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Lani Trock | Trust in the You of Now

Urban Outfitters Interview

April 2015


LA artist Lani Trock does it all. A photographer and artist, Lani's work stems from a love for the natural world, which is the theme of her upcoming show "Trust in the You of Now," which opens this week at Space 15 Twenty and relates to the ways that our surroundings (and the spaces we create for ourselves) affect us. From photography to flower foraging, a unifying theme of Lani's diverse body of work is how plants, flora, and pieces of everyday nature came be experienced in different environments and expressed in a range of mediums. Leading up to the opening, we visited her in East LA to learn more about her work, admire her amazing plant-filled home, and get her tips for creating everyday flower arrangements using what's around us.

Photos by Chantal Anderson

Can you share more about your diverse body of work and how your experience has evolved into what you're doing now? 

I was born and raised on Oahu in Hawaii, and we moved to San Diego when I was 13, where I attended high school. I studied philosophy at UC Santa Cruz, and moved to Los Angeles the summer after graduation. I've called LA home for nearly nine years. In this moment, I am a photographer, forager, and installation artist, but during my time here I have done many different kinds of work. I believe the way to thrive in the future economy is to embrace our own unique and diverse skill sets, and remain flexible to adapt, as our interests and abilities shift shape over time. About a year ago, when I was first approached about doing an installation for The Standard Hotel, I'd never considered the possibility of doing this kind of work, and now it's all I'm dreaming about. I've always loved finding edible things growing wild, but I definitely never imagined I could work as a forager. That still feels totally wild and I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to it. Who knows what will show up in the coming years? I think my only professional objective is to exist in a state of curious discovery, open to whatever opportunities may present themselves next. 

Can you share more about the pieces/work you'll have in the Space 15 Twenty show? 

"Trust in the You of Now" is a meditation on identity and environment; how the spaces we choose to inhabit shape our sense of self, and how a temporary immersion in nature can facilitate a deepening of that internal connection. The installation is largely plant-based, with several swings and spaces to lounge in. The creation of both the photographs shown and the installation itself are meditative practices which help me establish a closer connection to self, through working with natural, living mediums. The name comes from an Oblique Strategies card, and serves as a reminder that I am exactly where, and how I need to be, in this moment. Working with and spending time in nature reinforces that trust in myself and my intuition. 

From photography to art direction to flower foraging…you have your hands in a lot of different projects! How does an interdisciplinary focus inform your overall aesthetic? 

I've always been interested in many things at once, and it feels as though everything I have invested time in has helped prepare me for what's come next. In the past five years, through the visual work I've done, I have been frequently pushed to refine and more clearly establish my personal aesthetic. For me, when something feels really right and clear, deep down, on a very physical level, that means I've done a good job. It's very tempting to get caught up in what other people think of your work, especially in the constant feedback social media machine we exist in, but when it comes down to it, I'm not doing this for anyone but myself. If someone else connects with the work, that is a beautiful byproduct, but ultimately I do this work because the process, the actual doing of it, satisfies my soul. I've learned that these practices are absolutely necessary in order to stay peaceful, while living in an intense urban environment. 


How do your projects end up overlapping? What are the common threads that connect everything? 

I'm not sure that they overlap exactly, but I often end up working on a broad spectrum of projects with my clients. I feel so lucky to have fallen into such a beautiful, supportive, loving, and incredibly talented creative community. For me, this is real draw; what makes living in LA so magical, and keeps me from wanting to escape back up to the redwoods. 

What sources most regularly spark creative inspiration for you?

When I'm feeling creatively stuck, I take 20 minutes and go for a walk in my neighborhood or work in my garden. Or go to sleep early. A solid night's rest really does wonders for my problem-solving abilities.  

It seems like there probably is no "typical" day in the life for you…do you have any constants, any daily rituals? 

Every week, my schedule changes, but every morning, I wake up and meditate first, then have a cup of coffee while I review my weekly task list and create a sublist for that day. After that, I'm usually either out shooting or at home editing or emailing, both of which are honestly a bit of a struggle for me to keep up with. The less time I can spend on the computer, the more productive and happier I am, so I do my best to streamline and work a lot on my phone, often sitting outside while doing so.


The only constant commitments in my schedule are foraging and flowers for Alma on Tuesdays, and on Thursdays, Ashleigh Parsons (co-owner of Alma & founder of its outreach program) and I teach an improvisational cooking class together for Alma Community Outreach at New Village Girls Academy. I've grown to appreciate both days as anchors in an otherwise unpredictable week. Our class is always a breath of fresh air, and we are currently planning to expand the program, and bring in a different creative professional from our community each week, to hang out, help harvest from the school's garden, cook with us, and chat with the girls about the work they do. Tuesdays are equally wonderful because I spend the morning foraging outside, come downtown to Alma, and then after flowers, I stay for family meal. After we eat together, Ashleigh and I walk Sage, the Alma pup around the block a few times, and talk about whatever needs letting out. I really treasure that space. It's so beautiful having a friendship with those I work with.

Nature plays a huge role in everything you do — can you share more about how your surroundings and the outdoors influence the work you produce?

I love working and surrounding myself with plants quite simply because of the way it makes me feel. I am filled with love as each new leaf, fern, and flower unfurls into the world. I love the way they each grow at their own pace, and need slightly different conditions to be happy. A lot like humans in that respect. They remind me to appreciate exactly where I am in this moment, challenges and all. I am drawn to them aesthetically, and photograph them frequently as a result, but I think the real attraction lies in the feeling. I genuinely feel better when surrounded by living plants, which I learned the word for yesterday: biophilia, the theory of which, suggests an intuitive connection and attraction between humans and other living beings. 

What are your favorite neighborhood spots? 

I love walking in the east LA canyons, especially Mount Washington, Glassell Park, Eagle Rock and Monteceito Heights. There are so many beautiful gardens and sudden grand views. Most of my life I've lived near the ocean, but there is something about the feeling and visual tone of this part of Los Angeles that I am completely drawn to in this moment. It's hard to imagine living anywhere else. Local businesses I love and frequent are Proof Bakery for coffee and incredible pastries, Sqirl for the sorrel pesto rice bowl and their unreal homemade jams, Mickey Hargitay's for beautiful, happy plants. Bar Stella for the best old fashioned on a bougainvillea-filled patio at dusk. Alma for their otherworldly seasonal tasting menu & wine pairings. For a Saturday night soul dance party I go to Funky Sole at The Echo. And then to relax in the day, a hike in Altadena to the waterfall at Eaton or a wander through Huntington Gardens, one of my very favorite places to be in LA.  

What other projects do you have up your sleeve right now? 

I'm developing two installation projects, one of which is a continuation of "Trust in the You of Now," but will be more permanent in duration, and will utilize drought-tolerant and plants native to the region of each installation site. I've been a long-time admirer of the work of Santiago Calatrava, a Spanish neo-futurist architect who never compromises form in the name of function, all while considering how the design of these spaces will physically and psychologically affect the people who occupy them. With this work, I would like to create spaces that are aesthetically pleasing, but that also provide an opportunity to explore the effect that these environments have on the people engaged with them. I am very interested in creating these installations in places where people are frequently under stress, like airports, schools, or hospitals, to serve as a space to escape for a moment, meditate, reconnect with the self, and even play. I think the swings are a very important part of the installation, because as adults, we often forget the importance of making time to play without a goal or intention. 

The second installation is a public, edible art project, that will examine issues of human rights and access to healthy food, industrial agriculture and government subsidies. Apart from installations, I'm working very slowly on a collaborative printed project about women artists, inspired by a book found several years ago while visiting my grandma's house in Baltimore. 



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