Vivian Acosta: Lauren Shapiro 2021

“I wanted them to feel like they were part of something greater than themselves. I think that’s the power of art– to create something greater than yourself.” -Lauren Shapiro

Student Bio

Photo by John Bailly CC BY 4.0

My name is Vivian Acosta, and I am a senior at Florida International University majoring in psychology. I enjoy helping others, and I aspire to contribute to others’ well-being wherever I set my foot throughout my career. After exploring different psychology areas, I discovered that helping organizations create a healthy environment for their employees is what I wish to devote my time into; therefore, I am specializing in industrial-organizational psychology.

I enjoy learning about different cultures, history, and societal issues. I believe that all of these themes merge through art, which I find fascinating.

Biography

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0
Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

Lauren Shapiro is a visual artist who was born and raised in Florida. As a child, she spent a lot of her time exploring nature outdoors. She enjoyed camping, snorkeling, and practicing different activities out in nature. Her early exposure to natural surroundings gave her a great integration with nature at a young age.

Lauren earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Florida Atlantic University, where she discovered her passion for ceramics after taking a wheel throwing course “by accident,” she highlights. She was a painter for many years. Her career interest shifted during her undergraduate studies after taking several ceramics classes and discovering her passion and talent for this art form.

Lauren Shapiro earned her Master of Fine Arts in Ceramics at the University of Miami, focusing on slip casting and mold making. After her graduate career, she began to look through Miami’s lens and communicate the environmental issues she saw here. Her environmental activism is reflected in her latest projects. Her works are inspired by nature and environmental research. Lauren is currently an artist in residence at the Bakehouse Art complex.

Personal Identity

Photo by Andrea Sofia R. Matos CC BY 4.0

Lauren has always had a special connection with the environment. When she was six, she joined the girl scouts and was a member for about ten years—as a result, camping and exploring were a memorable part of her childhood. She also enjoyed going snorkeling, doing beach cleanups, and different kinds of activities out in nature. Lauren participated in several educational programs that taught her about diverse ecosystems. She admired nature and was interested in learning about its “magic.” As a young adult, Lauren enjoyed traveling to unique locations with natural wonders. She mentions that possibly her exposure to nature as a young girl influenced her interests later on. Ever since she was little, she has been fascinated by nature and drawn to it. Today, her passion for the environment is reflected in her work.

Lauren believes that her subject of interest resulted from a natural progression from being an explorer girl to creating things she admires, loves, and is inspired by. She intends to share the beauty of our environment with the community while highlighting its fragileness. Through her works, Lauren aims to encourage environmental stewardship. By communicating our current ecological issues and highlighting nature’s beauty, Lauren’s projects can spark a desire for change in the community, contributing to saving the beautiful environment she admires.     

Cultural Identity

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

Lauren is a Miami-based artist who focuses on the numerous environmental issues of Miami. She looks at the many environmental concerns of this city and often expresses them through her work. She aims to communicate these issues to the local community using her projects as vehicles to reach the public.

Community engagement is a big part of Lauren’s work. In several of her projects, she invites the community to help her make her art pieces. She uses these opportunities to call attention to environmental concerns such as red tides, rising sea levels, mortality of corals, water quality degradation, etc. These subjects are often covered in the news or educational settings, but unfortunately, it does not get communicated to everyone. Lauren feels a sense of responsibility to spread the word and raise awareness of Miami’s harmful trends.

When asked about her cultural identity, she highlighted that America is very colorful and that it is a mixture of all sorts of diversity. She touched on her descent and mentioned that one side of her family immigrated from Poland and Russia, and the other side was from the South. She noted that in the future, she would like to explore the implications of her ancestry.  Half of her ancestors were Holocaust survivors, while the other half were colonists. She would like to interpret the meaning of these two merging worlds in her work in the future. As of now, she focuses on environmental themes.

Subject of artwork

Photo by Andrea Sofia R. Matos CC BY 4.0

Lauren’s work is inspired by nature and the environment. Florida’s tropical ecology has been a significant influence in her artwork (Lauren Shapiro).  She creates things that emulate nature and the life cycle of living things, which starts with growth, and decays over time. Lauren is also fascinated by tipping points and how everything in our environment is interconnected. She reflects her fascination for natural systems in her work. Lauren also highlights the current environmental issues we are experiencing. She enjoys playing with different aspects of nature.

Lauren communicates research findings and educates the public on environmental concerns. Lauren communicates these issues in a conceptual way while making art inspired by nature with the local community. While engaging with the community, she calls attention to topics such as climate change, sea-level rise, pollution, etc. Often, these topics aren’t communicated effectively to the public, and it is crucial for people to understand what’s going on for them to take action. Lauren aims to inspire the community through her projects and encourage environmental stewardship. While molding textures in clay, Lauren teaches the community how and why we should protect our ecosystems (Lauren Shapiro).

The environmental issues Lauren focuses on in her work should be concerns for everyone on this planet. A lot of people ignore these issues or just discredit their veracity. Through her projects, Lauren clears any misconceptions and shares accurate information. Hundreds of people attend her workshops! Lauren has the power to capture an audience that science often can’t reach.

I believe that her work does impact people. It makes them feel a special connection with the environment. At Lauren’s workshops, people create replicas of things naturally found in our environment, which are disappearing due to our actions. This memorable experience definitely inspires one to take action. Lauren mentions that she believes that her work does affect social change at little individual levels. It is our responsibility to collectively get the upper management to attend to these issues.

A small change is better than no change at all. After all, “small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world” (Zinn).

Formal Elements Of artwork

Photo by Andrea Sofia R. Matos CC BY 4.0

Lauren often uses materials such as plaster and clay in her work. Naturally, these mediums require careful and methodological handling. After seeing some of her works, it was no surprise when she informed me about her creative process. Lauren describes her work as being organized and structured. She plans and performs her projects meticulously. She makes molds, then figures using these molds, and adds them to the main structure, which was also thoroughly planned and arranged. Perhaps one of the only random procedures in her process is adding the pieces to the main structure. Lauren mentioned that even with some of her projects that seem expressionistic, there was a structure in place when making it. She emphasizes that in her work, she works with a lot of systems.

Lauren is interested in nature’s design. She chooses elements that emulate nature in her works. When it comes to shape, most of her works replicate shapes found in nature. Leaves, fruits, and corals are some of the forms she has played with in her past works. She also incorporates soft, organic geometry. She often includes hexagons in her works. Lauren describes them as the most space-saving shape and highlights that they are hidden all over nature– She mentioned honeycombs and plant cells as an example. When it comes to color, she gravitates towards colors that are more indicative of natural hues. Lauren avoids shine, adds matte finishes, and opts for muted tones.

EXHIBITION AND PROJECT HISTORY

Garden House:

The first time Lauren Shapiro involved the community in her work was in her project called Garden House in 2017. This piece is a column covered with clay sculptures. Lauren studied the common plants in Miami and cast leaves and nature’s textures in silicon molds. Then, she pressed the clay into the molds and made forms of things found in our environment with the community’s help.

This artwork was fragile purposely; the clay was unfired so it could fall apart and crumble after a short period. This piece could be seen as a metaphor for what really goes on in our environment. When working on this project, Lauren was running out of time and had a lot of clay to add to the column, so she asked the community for help. They were excited to be a part of her project—the community’s interest in helping surprised Lauren and inspired her to invite them to future projects. This piece was exhibited during Art Basel at the Downtown Historic Office (Domus Hortus).

Future Pacific:

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

Lauren collaborated with Doctor Nyssa Silbiger for this project. Doctor Nyssa researches the effects human-driven stressors have on coral reefs. Doctor Nyssa wanted to communicate her studies through a medium that would reach a broader audience. Doctor Nyssa reached out to Lauren, and Lauren came up with the idea of creating art with the community

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

Lauren made silicone molds of different kinds of coral skeletons. Then, the community was invited to press clay into these molds and add their coral skeletons (made from clay) to several architectural structures until such structures were completely covered in corals.

Lauren used unfired clay to mimic the fragility of these corals in their natural ecosystems. With time, the coral skeletons made out of clay began to crack and fall apart, just like the corals underwater being destroyed thanks to our unsustainable actions.

Through this project, Lauren aimed to communicate what’s happening to the rainforests of the oceans. She also highlighted their beauty and importance. Lauren encouraged sustainable practices that would contribute to our ecosystems’ well-being while creating with the community. Future Pacific was exhibited at the Bakehouse Art Complex.

Molding the Future:

Photo by Luz Mariana CC BY 4.0

This project is a permanent ceramic sculpture made by Lauren and the local community.  It will be exhibited in June 2021 at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Participants will have the opportunity to press clay into molds of leaves found in our local landscape. The final result will highlight the beauty of our tropical ecosystems. Lauren aims to draw attention to our ecosystem’s beauty and encourage people to appreciate it and care for it. The clay in this work will be fired, meaning that it is not a temporary piece like the ones mentioned previously. The community will contribute to a permanent artwork that will be displayed in nature.

Student perspective

Photo by Andrea Sofia R. Matos CC BY 4.0

While working with Lauren, I learned several things about the environment and art—two subjects that I only imagined them merging in paintings or photographs of landscapes. I severely underestimated art’s power and voice. I was aware of art’s versatility, but I never imagined it as a medium to spread awareness on environmental issues. Through art, the message reaches more people, and it sticks with them. Art evokes emotions, and emotions influence our actions. Making art about these beautiful things in nature while learning about their destruction is definitely touching. These sentiments put us in a position to want to do something about these issues. After playing with leaves and corals that are originally found in the environment, we experience some type of connection with nature– as a result, a sense of responsibility. What can we do about it? Where do we start? Change begins with a thought, an idea, but first, we have to notice and acknowledge that there is a problem. Even though the media and science miss some of the public when informing about these issues, projects like Future Pacific and Molding the Future express the message more effectively.

I greatly enjoy how Lauren merges two things she’s passionate about, art and the environment, and makes something beautiful from it. Not only she voices her interest in nature in her work, but she also uses it as a vehicle to communicate the beauty, vulnerability, and power of nature. This is a brilliant way to allow the community to experience nature. From these experiences, people are also learning about nature and hopefully caring about it as well. Once people care, they’re ready to protect. We can’t force people to protect something they don’t care about or have a connection with—I feel like Lauren’s projects offer this connection that people need to feel inspired to make a change.

The temperatures are increasing all over the world, and they are throwing off the ecosystems of many species. Our air and water are being polluted. As a result, we’re breathing in more toxins, and the water quality is becoming more acidic. Our sea levels are rising; consequently, we’re experiencing more flooding and harsher precipitations. The areas with the most diverse species are being cleared, and many of these species are disappearing. We are harming our environment with our actions, and we are not looking back at the disaster we are leaving behind. I guess it just hurts less when we don’t take responsibility and toss it to someone else. Taking these issues and making something beautiful from it makes it difficult to look away. Lauren does an excellent job calling attention to these kinds of problems and communicating them in an accessible way. I had the opportunity to attend one of Lauren’s workshops for Future Pacific, and I did numerous coral skeletons from clay. I added them one by one to some structures; however, they were very large, and my twenty coral skeletons didn’t cover much of it. Months later, I went back to Bakehouse Art Complex to see the final result. When I saw the exhibition, I felt proud. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I made parts of that work, and so did many more individuals from the community. These projects are evidence of our power as a community when we get together to reach a common goal.

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

I learned about the process of making artworks. Artists work so hard in preparing and doing their works. Approximately three hundred people assisted Lauren’s Future Pacific workshop, and she needed more help to complete her piece. Artists dedicate their time and energy to their beautiful projects, and we don’t tend to think about what goes on behind the scenes when looking at their stunning results. I was surprised when Lauren told me about how difficult it was to get the coral skeletons she needed to make silicone molds of them. I also saw Lauren kneading these big balls of clay–it looked exhausting. It made me realize that these powerful works require strength, patience, and effort. Artists deserve more recognition. I greatly admire Lauren’s works, ideas, and creative ways of inspiring the change we need in our world.

Citations

“Domus Hortus.” Lauren Shapiro, laurenshapiroart.com/domus-hortus-1. 

Lauren Shapiro. laurenshapiroart.com/cv/contact. 

Zinn, Howard. “‘Small Acts, When Multiplied by Millions of People, Can Transform the World.”.” Journey Academy, Journey Academy Https://Journeyacademy.org/Wp-Content/Uploads/2020/12/Journey-Logo-Small-1-300×138.Png, 17 May 2019, journeyacademy.org/2019/05/17/small-acts-when-multiplied-by-millions-of-people-can-transform-the-world/.

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