The Department of Digital + Media
Rhode Island School of Design

D+M Visiting Artist Series: Laura Swanson

Laura Swanson is an artist examining cultural representation of the socially stigmatized body, working across various media including drawing, installation, photography, sculpture, and video. Pulling from multiple sources – art history, commercial display, critical theory, personal experience, photography, popular culture, sociology – her visual language is simultaneously playful and serious, simple and intricate, inviting and disruptive. Her work centers around a critical examination of the behavior of looking at physical difference: how the body is visually depicted, exploited, and objectified in culture, the unexpected moment of recognition in everyday life, and the psychological effects of being socially marginalized. As reductive representation of difference persists in culture, she works to counter and destabilize these images in order to remove bodies from the lens of objectification and transform static moments of looking into dynamic spaces for thinking about complex embodiments.

Much of her work explores the dominant cultural bias toward a sameness of things, especially adult bodies. Swanson often references the seemingly theatrical spectacle of her short-statured body situated next to the 6 foot tall body of her husband. Compelled to remove their bodies from objectification, she resists representation by anthropomorphizing ready-made objects and deconstructing conventional portraiture to simultaneously create an image of solidarity and examine the desire to look at conspicuous physical differences. The safeguarding of agency is asserted in a series of self-portraits and iconic uniforms in which her identity is concealed, and through her fantastical dwelling spaces, which provide refuge to read critical theory in pursuit of intellectual liberation.

Born in Minneapolis, Swanson received her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2011 and BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2008. Her work has been exhibited within the United States at the RISD Museum of Art, Camera Club of New York, and San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, and internationally at Arsenal in Berlin, Germany, Media Art Gallery in Warsaw, Poland, and in South Korea at the Jeju Museum of Contemporary Art. She has an upcoming solo exhibition at the Laurie M. Tisch Gallery in New York, NY, in March 2016.

Swanson was a National Endowment for the Arts John Renna Scholar in 2008-2010, Jacob K. Javits Fellow in 2010-2011, and received a Wynn Newhouse Award from the Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation in 2013. Her work is held in collection at the Jeju Museum of Contemporary Art in Jeju, South Korea. She lives and works in New York, NY.