Ol’ Dirty. dirt, plywood, canvas, trash, 6’ x 7’ x 28” {November 2013} Lee Lavy.

Lee Lavy and I are MFA candidates at University of California Berkeley. Our studios are at the UC Berkeley Richmond Field Station (RFS), a satellite campus of sorts that mostly houses large scale engineering and research projects. There’s a huge earthquake simulator, for example, and countless other projects that I haven’t quite figured out yet. There are folks building drones, race cars, and whatever this is. And if you look out yonder you can see the Bay and the San Francisco skyline. The campus closes to the public after regular hours so on the weekends it can feel like a semi deserted lunar base with dozens of young people building and making things late into the night.

There are also a couple of turkeys running around. And a healthy population of stray cats.


UC Berkeley Richmond Field Station. Courtesy of Lee Lavy.


UC Berkeley Richmond Field Station. Courtesy of Lee Lavy.

I mention the UC Berkeley studios because for most of us the site of production matters, especially if you are interested in issues of site and in found and reclaimed objects. Lee often uses discarded materials in his practice, materials that you might find packed away in a old garage; materials that are almost talismanic in their obsolescence. Lee tells me about the found objects he incorporates into his studio practice:

{I’m interested in objects that were once used in high circulation for industry production but no longer serve a functional value for contemporary, practical uses. The gears, belts and other flotsam once dependable for running machinery for the now defunct Weber Bread Factory in San Diego have fallen out of favor for technological advances. The discarded colors of gallon paint cans that I collected from a house painting company in Sacramento are out of fashion and left to sit idle. These materials no longer serve their intended purpose. They have become obsolete, hidden in attic spaces and on basement shelves–Time capsuled.} LL

06 Lavy

Belt and Colored Coded Gears. found belt and spray painted found gears, bolts, gauges and various hardware, 76” x 72” x 72” {February 2013} Lee Lavy.

It’s about history as much as it is about materiality. Last year he produced an installation for Bread and Salt in San Diego using discarded mechanical gears that he found in the attic of their new building. He reconstructed the way they had been stored and forgotten. In a way, the work was as much about the obsolete objects themselves as it was about the trace of the hand that had arranged and stored them years or decades ago:

{Finding and using these objects is a way for me to interact with the not so distant past by creating a new existential meaning for the forgotten materials. Their physicality alters when gathered and arranged in a new context. By arranging an inventory of gears, bolts and various other mechanical parts and coloring them or by placing them on a canvas and stripping them of their rust, I give them new ontological value.} LL


House Paint Excavation (details). latex paint, 2×4’s, plywood, painted wall, table = 60” x 33” x 27”, wall = 8’ x 18’. {2014} Lee Lavy.


House Paint Excavation and All Colors Combined. latex paint, 2×4’s, plywood, painted wall, table = 60” x 33” x 27”, wall = 8’ x 18’. {April 2014-Ongoing Project} Lee Lavy.

Most recently he used the hardened paint found inside discarded paint cans. It may have been the perfect metaphor for his practice — cracking open the object and using its history as a kind of found sculpture:

{Hardening and extracting discarded paint from it’s can brings about a new physical form. Paint as solid physical volume becomes a relic. Mineral-like in their appearance, strange and unnatural, useless in their can-less nudity–these objects have been excavated from their old use-value and placed on a new contextual plain brimming with visual mystery. Beyond the interesting visual physicality of the objects, the site of collection becomes important. If a collection of paints from a particular site is assembled, then a discourse surrounding that specific color and the identity of the site begins to take shape.} LL

So perhaps it’s natural that Lee is interested in leaving the object behind (at least for now) in favor of a more research based practice. A few months ago he travelled to Los Angeles to excavate ideas regarding something that lies deep below ground: the Hollywood Fault.

{LA’s famous history of quaking has forced developers to have to comply with strict building practices. One of those practices being that a project must be built at least 50 feet away from a known fault zone. Since Los Angeles was built out and covered with over a century’s worth of concrete and asphalt, it has proven to be a very difficult task in identifying where exactly a fault line might exist. This hidden fault identification is precisely the dilemma for the Millennium Tower project (currently under development), a double tower 45 story set of high rises. Due to strong opposition to the project, the State Geology Survey drafted a map of the Hollywood fault in January of this year. The map places Millennium as sitting directly within the fault zone. Millennium is now digging a trench at Hollywood Blvd and Argyle St next to the iconic Capital Records building. The trench is an attempt to visually identify whether or not the fault runs beneath the property.} LL


Looking for the Hollywood Fault. archival digital print, 20” x 30” {May 2014} Lee Lavy.


Hollywood Fault (Working Title). walking GPS, iPhone pictures, Adobe Illustrator, 6.9 Miles {January-Ongoing Project} Lee Lavy.

{With reference to the map, I walked the 6.9 miles of fault running through Hollywood. I mapped the walk on my phone’s GPS, creating a red line that correlates with the yellow line of the State released map. The red line is the color of a Stop Sign, of High Warning, Danger, Blood, the Hollywood Red Carpet. It’s a symbol of an arterial fault ready to rupture. It stands for impending ruin, destruction and demise. It represents the solidarity of all those who choose to call California home; for everybody staying for the love of place regardless of the unknown time the fault will slip. I propose to the city of Los Angeles that the entire road be painted a bright, Fire Lane Red. The Red Road would represent the fault as an actual, physical GPS line, one that could be seen from space. A tourist attraction to be driven on and walked along by residents and visitors alike, acting as a reminder of place and as a warning for the future.} LL

He tells me about Montana, where he’s spending most of the summer researching his family’s relationship to land:

{I’m a fifth generation Montanan, which means my family has been in the state for a long time. Land was patented, (purchased from the US Homestead Act of 1864) by my family in the early 20th century. The land is extremely rural, and difficult to access. It is located 14 miles east of the nearest town far into the hills. The land holds the ruins of an old Tuberculosis Hospital, the remnants of my Great Great Grandparents abandoned and weathered farm and a forgotten one-room school house that sits on a sage brush plain, overlooking the Rocky Mountains to the west.} LL


Ravalli County Land Abstract Book 1. phone photo {June 2014} Lee Lavy.

It seems like an inevitable transition — Lee has gone from excavating the history of found objects to excavating his own history:

{I’m interested in what it means to own land–what it means for land to be passed down through family hands within a century. What does it mean when sold land still holds all the remnants of it’s former owners? This project is meant to tell the story of the land my relatives farmed and raised large families on. It is a story of a property that quarantined consumption afflicted patients and of the people that still work the land that they have spent their entire lives knowing. It’s an attempt at creating a Landscape Portrait.} LL


Matt Smith Chavez: is currently a  MFA candidate at UC Berkeley. Working mostly in an abstract formalist manner dealing with the existence of the image in a post Internet world. Follow Matt on twitter @MattSmithChavez, Learn more about his work and keep up with his writings both at and his most recent article for New American Paintings.

Lee Lavy: is from the Bitter Root Valley in Western Montana. In 2005 he moved to San Diego. He co-founded the artist run gallery space, ICE Gallery in 2010 through 2012. ICE Gallery was a space for site specific installation. He received his BA in Art at San Diego State University in the winter of 2012. While working on the Gallery and attending SD State, he also worked as an art preparator for the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego for 4 years. He is currently a 2015 MFA candidate in UC Berkeley’s Art Practice Program.

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