Portrait | Tau Lewis
Tau welcomed me upstairs to her Kensington Market apartment where we sat side by side on her couch flanked quite matter-of-factly by her fluorescent sculptures of body parts and cacti. When I interviewed her in November her birthday had just passed and she felt a ways about it. “Forever 21 is a hoax and it’s never going to happen to you. I had a 22nd birthday. I wasn’t special.” She was so deeply sarcastic that it almost felt serious. Having now known her for a couple months I find that Tau speaks in generally two ways. Either in a light, sarcastic and playful manner with a crinkled nose and an amiable innocence that belies her age or in a tone that is deeply serious and unapologetic. The contrast between the two is still slightly disarming.
Now at 22 Tau Lewis, a self taught sculptor, has been working on her craft for the past four years and has developed an audacious and thoughtful body of work. Working primarily in resin, plaster casts and mix media, the physicality of her practice is a commentary in and of itself regarding the artificiality of our environment and identity. Her work ranges from self-described “feminist satire” to commenting on themes of nature and her deconstructing her experience as a woman of colour. Tau picks apart our understanding of reality with life-like sculptures that are so far visually and physically detached from their original environment that it forces the viewer to confront the absurdity of the messages we absent-mindedly present and consume. The unfamiliar yet familiar objects prompt an introspective look into the manufactured nature of our own reality.
“I might have been really naive but I was in awe of all these things she was doing, and how self-sufficient she was”
Now four years deep into her artistic practice, Tau concedes that there is a lot of uncertainty in her chosen career path but ultimately feels optimistic. “I believe very strongly in my capabilities as a female and as an artist, and as a woman of colour, and I think that sometimes you have to create the thing that you want to be a part of.” In this context that thing in this is less of a physical environment and more of a dialogue. “That’s the fun thing about satire, it opens up the conversation.” Employing satire is a way Tau can use humour and exaggeration to breach heavy subject matter without scaring away the audience. For example her work Consumption (Object 3) (pictured above), described on her website as “.. females objectifying females”, is a set of vividly coloured translucent castings of a woman’s body parts being prepared for eating at the hands of another. “When I made Object 3, I got a kick out of it. I had literally hands cutting up and consuming castings that I had made of a woman of colour. And there’s a lot of ways that people can take that. Maybe I was saying some really strong things with that piece, but I also think its a very funny thing to look at … everyone who’s seen it has been like, “But this is so comforting to look at. It’s so dreamy, its so satisfying.” The unusual and slightly bemusing work conjures up ideas of objectification, sexuality and identity (to list a few major ones) but the dialogue becomes more complex when you envision the intimate physical process of casting a human body. This visualization opens up the conversation from a one-sided dialogue to a more holistic discussion as the perception and connotation of the subject matter can drastically change when you realize who the author is. If objectification strips a person of the qualities that make them human, can a woman truly “objectify” another woman? Is she capable of dehumanizing someone who she shares qualities, experiences and struggles with? Similar themes can be found in Rick Owens S/S 16 show, where women were strapped together bondage-style one forced to carry and support the other through the course of the runway in an impressive feat of physical strength and a touching remark about the supportive power of womanhood. The personal relationship between subject and subject matter in all three result in a message that is arguably far more respectful when presented by an author (Creator, Director, etc.) who understands and is of conscious their subject's struggle.
“I think that sometimes you have to create the thing that you want to be a part of.”
Tau willingness to relinquish her power as solely an author and physically incorporate herself as an inextricable part of the work is crucial to the effectiveness of it, it also shows confidence and maturity. “Im done with really caring about the things that other people want to cast on me.” Just as Chloe Wise has turned the lens on herself through self-portraiture as a way of critiquing her own role in perpetuating the culture of consumption, Tau assumes a similar position. Taking castings of her own body and the bodies of her peers is a way of critiquing, dissecting and in some ways controlling the way they offer themselves up for consumption. “.. I feel like, if you want my most grim description of it, I feel like I’m a consumable object. A lot of the time as a woman of colour, being black, having curves, having an ass, I feel a lot of the time in a lot of situations like I’m here to be consumed ... [But] I’m now accepting and kind of empowered by the fact that no matter what I do in any situation, whoever I talk to, my blackness is going to be at the forefront of that. I have every right to use that as a vehicle for my power.”
To view more of Tau's work check her website or instagram.