explore lauren halsey’s funk hieroglyphics

April 25, 2019

For Lauren Halsey, a rising star, space is the place. Literal space (South Central Los Angeles), historical space (Ancient Egypt), and perhaps most importantly funkitized space (Parliament-Funkadelic and its constellations). African American and diasporic bodies, life-force energy, language, objects and ephemera monumentalized in built environments and architectural interventions are at the core of Halsey’s practice. Honored with the 2019 Frieze Artist Award, Halsey will present an installation at Frieze New York (May 2-5), one of the world’s most highly touted contemporary art fairs. To sweeten the prize, she will work in collaboration with the curator, Courtney J. Martin, deputy director and chief curator of the Dia Art Foundation, who was recently named the next director of Yale University’s Center for British Art.

Lauren Halsey (photo: Rafael Hernandez)

According to press materials, an iteration of Halsey’s signature obelisk-like columns with contemporary logographic, pictographic, syllabic and alphabetic elements will be installed throughout the fair. They will function as sites where visitors can engage with, ”fantasy architecture, neighborhood ephemera, images of Du-rag models, Black ideological pyramid worlds and Afrofuturist myth…” In short, “the columns conflate the world of the street with iconographies of ancient (and fictional) civilizations.”

Lauren Halsey, “Easter at F.A.M.E.” (2019); hand-carved gypsum on wood; 47 5/8 x 47 5/8 x 1 7/8 inches. (Photo: Jeff McLane) (Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles)

Born in 1987 in Los Angeles, Halsey pivoted from a dream of being a professional athlete to that of an artist, during an art class in her senior year of high school. A section on hieroglyphics sparked her interest, laying the foundation for a journey that can be read as destiny. Halsey’s lexicon of references stems from fertile bodies of knowledge, cultivated outside the academy. Conceptual interpretations of mixing and sampling as re-presentation, funk, daily life in South Central and hieroglyphics have alchemized into an Afrofuturist response to contemporary art. An impressive and challenging mix of what could be called street cred and academic chops are enticingly wrapped up in her journey thus far. She is a graduate of the prestigious Yale University MFA program (2014); was awarded a Studio Museum in Harlem Residency (2014-2015); and in 2018 created two architectural interventions for museums (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles’ we still here, there, and the Hammer Museum’s Made in LA: Lauren Halsey).

Additionally, on May 4th, in the midst of Frieze, a new installation by Halsey for the Fondation Louis Vuitton’s Open Space program will launch in Paris. The fifth iteration of their site-specific program features Halsey’s new geological modules (a.k.a. Funk Mounds), which contain altars made in homage to African-American culture. In another rendition of what could be called an altar, look out for the final manifestation of Halsey’s 2017 kickstarter campaign, The Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project. The campaign raised just over $18k with the subheading: We’re building a public installation of hieroglyphic carvings that allows communities in South Central LA to author their own stories. If you want to know why, she writes, “Adapting the ancient hieroglyph as a metaphor for power, futurity, and permanence allows community members the freedom to commemorate and monumentalize themselves in a public artwork.” With the wind at her back, one can only imagine what the future might hold for Halsey and her effervescent amalgamations of the past, present and future in real time.

Stay up on Lauren Halsey’s many incredible projects.