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Artist Wes Bruce Enshrines Memories At Lux Art Institute

Aired 10/22/12 on KPBS News.

We all have a room in the house we grew up in that is special to us. Just thinking of it can stir up memories. That human connection to an actual building is the basis for an artist’s installation at the Lux Art Institute in Encinitas.

The invitation for artist Wes Bruce's opening reception, "Structures Poetry Humans," at Lux Art Institute.
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Above: The invitation for artist Wes Bruce's opening reception, "Structures Poetry Humans," at Lux Art Institute.

On a dusty bluff behind the Lux Art Institute in Encinitas, there’s a building made of wood palettes. It’s bigger than a shack, but just smaller than a barn. It looks handmade. The sheer size suggests a crew of builders at work. Surprisingly, it was built by one man: 27-year-old artist Wes Bruce.

"Just for the sake of really connecting with the ideas and the space itself, I chose to build most of it with my own time and hands and thought," says the boyish-looking Bruce.

Artist Wes Bruce has been shooting a photo a day during 2012, as part of his latest project "Structures Poetry Humans." This photo was taken February 8.
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Above: Artist Wes Bruce has been shooting a photo a day during 2012, as part of his latest project "Structures Poetry Humans." This photo was taken February 8.

Though empty now, over the next few days this building will be transformed into a makeshift shrine. It's not meant to be a religious space, but it is one of reverence.

Bruce is planning to fill the space with scraps of memory shared with him by strangers. He's translated their stories into imagined journal entries and calls the hybrid product "poetic memories."

If a modern-day Romantic movement ever sprouts in San Diego, Bruce would be a strong contender for its leader. His blond hair even curls above the forehead, Lord Byron style.

"I have a firm belief there’s poetry soaked and saturated into anything and everything if you allow it to be drawn out," says Bruce.

Today, one way to draw it out is through the internet. Bruce set up a website, asking people to tell him about the important buildings in their lives. "Whether it’s the house you grew up in or the place you work. The place you went to school or some place that you worship in," explains Bruce.

The buildings serve as the catalysts for memory. "It’s the experiences of human beings I’m interested in, as plain as any given day might be," says Bruce.

Bruce took all the letters and stories he's collected and wrote parts of them down, using a quill and inkwell. The memories/journal entries are written on weather-beaten scraps of paper he's has found all over the country.

Artist Wes Bruce's installation at Lux Art Institute is inspired by an abandoned church the artist found on Highway 80 in Nebraska.
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Above: Artist Wes Bruce's installation at Lux Art Institute is inspired by an abandoned church the artist found on Highway 80 in Nebraska.

"It’s been this slow collection process where I’ll find a stack here or an old dilapidated notebook there. Or even cruising downtown, I’ll find one that’s been weathered. I’ll take that and do a writing or a drawing on it."

Over the last couple of years, Bruce's artwork has been rooted in his fascination with abandoned buildings. In 2010, he built a 2,000 square foot fort inside the California Center for the Arts in Escondido. In it were hundreds of objects he’s collected from abandoned homes. "I think of [abandoned homes] as places that keep memories and experiences. All the objects in there act as mementoes," says Bruce.

Interior view of the abandoned church artist Wes Bruce discovered on Highway 80 in Nebraska. The space is the inspiration for his latest project, opening at Lux Art Institute in Encinitas.
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Above: Interior view of the abandoned church artist Wes Bruce discovered on Highway 80 in Nebraska. The space is the inspiration for his latest project, opening at Lux Art Institute in Encinitas.

The building at Lux was inspired by an abandoned church Bruce found on Highway 80 in Nebraska.

"It had old Gothic-style stained glass windows that were are all blown out. The pews are still in the church but they’re all crooked and askew," says Bruce, still awestruck by the discovery. "I’d never been to a space that I knew without a doubt had been a sacred, spiritual, worshipful place."

Bruce received a Creative Catalyst Grant from the San Diego Foundation. With the funds, he partnered with Lux and decided to build his own abandoned structure. He's going to fill it with those found papers and "poetic memories."

Standing inside the building, Bruce waives his arms to show the expanse of the space. "It’s going to be kind of manic with tons and tons and tons of paper everywhere," he says. Papers will cover the walls and hang from the ceiling.

Bruce also collects old photographs. At a recent visit to his studio, Bruce and his friend Troy lean over a table covered with vintage photographs, some black and white, some color. Many have the white borders signaling a bygone photographic era. Troy picks up a faded color photograph of a man under a palm tree. He laughs, "This is, like, the original Instagram."

Bruce found many of these photos in abandoned homes. They will hang in his building alongside all the paper memories. "Just to have those two things rub up against each other feels like there’s some kind of poetic magic that happens."

And in the end, that’s what it’s really about for Bruce, capturing the poetry in life's moments both big and small. He sees poetry everywhere: in abandoned buildings, on street corners, in loose scraps of paper. And, especially, in people’s memories.

Wes Bruce's art installation "Structures Poetry Humans" opens to the public Thursday, October 25th. If you attend the opening reception at Lux, be sure to bring a flashlight and some hiking shoes.

Evening Edition

Above: We all have a room in the house we grew up in that is special to us. Just thinking of it can stir up memories. That human connection to an actual building is the basis for an artist’s installation in Encinitas. KPBS arts reporter Angela Carone takes us there to meet the artist and recipient of a San Diego Foundation Creative Catalyst Grant.

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