ar t + design
Enter Nina Laurel’s ethereal wonderland filled with hanging plastic sampaguita flowers and sparrows
NINA LAUREL is constantly shocked that she is considered an adult by society. After 10 years working as sculptor (and freelance designer), Nina confesses she still has trouble putting her answers into proper sentences. She tells me that this stemmed from constantly trying to t in, adjust, and conform to while growing up. Nina continues by saying that after returning to the Philippines at age 12, she experienced culture shock both in her private high school and at UP, where she studied ne arts. Despite this, her acrylic plastic sculptures, which are tagged as “unusual” and “often imbued with light,” allow Nina to cultivate her own unique voice. Because making a sculpture, as she tells me, is more than making shapes out of inanimate objects; it is an ongoing experiment in the endless possibilities of capturing and seeing light.
Why did you choose sculpture as your artistic medium?
I enjoy the challenge of dealing with materials to create objects that can hold their own in a room. I like planning for the production of 3D objects then physically making them with my own hands. I like the idea of making pieces that can speak on their own so I don’t have to say a word. Of all your artworks, what would be your favorite so far? My favorite artwork so far is my Sampaguita chandelier, which I made for the group exhibit The President's Office curated by Antares Gomez Bartolome for Tin- Aw Gallery and Vargas Museum in UP Diliman. All participating artists were tasked to recreate parts of the interior of Malaca ang Palace (which none of us had seen before). For the entrance of the exhibit, I created a large acrylic plastic chandelier inspired by the hanging strings of sampaguita owers - which are usually carried by local street kids, penitents and supplicants - as a comment on how I think our country presents itself. Even though it’s a pretty-looking artwork, the concept behind it quite critical.
How has art made an impression on you growing up?
My parents made sure that my younger brother and I were properly exposed to arts and culture in the usual ways (museums, art and music classes, theater plays, travel). But it was at home that I learnt the joy of creating things with my own hands. My father is an engineer and my mother has embroidered, sewn or quilted every fabric surface at home. They are meticulous homeowners who have xed or improved every inch of their home themselves — I consider this a form of expression, of art making. Thus, they are my biggest in uence. Growing up around their ingenuity and self-reliance has taught me that I can create a world of my own, but it needs to be a world that works, one that has function and reason and purpose.
I’ve noticed that you’ve chosen to work with acrylic and plastic, could you tell us more about why you’ve chosen to use these materials? How important is light in your artworks?
I began experimenting with acrylic plastic as an art material in college. At rst it was simply a cheap and user-friendly substitute material for glass, which I had wanted to work with for its transparency and glossiness. But I soon learned that aside from acrylic plastic’s super cial similarity to glass, it could also be used to channel light (via internal re ection and edge lighting). When a light is shone into the edge of clear plastic, the light will bounce around inside until it “ nds a way out” at an opposite edge. By scratching, etching and carving details into the surface of the plastic to create new edges and breaks, I can control where the light escapes (and is seen). The possibilities are endless. Nara (Collaboration with Tara Soriano) Acrylic plastic, LED lights, & brass 9 in. x 9 in. x 12 in. 2014
Do you have a plan in mind before beginning a sculpture?
Because of the technical aspects of working with acrylic plastic with light xtures, I usually have a pretty detailed plan for execution before I even touch the plastic sheets. I rst make small-scale models out of paper to test if my ideas are actually feasible. I can only heat the plastic so many times before it starts to degrade, so I make sketches and guidelines, take measurements, and make checklists early on to minimize the need to rework later.
After having rehearsed what I need to do so many times in my head, the physical labor — heating, shaping, drilling, etching — often goes by in a blur of bright colors, power-tool noises, crucial timing, and heat on my skin. It is in this zone where all my movements are ef cient and purposeful that I feel most con dent and alive.
Do you feel the need to constantly change as an artist?
I de nitely do feel the need to keep evolving as an artist. Although I am still quite obsessed with working with acrylic plastic, I do try out new techniques using new technology in each new piece I make to avoid boring myself silly. On a larger scale, I’m pretty excited about how my themes and concepts will naturally change, as I get older. I don’t try to force this kind of growth.
Does your fascination with trying new things extend to your life as well?
I am a pretty cautious person by nature. I tend to stick with what I already know just because making new decisions can sometimes be stressful. When I need to focus on being creative and decisive for work, I can very easily eat the same three meals for a month or have the same movie or playlist running on loop for weeks just to cut down on the things I need to think about each day. I have to make a mindful effort to venture out of my comfort zone every once in a while just to maintain balance in my life. I often take classes or try to learn new things or expose myself to new situations particularly because I know I will probably be awkward and uncomfortable amongst other people. I’m trying to train myself to be less shy and self-conscious.
Who is your favorite artist now?
My favorite artist now is Mark Justiniani. He works with mirrors and lights to create surreal illusions of in nity. I am very inspired by how much fun he seems to have as he pushes the limits of what he can do with his installations.
What’s next for you?
I am always on the lookout for new technologies or processes that I can use with and on acrylic plastic. I tell suppliers: “If you have any new materials or products that might be fun to play with, let’s talk!” I get quite inspired when I nd out about a new form of plastic or lighting xture a supplier has that I can get hold of. I enjoy guring out how I can best use the new technology or technique in a sculpture more than visualizing a speci c form or shape to make. I hope to be able to express these new ideas in some group exhibits next year.
Sampaguita (Utang ng Loob)
at Tin-Aw Gallery Acrylic plastic and led light fixtures
at the group show Naked in Alien Territory, J Studio Mixed Media 13in x 12in x 12in 2015 Report Map Issue: You’ve Changed The Names of All Your Streets