How cardboard monkeys and apes became stand-ins for us, in Laurence Vallières's art
"I guess putting a bit of humour in my art takes off a bit of the pressure I put on myself."
Her work: Laurence Vallières creates massive, often life-sized sculptures of animals out of recycled cardboard — sculptures that give off the distinct feeling that there's less difference between us and the rest of the animal kingdom than we'd like to think. Originally trained as a ceramic artist, Vallières says her move to cardboard was inspired, in part, by panic. "I had no place to show, so I rented this huge space, but then I got really worried it would look empty for the show," she says. "I freaked out and I said 'Oh, I need to make something really big in the middle.' I had ideas that were all over the place. I was going to buy a boat and paint that boat. Then one of my friends said 'Why don't you make one of your ceramics, but cardboard and big?'"
Keeping it light: Vallières's work is infused with a sense of humour and levity. Sure, she takes her practice seriously, and yes, she's making comments on the human condition, but she's doing it with a wink and a nod. She says that the urge to keep things light is, in part, a way of making herself feel comfortable. "It makes me really nervous to try to be too serious," she says. "I'm not one of those artists who is extremely conceptual. I guess putting a bit of humour in my art takes off a bit of the pressure I put on myself. I think also we would have a better world if everyone could make a joke every once in a while."
Monkey trouble: Monkeys and apes are the subject of many of Vallières's sculptures. Her first monkey emerged in the confusion of the 2008 economic crash. "I felt like I was told a lot of stuff about things that I didn't know what they were. They weren't tangible. Money is no longer something you can touch, and I don't understand the markets, even if you explain them to me. So I made this businessman and this monkey, and the businessman was explaining to the monkey what was going on with the crash. And the piece was called That's Why We're Having a Financial Crisis." And the monkey? "The monkey was the plebeians, it was us."
The monkeys are still us in much of Vallières's work. She's got sculptures of them texting, listening to their iPods and spray painting walls. More recently, though, her monkey and ape sculptures have had another, more serious purpose: preservation. "It turns out that there are a lot of great apes that are going to go extinct in the next five years," she says. "Right now I'm making a drill. I don't know if you know what a drill is, but they are gorgeous animals and there are only about 3,000 left in the wild. So now I'm making these because we're no longer going to see them. I'm making portraits."