Making it Through: Artist Karen Lembke Talks Apocalypse

Sewing and Fabric Specialist turns miniature extraordinaire.

Photo courtesy of the artist Karen Lembke

We sat down with Karen Lembke, Sewing and Fabric Specialist, who has been with Meow Wolf for two years and talked about what she’s been up to since quarantine. She misses being around the people at the production building and making eye contact. But despite her isolation, she’s hard at work on some elements for our upcoming exhibition. 

You're home now, what are you working on?

Today, and for the last little while, I'm pretty much fully focused on something called frozen flowers. It's a very small diorama element. . . but it's been a highlight, my main focus for the last month or so.

It's like 24 inches by 32 inches, like a corner, a little corner nook type shape. And I'm building a kind of like alien flowers or alien botanical life that shows what earlier life was like in this world. Then the universe took over and made all these other things. It's like an extremely fun process because I just get to mess around and look at things online and get inspiration on shapes and forms and then figure out how to make them with the materials that I have. And yeah, I have it set up over there, I'm looking at it at where it's at right now and I'm just like, "Oh, it looks so good."

When you say materials, what types of materials is it? Is it fabric-based, mostly?

It's actually not. I've been lucky that I've been able to branch out a lot and do more sculptural work. And I've been working with mostly materials that I'm familiar with, like a two part resin polymer called Magic Sculpt. I'm working with resin for this because they're supposed to look ice-licked and kind of like glistening and watery. I'm working with resin, which I've done before, but this is like a really fun time to do all types of different things with it. I did finally incorporate a textile element, which was using raw wool roving and I made kind of like a spider web type thing.

Did you imagine the apocalypse differently?

I guess I haven't really thought about this as the apocalypse. I always think every day is like the apocalypse, I'm pretty weighed down by the state of the world these days and I'm also like an anxious and depressed person. I have to really keep all of that in check and in balance and when the quarantine stuff came up, I was partially happy selfishly. And then also just trying to wrap my head around it because a lot of my experiences in life are being outside of my body and not really feeling the present moment.

There's been that, and I'm still, at this point, I feel what we're going through, I know what we're going through. I thought a dystopian future might have flying cars in it or something and maybe animatronic or automated animals and robots and stuff. But I guess we're just doing it right now.

Could you recommend a podcast or two?

One that pretty constantly cheers me up and makes me chuckle, is the Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend Podcast. Whether, I mean, I know he's maybe kind of divisive, but like whether or not he's got a subject that is really interesting, I just know he's going to make me laugh. I love crime ones. I think one of the most chilling ones that I listened to was called Broken Harts and it's not hearts like the organ, it's H-A-R-T-S. And I mean, this is for, really, people that like sad, sad, sad stuff–this is not for the lighthearted. That one, I kind of think about on a regular basis because the story is just so messed up and somewhere in the middle is this podcast called Nocturne, that is all about stories of things that happen in the nighttime. And they're really succinct and they're really beautiful, they're well-produced and yeah, I was like, I can work on something and listen to five of them in a row because they've got something good to give.