Viviane Le Courtois: Edible? (Jillian Fox)

Jillian Fox

ARTH 3539

Art exhibit paper: Viviane Le Courtois: Edible?

The Viviane Le Courtois exhibit: Edible? was totally different from any exhibit I have seen before. Le Courtois is an artist, curator and teacher who has been inspired and using food as a medium for 22 years. She has been working with and creating conceptual based installations since 1989[1]. Originally from France, she is a highly educated Denver-based artist. The recent installations she has created often are reflecting on socio-political, environmental and health issues in society[2]. In this particular exhibit, she focuses on everyday actions, like eating, that people do and on remembering where you come from. She has a great taste for design, clearly stemming from being a curator, and set up the exhibit in an appealing way, a way where all of the pieces worked well in the entire space. The four pieces I chose to focus on, the ones that intrigued me the most, are “Generations of Peelings”, “Venus of Consumption”, “Cueilletes (Forages)”, and “Pickles.” These works got me thinking more than any of the other pieces in the exhibit.

“Generations of Peelings” is a piece Le Courtois created in 2011. The work features a black and white video installation of hands peeling potatoes in quick movements repetitively. The huge screen is projected on the white-walled background. At the foot of the wall, underneath the screen, there are recycled burlap sacks covered with dehydrated potato peelings. The text description of the work notes that the women in her family have obsessively peeled potatoes for generations. The hands are peeling each potato so fast without even skipping a beat; it is a skilled act and the video is clearly emphasizing how habitual the act was for her and her family. I think this piece is commenting on a couple of ideas. First, I think Le Courtois is commenting on the habitual act of having to eat everyday and how much work actually goes into the act of eating food. The skill of the hands peeling the potatoes and the repetitive work are emphasizing this aspect intensely. Second, I think she is also reflecting on how much work the women in her family did to feed and take care of everyone. The careful and skilled motions are displaying a type of lasting determination, a kind of unconditional devotion to meeting a family’s needs. These women were skilled at taking care of their family and I think Le Courtois is admiring and realizing all of the work it took for them to do so. Lastly, the collection of the dehydrated potato skins on top of the burlap potato sacks on the ground represent, in my opinion, all of the memories she has collected over the years; the memories of being well-fed and taken care of. My impression was that all of the elements of the work combined are emphasizing the amount of work it even takes to peel the number of potato skins on the floor and those on the floor do not even amount to how many the women in her family have had to do. Moreover, the dehydrated potatoes are simply a tangible way to keep those memories and admirations alive.

The next piece I focused on was the “Venus of Consumption” sculpture that she made in 2010. The Venus was made of acrylic yarn, stuffing and silicone. It is a large, round, orange figure laying on its side on one arm and touching its stomach with the other hand. All of the features are very exaggerated and completely rounded. The legs look like they are stretched out and twisted around and the figure has no hair or breasts; you cannot tell what gender the “Venus” really is. The large figure is colored a bright orange, which makes it stand out, among the other pieces, despite it being so tired-looking. “Venus” refers to a beautiful woman or a mythical goddess and “consumption” means the using up of a resource or eating, drinking or ingesting something. When looking at this piece, I see a body that is full and satisfied and in a state of relaxation. I believe Le Courtois is commenting on how eating and drinking so much can be so satisfying. So many of her works have commented on social implications of eating and the stigmas attached to this natural process that we do everyday to survive. The “Venus of Consumption” comments on the artist defending eating against the idea that it is just something that makes you fat and ugly. Perhaps the artist intended to create the figure as a tangible figure of the goddess of eating. Initially, I thought the sculpture was ugly and disgusting. After thinking about it more and reading a short biography on her website, my understanding is that she is trying to convey how eating can be beautiful, denoted by the connotation of the title of being a “Venus”.

Le Courtois’ “Cuellites (Forages)” is the third work I examined, and the one I found the most intriguing. This 1992 piece features 10 framed photos, black and white images, of her doing a performance in Nice, France. The photos are in a row along the white wall. The text description explains that she performed by only eating food that she collected in the wild for an entire week, including seaweeds, chestnuts, berries, and herbs for every meal. In each of the photos she is wearing small eyeglasses and a long black robe, and has messy black hair. She is sitting cross-legged on the floor eating or drinking in the photos. The subtitle “forages” also indicates her bringing herself “down to earth” in a way, as does her position sitting on the floor. Foraging refers to the early days before civilization when small clans relied on hunting and gathering for survival. They would collect their food from the wild or follow it where they needed to. This food was straight from nature, untainted by mankind, just like the food Le Courtois is eating in her performance. She is retreating back to the earth for nourishment from the untouched nature. The multiple photos of her eating represents the repetitive act that we seem to under-appreciate every day. I think the artist is suggesting that everyone should take the time to put good things into their bodies, no matter how tedious of an act it may be; in other words, that pure nature can satisfy us the most. Once I learned that Le Courtois’ recent work also reflects on environmental and health issues[3], I believed this piece to be a comment on how we are using the environmental resources up to sustain ourselves, and  the duration of eating food from the wild for one week represents how these resources can only last so long.

The last work I chose to analyze was one that I did not really like at all, but I thought it provoked a lot of thought and had a strong meaning behind it. Le Courtois’ “Pickles,” made in 2003, is an installation with rows of metal shelves emitting illuminating lights on to the multiple pickle jars atop of them. All of the jars were different sizes containing different colored juices, pickles and other small objects. The installation actually really disgusted me, but I was able to deduce some purpose behind it. After I read the text description adjacent to the piece, I learned that it was made in memory of her mother who would store pickle jars with only the vinegar left in them. From that I believed the all of the items inside the pickle jars represent Le Courtois holding onto the memories of her mother. The act of storing not only is a direct reminder of her mother, but it represents storing all the different memories, good or bad, kept inside the pickle jars. The illuminating light below all of the jars lightens them up, even the darker ones. I think the artist intended to show viewers how to keep memories alive and this piece is keeping those living memories of her mother in a good light, no matter how ugly they are to look at. One definitely gets a strange feeling looking at the installation; it is almost a little bit creepy. On the contrary, I do think it has a happier tone, or meaning.

My impression of Viviane Le Courtois, as an artist, is that she is extremely odd and really examines and translates life issues different from everyone else. Even though I really did not like her work, all of her pieces were complex and intriguing. She has remarkable talent to be able to translate her thoughts, feelings and impressions the ways she did so in all of her installations. I do not know if all of my impressions about her pieces were accurate, but I do know that they all have the power to evoke deep thoughts within any viewer, whether they enjoy her work or not. My ultimate impression was that all of her works seem to morph together to make the act of eating, what people take for granted everyday, something to appreciate and something more significant than it is commonly forgotten to be. She wants us to remember it, appreciate it, and see the beauty in doing so. In this gallery setting, she made everyday objects that are sometimes regarded as useless something beautiful and worth remembering.

2 Responses

  1. I liked how you mentioned that Venus of Consumption was not classified as female or male, I didn’t even think about that when I saw the piece. I automatically thought of it as a woman because of its title “Venus.” I also liked how you said the artist thought of eating as beautiful, but when I looked at it I thought that it looked like a figure who had ate out of gluttony until it couldn’t move anymore rather than a positive thing. Great paper though.

  2. I too walked through this exhibition and found the idea of using food as material, fascinating! An artist commenting on everyday acts, such as eating, is something that I admired about Janine Antoni’s work! I agree with the comment above about “Venus of Consumption.” I think it sheds light on the mindless consumption in this country. That is why I thought her coming from France and basing her art career in Denver was interesting. I wonder if the cultural differences have been a motive for her work.

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