Wes Bruce brings storehouse of memories to Lux Art Institute


By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt

Just before dusk on an evening in late October visitors started making their way up the steep Encinitas hillside that leads to Lux Art Institute for the opening of Wes Bruce’s new installation, nearly a year in the making.

Bruce received a San Diego Foundation Creative Catalyst Grant for “Structures Poetry Humans,” a project exploring the poetic relationship between people and the structures they inhabit.

In his proposal, he wrote: “Most people today live life in connection with a cast of different structures ... home, hospital, classroom, workplace, crawlspace … place of worship … make-shift shelter. We interact with these structures, create and recall memories, meaning, purpose, thoughts, fears, and daydreams in and around them. These structures act as minor characters in many of our stories, ranging the full spectrum of emotion, experience, and human condition.”

He proposed to collect as many of such stories as possible, and create a storehouse which would both enshrine the stories and give visitors a chance to recall their own memories.

On the project’s website, he documented his process with a daily calendar of poetry and pictures, and invited friends and strangers to share their personal stories. Over the year, while gathering fresh stories online and faded photos out in the “real” world, he built a pair of shack-like structures at Lux.

The L-shaped hilltop structure is filled with words and images from the past. Here memories are palpable, with hundreds of paper strips containing excerpts from submitted stories hanging from the rafters, and an arresting array of found photographs covering the walls.

It’s a very special experience to move through the structure, contemplating the lives whispering around you, becoming part of what the artist calls “a living metaphor.”

Down below, just past the entrance to Lux, is the smaller structure, more like a bus-stop shelter, its insides plastered with more story excerpts.

Lux’s founding director Reesey Shaw, a long-time La Jollan, said Bruce was one of 26 artists who wanted Lux as a partner for their proposed Creative Catalyst projects.

“We chose him because we thought his piece was so interesting — the yearlong buildup, the poetry, and the creation of the structures,” she said. “Plus, it lets us work on a project beyond our usual residency and art education programming, and the interactive nature of the piece perfectly reflects Lux’s mission to engage visitors in the creative process. And for Wes, the site here was very poetic. He really felt an affinity for the place.”

The artist answered, “It’s a thrill to have worked such a long time on the project, and then have a chance to share it. Getting to build the structure from the ground up, and having it outside the museum instead of in it. Every piece of paper has a different personality, and they all have different voices as the wind blows through. And since each one is derived from a really deep personal source, it encourages visitors to dive deeper into themselves.”

This has been a big year for Bruce, who just got married a little over a month ago, to social worker and craftsperson Emi Sam Bruce. They’re currently making a patchwork quilt together.

“She’s my partner in crime,” he said.