The totality of time lusters the dusk, 2020. Glass, Swarovski crystal, quartz, obsidian, onyx, hematite, paper, Plexiglas, wood, cement, lath, and mixed media, dimensions variable. On view in “Forces of Nature,” at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, through June 27, 2021.

Object Lessons: Lauren Fensterstock

For a long time, I have been looking at how we shape landscapes and project meaning through them, but now I’m thinking less about a site and more about an event. With this piece, you’re experiencing a vignette of something happening in time. I’m less concerned with what something is than with how things impact each other—for instance, the different ways that people have found causality in natural events. Comets, which are just dirty snowballs, evoke an incredible metaphoric history, interpreted as signs that something miraculous is going to happen. I love that something can be simultaneously factual and symbolic, logical and illogical, spiritual and scientific—that there can be contradiction and complexity.

I’m interested in the kind of knowledge that isn’t rational. The black in my work has often stood in for the unknown, a richness in the universe that we may not consciously understand. This piece, with the political and environmental anxiety that I’ve been feeling, also conveys a certain threat. We are impacted by things that aren’t human. There are forces at work beyond our control, maybe with an arc of time far beyond the present, that may be terrifying in their indifference to us, but they are no less beautiful when you step back from your own experience of them.