Lani Trock's connection with nature is a daily practice, culminating in a body of work revealing the symbiotic relationship between humankind and flora. The multidisciplinary artist, based in Los Angeles, spent her childhood in the lush forests of Hawaii developing an intuitive language with the landscape surrounding her. The visceral beauty of her installations invites us to explore this connection, drawing the viewer into an immersive experience and the cohabitation we share with plant life and its innate allure.
We caught up with Lani after a studio visit to discuss her influences, process, and get a deeper look into her work and practice.
We’ve had the pleasure of visiting your studio and living space and noticed you live and work very closely with much the plant life that end up creating the environments for your shoots and installations. We could sense a lot of care and patience is put into cultivation and a long-term intimate relationship with what creates your art and imagery. Can you describe your studio and how it affects the process behind your work?
My studio is a temple, a laboratory, an ever-evolving ecosystem, constantly engaged in death and rebirth, delicate processes for refinement of purpose. The space is teeming with life, alongside subtle remnants of decay, deemed too beautiful to part with. White porcelain and brown cracked half eggshells populate hand-constructed pedestals. Kratky hydroponics in colored glass vessels of a particular palate line the corners. Creamy mustard, the palest possible pink, sky blue, and milky kelly green, all sit alongside their respective color families. Gradients of bougainvillea float overhead, deep pinot, to fuchsia, cherry, lilac, tangerine, and white, with the faintest hints of peach gracing the edges. In spectrums of blue, soft, silky fabric descends from above, rippling down like ocean waves.
Earlier this year, a friend suggested I research Mierle Laderman Ukeles, who’s work, beginning in the 1970s revolved around the documentation of her life as a sanitation worker and working mother. In 1977, she became the official unsalaried Artist-in-Residence of the New York Department of Sanitation, a title she still holds today. She illuminated the invisible labor required for society and our own lives to run smoothly. Her practice created a framework to reconsider our patriarchal value system, that does not equally merit all types of labor, particularly the labor that cannot be monetized at all. One of my favorite quotes from her is: “Everything I say is art, is art.” This ideology shifted my perspective permanently. To understand my own practice as an ongoing act of service and devotion, completely takes the pressure off of the results. The only true purpose of the work is to honor the process, and in doing so, elevate the empathetic, caring principle. With focus on the feeling, rather than the end result, I stop trying to make some specific tangible thing. The object itself almost doesn’t matter, it’s about the love and attention imparted upon it through the process of creation. To care for any living system requires consistent and meticulous attention to detail, and the regular removal of detritus to make space for new life to spring forth. Sometimes the process of release is sticky, yet I can always feel how essential it is in order to move forward. I’ve found that physical clearing can be one of the most effective ways to transform the energy of a room. I’m often in a negotiation between the part of me who is consciously aware of this, and the part that is unabashedly sentimental and wants to save everything. My studio process is tending to a garden, a divine collaboration, and an ongoing dialogue. I frequently ask each participant how they feel in their current incarnation. The feeling is incredibly important and cannot be forced or faked. I’m always listening for their reply.
The environments for the subjects in your photography create a context that makes the performances appear to be more ritual than posing. What impact do the social and geographical environments that you grew up in have on your work?
My childhood was blessed with the freedom to explore wild spaces alone, so early on I forged a rich connection to the natural world. I was born and raised on Oahu with an awareness of the consciousness and interconnectedness of all things. These works are not intentionally ritualistic, but my process does actively honor and communicate with all participants, including inanimate objects and with the space itself. In the last four years we lived in Hawaii, our backyard was a protected nature preserve, and it ran acres into the hills of Palolo Valley. There were multiple microcosms across this landscape, including caves, a bamboo forest, and a treehouse. We had a computer, which I loved, but I spent more time outdoors than in, wandering the landscape with my dog-cat Meow. We would sit in the caves for hours, watching gentle rains blow diagonally across the valley. I’d make up songs and stories and once I spent months constructing a wall out of stones. I made structures and instruments out of bamboo and built tiny altars with found objects, flowers, and bits of quartz. This was a practice learned early on from my Grandma, who lives in Baltimore, where I stayed with her nearly twice a year until college. Her house is full of tiny vignettes of ephemera collected on walks in the neighborhood. These glimpses of radical self-reliance and communions with nature were thrilling to me and I can see how these experiences shaped the way I work. Both then and now, I’ve always felt a sense of stewardship, a clear responsibility to participate in the honoring of the sacredness in everything.
Your photography of women in groups seems to resonate a sense of a union, celebration, and connected community. We were very excited to create the Muse project with you and get a closer look at these relationships. How does your Community inspire you and how do those relationships affect your creative process?
In fortuitous moments, alchemy occurs and an authentic soul-sight connection blossoms into being. This love holds steady and carries us tenderly through the fire. When this happens across a group, and that group starts collaborating, then something really powerful begins to take hold. That positive love force is embodied by the work and the process of creation inevitably feels more like play than labor. My community is heart-centered and compassionate. They make work that moves me to tears and help me see my own beauty through their mirror. What we make together is a radical act of love and collective healing. They raise the bar in all areas of my life and when we are together, we radiate bliss. Everything I make and everything I do is imbued with this feeling. I can’t help but be influenced by it. I can’t help but feel at ease. Their love is flowing all around me.
Define community in one sentence
We come together, in mutual love, joyfully ready to create something bigger and more beautiful than we could ever accomplish alone.