did it come from?
It was all kind of born of disaster: Things in my private life kind of falling apart, and then going on an adventure with my three kids, setting off to have a fresh start for things. What I was feeling was met in the landscape. It was totally enormous and endless and complicated and just as dangerous as everything I was feeling.
When you look back now at what were then symbols of conflict, are they different a year later?
I was looking for proof of the fact that instability is beneath the surface of everything, like ants and their colonies under flat ground. Or geysers ready to explode. I was attracted to, or it resonated, the violence. But this year we went back and I was like ,"Oh, the horses are so pretty."
Everyone has this latent fear of life, but when it happens, when the worst happens, afterward does everything become more beautiful?
That's it. That's totally it. I've never been so aware of the world, or more sensitive to it, as I was at this point when I was the most devastated. It was so incredible to have my eyes open to the world in that way. You feel numb on one level, but you feel it on your skin. Crisis makes part of your mind open in ways that maybe it wouldn't be otherwise.
In this show, many of the works are constructed by other people. Is it difficult to create something so personal and rely on other people to bring it to fruition?
Yeah, I mean all of it sort of acts in a really funny way. Some of the collaboration was really deliberate. The videos I couldn't make on my own, so I asked an artist to do it. But there are other things that were deeply collaborative. A friend I've known for a very long time, who has a lovely homestead in New Hampshire where I grew up, had a very similar experience in her family this year so I asked her to knit me two pairs of socks. I designed the socks, I wanted text on it, so I designed the pattern and sent it to her and she's knitting me two pairs of socks. It's very much a task given to her to fulfill, but in a way I couldn't do on my own. I literally don't know how to do this, but she does. To me it's a deeply meaningful collaboration, because what I realized in the course of the year is that when you do suffer crisis you look for alliances. You look for some way of feeling better anchored. I also love the idea of asking a non-artist to participate in the artistic act.
Do you see a relation to this show and previous work?
People kept saying that it was an extension of what I always was doing and I didn't see it at first. I mean, I was doing work focused on an Arctic explorer whose hot air balloon landed and crashed and he wandered for four months and eventually froze to death. I didn't see the connection from that to what I was thinking about with this, but as soon as I was aware of it, it really is the same. I have been interested in this narrative that has to go over a hurdle or trips or a mistake is made — that idea of the disconnect or the impasse or something going awry has always been there. My place within it is different.
Is that because of your perspective on where the work comes from?
I guess what's compelling about nature and the landscape and the things I could never see properly until I was forced to look at them in a new way, is the story written into the science of the world is compelling. It's so rich and crazy and outside of our grasp. It's the thing I hope is the most clear in all of it. It's funny because we see and we don't see. The show is about Occiput, which is the back of the head which controls sight. Skull is the occiput, brain is the occipital and it's the part of the body that controls sight and it's the part we'll never actually see. And this year, it's seemed that literally all the anxiety sits right there (points at the back of head).
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And, this is probably not scientific, but it's probably also why you feel so connected to the things you're looking at.
Yeah, and the idea of the unseen manifests in places of geological tumult as well. It's always that thing beneath the surface you don't notice that poses the threat. As you're waiting for Old Faithful to blow, you're sitting on the bleachers feeling safe because you're not next to the geyser but it actually doesn't matter at all cause you're sitting still on the mouth of the volcano and you have to accept that and choose not to be terrified of that.
And trust the human mechanisms we've set up will keep us safe.
Yeah, there's this whole system of trust and dependence going on that you have to choose, because otherwise you just go screaming in panic out of the park.
Now that you're looking to it as something people will actually see, is it scary or cathartic?
It's really cathartic for me. I think this year, it's been really important to think there's an alchemy between experience and what can come from it. There's a real transformation that if I let it, it will happen.
See Occiput in an opening reception from 7-9 p.m. Saturday. More at thereadingroom.blogspot.com.