Photograph by Liane Candice Photography 
 

Spotlight on Lauren Sharpton: Cultivating Community through Interactive Artwork

By Natalie Saleh

For artist Lauren Sharpton, art is a collaborative process that draws members of a community together.

Sharpton is a local mixed-media artist, who encourages participant-interaction in her artwork. Currently, she has a piece displayed in The Art Center’s Microbiomes show, titled Complex Community, which she and her husband Thomas Sharpton, a microbiology professor at Oregon State, designed together. Complex Community started as a blank canvas, inviting viewers to “make their mark,” using oil pastels that Sharpton provides. Sharpton leaves the interpretation of what a “mark” means up to participants. As people “make their marks,” the canvas evolves.

 “The canvas represents the carrying capacity of the microbiome, because there’s a limit to how much your microbiome can hold. That’s why we decided on just a container. Then each individual that comes up and decides to make a mark on the canvas represents the diversity of the microbiome” explains Sharpton.

After each person makes a new mark, Sharpton photographs the canvas to document the evolution of the artwork. Sharpton has compiled these photographs into this chronological slideshow to demonstrate the constantly changing nature of the microbiome.  

In addition to exploring microbiology through her artwork, Sharpton also sees participation-based artwork as a way to encourage more people to create art, even if they do not view themselves as artists. Sharpton believes interactive artwork, like Complex Community, function as a type of “ice breaker element to a gallery.”

“I think that people are intimidated by galleries. If you create a work that is asking to be approached, you reduce that scariness. This can make people less apprehensive to interact with the rest of the work in the gallery. I’ve also noticed that people are more willing to talk about work that is asking them to interact with it,” Sharpton says.

Participation has long been a theme in Sharpton’s work. Her passion for participation-based work started while working on her master of studio arts degree. During this time, she worked on a project in which she asked people to take photos of themselves immediately upon waking up every day for a month. Then she carved the photographs out of linoleum blocks and printed them on every-day objects, like paper towels, toilet paper, and a pillow. This grew into her final project for her master’s degree, and since this project, almost all of her work has had some element of participation.

When asked why she enjoys participation-based art so much, Sharpton said, “I want people to talk about art. I want people to make art. I want people to look at art. I want people to feel what I think most people feel when they experience art.”

Stop by The Arts Center to see Sharpton’s Complex Community and other microbiology-focused artwork in Microbiomes: To See the Unseen, which is running until May 27. For another opportunity to see and participate in Sharpton’s work, visit her upcoming exhibit The Exquisite Corvallis, which will be in the The Arts Center’s Corrine Woodman Gallery from September 6 – October 7th.