The 8 Ball: Lauren Leja
Lauren Leja is a writer, photographer, artist, snapshot collector and rescuer of the forgotten. She has a website Invisible Commute, in which she documents her wanderings with a daily photo. In addition to creating her STORYWEAR art pieces, Lauren has published a photography book, INVISIBLE COMMUTE, as well as two collections of short stories, AIR and ROTOR. She has read at numerous events in Boston and NYC, including ICA Boston and Boston Book Festival. Lauren lives in Boston.
Can you tell us about your STORYWEAR art pieces at Covet + Lou?
I have been making artist books for years but during Quarantine in 2020, I decided to explore and explode the notion of the book—can a dress become a book if it is a vehicle for text? I dug out the big bag of antique doll and baby clothes from the early 1900s that I had slowly collected, piece by piece, and started to experiment.
Searching for the right text to transcribe onto the garments, I suddenly realized my own short stories would have just the right tension I was looking for. The push/pull of femininity and feminism, the preciousness of these dainty dresses with the modern language of a contemporary woman artist. It all clicked.
How did this project start?
Women’s empowerment is a huge force in my written and visual work. The 2020 lockdown gave me the time I needed to connect the dots between all my interests and collections. Suddenly I was home for the most extended period of time in my life and felt both free and imprisoned. It was a weird combination.
Are the antique baby garments thrifted? What is the significance behind these garments?
All the antique baby and doll garments are sourced from flea markets. I grew up going to flea markets and tag sales and graduated to dumpster diving and trash picking. The thrill of the hunt is a driving force, but the main motivation is rescuing history, women’s history.
These 100 year old pieces are amazing works of skill—the thousands of hand sewn stitches, the hours of work. The simple act of framing them presents them as the art that they are and my intention is for my added text to reanimate the clothes, bringing the women who made them, the children who wore them, back to life.
Can you share one of your excerpts with us? One that stands out to you?
An excerpt from my short story ROTOR that appears on several of the STORYWEAR pieces
Something you learned about yourself in 2020?
In 2020, lockdowned in my domestic cocoon, I felt very comforted by going back to the basics. I sewed pillows, fiddled with paper mâché, planted a garden, hand painted postcards, made jam and sent out a ton of mail art and care packages.
What are you working on now?
Lately, I’m splitting my time with expanding STORYWEAR into adult-sized garments (Victorian nightgowns!) And finishing my novella.
Do you have any go-to spots in Massachusetts to invite inspiration?
I’ve always been a big walker (especially since I’m the world’s worst driver) but during 2020 I became addicted to my bicycle. I ride along the Charles River every morning and explore the woods and parks.
Something you are looking forward to in 2021?
For 2021 I am looking forward to Brimfield, a gallery show for my artwork and eating pizza on Revere Beach again. And I’m waiting to be asked to make a giant grid of STORYWEAR aprons to cover an entire wall!