VDB Asks... Laura Parnes


In conjunction with the release of Blood and Guts in Hollywood: Four Works by Laura Parnes, the VDB is proud to share a special online conversation with Laura Parnes about her background and work.

Laura Parnes is an artist whose work engages strategies of narrative film and video art to blur the lines between storytelling conventions and experimentation. Parnes combines elements such as continuity and dialogue with highly stylized sets and performances to present non-linear narratives as installations that utilize the architectural space of a gallery or museum. By deploying cinematic citation as an element of site-specific installation, the staging of her own productions reverberates in an exhibition setting, often requiring the audience to physically enter a scripted environment or re-creation of the production set. Parnes' installations operate at a symbolic and sculptural level, while maintaining a narrative coherence that points to a future in which reality is tightly nested in layers of art, popular culture, and experience.


1. Can you tell us something about your background?

I was born in Buffalo, moved to Philadelphia and “summered” in Detroit. To be more specific, I grew up in the mostly white, mostly Christian, mostly middleclass suburbs outside of these dying industrial cities. Despite the neo-nazis’ next door, I have fond memories of Buffalo. As a child, being immersed in all that snow was like living in a sculptural medium where you could carve, shape and re-carve your own world--and sometimes you needed to.

2. What inspired you to become an artist?  To use video?

Though my mother was an engineer and my father a mathematician, my parents were always interested in the arts and my mother would take me to museums all the time. My father was an art film buff and would drag me to many an angst ridden, extremely difficult film. For instance, Schlondorff’s adaptation of Gunter Grass’s the Tin Drum, a black-comedy taking place in Germany during WW2 about a boy who rejects his pathologically conservative, fascist, bourgeoisie society by intentionally stunting his own growth. Oscar, the protagonist, was more of a punk singer than an artist, yet his perverse act of resistance resonated with me. Also, I wanted to be Chrissie Hynde from the Pretenders. Too bad I had no musical ability.

3. Did you have formal art training/schooling?

As an undergrad at Tyler School of Art, I was really interested in text work and performance but I was a painting major. I felt a strong connection with some of the visiting artist’s like Ilona Granet and Vito Acconci but it wasn't until I graduated that I began to really immerse myself in multi-media installation and video/film.

4. How do you balance life and art?  Are you able to make a living through creating art?

I'm a visiting artist and critic at numerous academic institutions.

5. What influences or motivates you in the world?

I’m interested in a wide range of things from theoretical texts to popular culture.

6. What artists or movements are you following right now?

Afrofuturists, PARTICIPANT Inc., Reedykeulous, My Barbarian, Wage, Tediously Arch, eteam, Tracers book club, and V.A.R.D.A.

7. What was the last exhibition you saw?

Exhibitions: K8 Hardy, Mike Kelly. Performance: Derrick Adams. Screening: Stephanie Barber.

8. What has been the best screening experience of your work? 

County Down screened at the MoMA and I have to say the quality of the projection and the massive screen was really satisfying. Kate Valk brought Elisabeth LeCompte and Frances McDormand and at the bar afterword Frances came up to me and started imitating a character in the film. I’m not one to be impressed with celebrity but this was really an uncanny moment.

9. What are you working on right now?

A music documentary hybrid.

10. How do you start a piece?  How do you know when a piece is finished?

I might start a piece, put it away for five years and then pick it up again. I like to let things ruminate. I need a deadline to finish it. Or to quote my editor friend “I don’t finish it, it gets taken away from me.” 

11. What are you currently reading? Watching?

I just watched Models by Ulrich Seidl and it really peaked my curiosity about the Austrian sense of humor. Does that exist?

12.  Room for final thoughts:

Humor is underrated.

Interview conducted, November 2013

Read more in the VDB Asks... series

Laura Parnes