Laura Swanson


I do not remember a time when I was not aware that my body is on display. Having been adopted from Korea and raised in a suburb of Minneapolis, which was populated predominately by white and average-sized bodies, I was acutely aware of my visually conspicuous difference at an early age. As a result, my sense of self has been in constant discord with the body others see. I am a constant witness to others experiencing my difference and this unrelenting consciousness of alterity has been the foundation for my practice as an artist.

Formally trained as a photographer, my relationship to representation of the body as object is predominant in my work. Rather than a validation of identity, my practice centers around a critical exploration of the conventions of looking and how bodily difference is articulated and subsequently understood. My approach is to resist literal representation of the body through a deconstruction of the conventions of portraiture, the anthropomorphization of inanimate objects, and the construction of surrogates and spaces. The works can be characterized by the assimilation of disparate attributes such as child and adult, animal and architecture, concealment and exposition, and dark humor and empathy. My sources of inspiration include contemporary and historical portraiture, critical theory, early slapstick cinema, Greek mythology, modern advertisement, and theatre among others.

The darkly comic photographic series Anti-Self-Portraits portrays one’s desperate attempts to hide their body from the viewer in everyday life tableaus. With Splices, I illustrated – through minimally collaged portraits of two faces – situations when obvious differences can become too difficult for the observer to bear. A site-specific installation at the RISD Museum of Art, TOGETHER together, placed pairings of identical but differently sized (referencing my and my partner’s heights) ready-made objects within the museum’s garden to explore whether people would notice them, despite their unassuming character. On the other hand, Display conspicuously exhibited differently sized pairings of anthropomorphized objects, resembling retail display of products, that referenced historic imagery of the human body as spectacle.

My work also contemplates the psychological and potentially long-term traumatic effects of a child experiencing alterity. Complex feelings are illustrated through the creation of imagined surrogates and fantastical, large-scale refuges meant to protect and empower its child owner. An interactive work, Fanon, is a life-sized talking doll which narrates Frantz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth” (which influenced many decolonization movements) and has a heating element in its chest to comfort its owner. Chibi House and Homemade Bull are dwelling spaces that act as private domiciles, places to read critical theory, and imagined, unassailable “super-shell” bodies for its owner. To emphasize the viewer’s position as intruder, he/she is limited to seeing the space through the eyes of Chibi House or the nostrils of Homemade Bull.

Video Portfolio - 10 parts
runtime: 4 min 54 secs