We had the good fortune of connecting with Lela Welch and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Lela, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking.
I think it’s important to clarify risk as being subjective. What’s risky for me may not be for someone else and vice versa. I made a lot of bad decisions in my 20’s, and my tolerance for risk and what I recognize as risk has broadened and changed since then. Also, I have the benefit of experiencing risk as a cisgendered white presenting/passing person that operates from a place of privilege– risk for me may not be the same for Black or Native folks or a LGBTQI+ person. It sucks, but there are some people in this world who may have dire consequences attached to their risk that might not occur for me.  But in response to your question, a risk I like to take in my art is comfort within my own discomfort. For example, I did a three hour performance piece where I encased myself in a plaster and sand mixture used for bronze casting. I felt trapped, immobile, and cold– the curators and my partner were worried I wouldn’t be able to get out. This kind of risk is very different from the risks I used to take in my 20’s, which were led by addiction and a disregard for my own life. Once I got sober, every other risk (moving, leaving a job, or expressing vulnerability in my art) sort of pales in comparison–they feel like a luxury of privilege that I try to be mindful of.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
As a heroin addict in my 20’s, I had to do a lot of rebuilding in my 30’s– in the sense of scraping pieces of a life back together from nothing– but also rebuilding who I thought I was. At my lowest, I was a college drop out with a family who wouldn’t speak to me, no job, legal issues, health issues, no car, no place to live … nothing but foggy memories and disappointment. So, after a seven month stint in treatment, I showed up to a sober living in Reseda with my food stamps and two trash bags of clothing and started to put my life back together. Given how bad things had been, it was easy for me to be grateful for what I had: I was grateful for that bus in Canoga Park, grateful for that job in Woodland Hills, and I was grateful for a chance at a career and a life, but I still didn’t know where I was going.  When I got to move into that rented room in Winnetka, I had to let go of what I thought my life should look like or what I thought I was owed. My recovery taught me the power of showing up (to the appointment, to the show, to the event) even if I feel like I don’t have it in me or if I assume things won’t go my way. And, that, that showing up, has really paid off for me. After dropping out of college, I knew I wanted to show up for myself and the art that inspired me. I returned to school and graduated with my fine arts degree as a 4.0, award student. Since then I keep showing up and I keep moving forward. My first group show through a major institution (INVERSE Performance Art Festival through Crystal Bridges’ the Momentary) is coming up in November 2020.

As to my career and perspective, right now I make work that pulls from my personal narrative as an addict, toying with notions of power and regret. I have the tendency to lean on performance and object making (primarily metal work) to tell those stories, but the pandemic and the social justice revolution sparked by the murder of George Floyd, has made me refect on my work and I’m not really sure what I’m about anymore.  Now my past work feels trite and I’m starting to consider how those personal experiences can inform (or not) this next chapter of my work in light of everything else. As an example, artist Ana Sofia Camarga (https://anasofiastudioart.portfoliobox.net) and I have been collaborating on a piece set to debut in November. Since she is currently in Panama and I am here in California, we meet regularly on Zoom. In one of our meetings she brought up the point that white, cis, heteronormative male artists have the tendency to make purely formalist work. That is, work that is based purely on form and style. Whereas themes in work made by the rest of the populace tend to surround identity or be imbued with socio-political themes. Of course, I’m generalizing here. But, maybe we define who we are in our work, and if so what would it look like for us (as cis-gender womxn of color) to make work that had nothing to do with our identities or backgrounds? What would it mean for us to make work that was purely formal and not attached to our politics? And that might be impossible because at what point can the identity of the artist be ignored?

But, right now, this third week of July 2020, as we move into the 5th month of the pandemic, about 8 weeks since George Floyd’s death, I’m interested in making work that connects me to the world outside of me.  But I need to figure out who that work is for and why art even matters right now. I need the world to know that it isn’t always just about hard work, gratitude and showing up, because there’s a lot of real pain and real tragedy out there. Systemic racism is real. Addiction is a disease. And art should be for everyone.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Well if this is pre-COVID, I’d probably take them to an AA meeting lololol. There’s some stellar and fun recovery communities in LA. But seriously, the first stop would probably be the Bendix building, which has a wonderful collection of spaces dedicated to studios and shows. I’m still thinking about the collection of performance art curated by Deborah Oliver that was shown there last year. I’m a big fan of the Hammer, so would definitely have to make time to see what’s showing there. Or if my best friend is looking for inspiration, we could time our visit around one of the UCLA open studios tours. I’ve also been wanting to see what has been happening at Commonwealth and Council on 7th. If we feel like being basic and waiting for an hour, I always love a stop at Silverlake Ramen. But I also love just hanging out, pounding Xyience out at the Glassell Park Pool with my writer buddy Alex. Or just spending time outside, walking to Spoke Bicycle Cafe in Frogtown with my favorite vintage purveyor, Fenix Vintage (Amber). I mention Alex and Amber because if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t know about those gems. When I used to drink, there was nothing more fun than the Tiki-Ti on Sunset. One of my all time favorite things to do was the Hollywood sign hike (again with the “basic’’…. but the older I get, I just kind of lean into it instead of fight it), followed by a stop at Liz’s Antique Hardware to get lost in the aisles of 60’s fixtures and skeleton keys. And what would a LA tour be without a taste of Tarantino at Musso and Frank Grill.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Artists and educators who have mentored me, been generous with time, expertise, critique and discourse: David Kempken, Elizabeth Folk, Laura Krifka and Sara Frantz. Curators and artists who have supported my art include the creators of INVERSE Performance Art Festival, curators Emma Saperstein and Cynthia Post Hunt. Last but not least, would be the duo behind the Industry of the Ordinary. Contemporary work that I admire and follow include Ayana Evans, Caitlin Cherry, EJ Hill, Lauren Halsey, Young Joon Kwak and my collaborator Ana Sofia Camarga. I’m also wildly grateful for the unending support from my best friend, Renee who never gave up on me, my sponsor and the AA communities that have carried me in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo. These folks come to my shows, encourage my ambition and share me on their networks and I’m forever grateful. Oh, and also to Lauren Goldenberg for referring and being the best art wife a girl could have!

Website: www.lelawelch.com
Instagram: @lelawelch

Image Credits
Laura Krifka Cynthia Post Hunt David Kempken

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