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Level up your evening’s entertainment with five ways to upgrade your art auction experience at ‪Benefit 2016‬, February 5 – 6 at Crane Arts. Saturday’s event features a bonus round, as it kicks off with a VIP party for early access to immersive, interactive art collecting.

Immersion is a concept artists like Laura Graham work with on a daily basis. From the fantasy worlds of childhood playtime to the inspired staging of the characters in her photographic stories, Laura discusses her work in an interview below.

Erica: From your bio, it sounds like your childhood was very hands-on, in terms of playing in the outdoors. Do you think this was an early indicator of your eventual interest in pursuing the arts?

Laura: Yes, I can see how they might be connected. I’ve always been into immersion. I would get very wrapped up in whatever fantasy I was playing as a kid and if that meant I was pretending I lived on a farm in the 1800’s, then I learned how to make my own butter and candles. That’s usually how I approach my photographs. I like having a reason to figure out how to build something or sew something or research different eras. Playing in nature so much as a kid is probably where my interest in humans with animal traits came from.

Erica: You later studied acting in NYC. Would you say that there’s a performance element that goes into staging your photographs?

Laura: Yes, acting and art directing were definitely both directly related to staging my photos. I thought it would help with the performance element and giving better direction to the people who were posing for me. The whole immersion thing.

Erica: You’re represented by Gravy Gallery (who coincidentally is working with us on the Benefit this year!) What would be your advice to an artist looking to be represented by this space?

Laura: I’ve only shown with Gravy a couple of times. I’m not sure I could give advice on being represented, but Emma and Katie are lovely and definitely easy to talk to!

Erica: Do you have any upcoming exhibits or projects?

Laura: I’ve been working on some drawings and small paintings, but no exhibits coming up at the moment. I’m just enjoying the process and watching how things evolve.

Erica: Every year, your submissions to the Benefit stick out in my mind. There’s a morbid sense of humor in the staging of your pieces, and yet they have an understated black and white presentation. How do you go about tackling subjects for each piece?

Laura: I don’t know…I just kind of get an image in my head for something and then I figure it out from there. Or I’ll be inspired by a story or a fairy tale and be thinking about it a lot and things will just sort of fall together.

__13let-them-eat-cakeErica: Can you tell me a bit about the piece you are donating to this year’s Benefit?

Laura: The girl in the photograph is the daughter of a friend from college. I felt really drawn to her. I guess there was an element in her that I felt like represented an element in me as a kid. I’ve always been interested in cakes and the sculptural aspects of baking and I thought it would be fun to do a photo about being overwhelmed by too much of a good thing. I think the idea of decadence or extravagance gone wrong is interesting. Like you think if you get this or that you’ll be all set, but then you end up being trapped by that- by the new set of circumstances or you end up with a tummy ache or something. I got all those cakes from an amazing bakery around the corner from my old apartment in Brooklyn called Lady Bird Bakery. I ended up paying the little girl in cake. Her restraint was pretty amazing and I think her finger only ended up in one of the cakes before the end of the shoot. She did a great job!

Erica: We once had an audience member describe the Benefit as having a ‘wild energy’ – which I also think works well to describe your work. If you could stage a photo with characters representing the Benefit’s atmosphere, what might that look like?

Laura: I’m always interested in the outsider (which is everybody in their own way in private), so I would probably do something with the one person in the corner feeling overwhelmed and alienated by the wild energy. The weirdo hiding out in the bathroom stall because she’s puking up eggs and there’s a really long line forming and she’s running out of places to put the eggs but she’s too embarrassed to come out because she knows she looks like a weirdo.

Press Bid to Play at Benefit 2016, February 5 – 6 at Crane Arts.

Jessica Demcsak

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