A few years ago I began researching weird laws. It seems every state has some bizarre statute that remains on the books. It’s illegal to put coins in your ear in Hawaii. It’s unlawful to tickle a woman under the chin with a feather duster in Maine. The bizarre list goes on. I wanted to find out the stories behind the laws. Who was the first Hawaiian arrested for putting a penny in their ear? I planned to write a story about them when I stumbled across the work of Olivia Locher.
She’d been putting together a photo series called I Fought the Law in which she explores these strange laws visually. In each photo she reimagines each law in beautiful, hilarious, and sometimes haunting ways. The series went viral so-to-speak, garnering attention everywhere from the Huffington Post to Good Morning America. She’s nearing the completion of the project, which features laws from all 50 states and will be shown together next year at the Steven Kashner Gallery in Chelsea.
When I contacted Olivia for an interview, I realized she lives just blocks from me in the East Village. She answers the door in a matching orange sweater and beany. Her apartment is a live/work space on the third floor of a pre-war building. She’s been hanging out all morning with her brother Brandon, an artist and musician, who splits his time between New York and Pennsylvania, where they’re from.
“Tell me about Down by Law,” I ask Olivia. “I mean I Fought the Law. Sorry.”
“Down by Law is a Jim Jarmusch movie. I love that movie,” she says. “Maybe I should’ve called it that.”
“I don’t really like The Clash,” she says referring to the I Fought the Law title. “I haven’t listened to them since high school.”
“You were into really weird music in high school,” Brandon says.
“Angry math rock,” she says. “I had dreadlocks and bad tattoos.”
Both Olivia and Brandon speak with mild Pennsylvania accents and are quick to offer me something to drink. Brandon has a Red Stripe and Olivia pours me a glass of water from a pink Brita. Both her apartment and her work are full of color.
“I love color more and more as I age,” she says.
Olivia came to New York to study at the School of Visual Arts. She says she liked it more for the access to facilities than the technical instruction. Her work has a conceptual tightness that comes from knowledge of art history, but her work doesn’t feel academic. She shares this quality with Matthew Barney, an artist Olivia greatly admires. I did a comprehensive project on Barney’s Cremaster Cycle in college and we begin to dork out.
“Did you see the River of Fundament?” Olivia asks.
“I wish,” I say. “I wasn’t in town.”
“We were extras in it,” Brandon says.
On her bookshelf beside her rare Matthew Barney exhibition catalogues sit books on artists like Tim Barber, Kenneth Anger, Juergen Teller and a DVD documentary on the musician Arthur Russell. There is something dreamlike that Olivia’s work shares with all of them.
“I feel sometimes like I’m living in a dream,” she says.
There is something refreshing about Brandon and Olivia. There is no pretense to them that so often comes with New York artists. They genuinely care about making work not being part of an art scene. At one point in the afternoon two work men come to fix the shower. I notice Olivia has a Keith Haring shower curtain.
“We got really stoned and went to a Keith Haring exhibit once,” she says and laughs. “We just started buying all this stuff.”
As Olivia talks with the workmen, I ask Brandon if he has any East Village haunts.
“Not really,” he says. “We like to have people over.”
Before I leave, Olivia takes my picture. It’s for her wall, which is full of pictures of all people that come to visit.
Photographs by Kelsey Bennett