Viviane Le Courtois: Edible…Megan Keith

Megan Keith
Viviane Le Courtois: Edible

After wandering through the Boulder farmer’s market, my friend and I decided to stop into the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. We were met with an interesting sight: all across the first floor were potted plants with lights hanging above them. Next to the plants were rugs, and a huge wall was covered with red splatters.

This incredible exhibition was Viviane Le Courtois’s “Edible”. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before! It turns out the potted plants were holding different types of herbs that the viewer could come in and pick. Then we could take a red pottery cup, hand made by the artist, and put our chosen herbs in it. After adding hot water, we had our very own tea that we could sip while sitting on hand made rugs.

This first part of the exhibit was incredibly relaxing. There was a lot of natural light from the front windows, and there were lights hanging over each section of plants. After we were told to take a hand made cup and fill it with herbs of our choice and make tea, we were offered a seat at one of the rugs. I sat and drank my tea and watched the other viewers and participants for way too long. The whole experience was so calm and natural. I just loved it!

Then came the best part. The artist, whom we were lucky enough to meet, told us to go throw our cups at the wall! That explained what the red splatter was! At first I thought she was kidding, but she explained it was part of traditional Indian art. Apparently, the cups from which we were drinking were considered “trash” in other cultures, and smashed, left my the side of the road, and thrown away. And although I wanted to keep my cup, Le Courtois convinced me to throw it. So my friend and I finished up our tea and threw our cups at the wall. It was too much fun!

One of the artist’s assistants told us that this section of the exhibit was called “The Garden of Earthy Delights”. He told us the rugs that the artist had made were made from old t-shirts that she had collected and cut up. I instantly loved the name, it was so fitting. Walking into this part of the museum was really like walking into a lovely and serene garden. There were places to sit, places to enjoy the plants, places to make tea. It was incredibly relaxing. We finally had to tear ourselves away from this room and continue on to see what the rest of the exhibit held.

The main floor also contained a back room that housed some pretty…bizarre… items. For instance, there were many glass jars with strange things in them, such as Peeps candies and fake human fingers. There were also photos of the artist eating, and some strange sculptures, one even made of marshmallows.

This part of the exhibit contrasted interestingly with the previous section. The first section was so calm and relaxing and natural. This section was a bit unsettling. And while the sculptures were fun and innocent enough, the items floating in the jars were really unnerving. It was strange to look through these jars and see fake maggots and fake brains floating in some yellow liquid. Needless to say, I passed through this section quickly.

The top floor was absolutely awesome. It was a site specific installation and it looked like something from a movie about space! It was cardboard and styrofoam all over the place: some was on the ceiling, some was on the walls. There were angles jutting out all over. It looked pretty vicious, but the cardboard itself was quite soft. It was an interesting combination: soft material forming such extreme angles poking out at the audience.

At this point in the exhibit, I sat down and looked up at the ceiling of the installation. It was also covered in fun cardboard creations. It was then that I realized how incredibly diverse Viviane Le Courtois’ works are. Each section of the exhibit was strikingly different from the others. I saw another section and walked in, excited to see what else this fantastic artist had created, but was met with a fussy curator who told me to “scoot”. Oh well. The other exhibits had been great.

After we meandered around upstairs taking in her fantastic installation, (and getting yelled at for entering the unfinished section), we returned to the main floor to watch the other visitors throw their cups against the wall. Meeting Viviane Le Courtois was really a treat. She informed us about her Indian inspiration, told us that she made the rugs herself, and mentioned that she even made her own shoes! She really is a fascinating woman, and very easy to talk to! Apparently, she has been working with food for more than twenty years. I thought that was incredible. I had never seen an artist work with food before. It was a very interesting concept. I think having an additional sense, taste, in an exhibit in a very entertaining idea.

I enjoyed this exhibition much more than I thought I would. I walked in with my fresh veggies in my recycled bag, wearing Burkinstocks. I immediately felt at home with the nature in the exhibit. The plants she was growing were all so different tasting and smelling. I think the extra senses of taste, smell and touch in the exhibit made it more appealing than exhibitions that focus exclusively on sight.

The photos and fresh plants and fun sculptures paired amazingly with the taste of the fresh tea and the smell of the growing herbs. The cups we carried around added the sensation of touch as well. It was truly unlike any show I have experienced.

The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art’s online web article about Le Courtois mentioned that many of her pieces are actually made with food. For example, some of her paintings that we saw hanging in the gallery were made using mushrooms or kombucha. I had not heard of any type of art like this, and was very interested to learn about how she further ties in her use of food into her works.

An additional example of her using food was her pile of dried potato skins in a giant pile in the exhibit. There was a video playing over the pile: a video of someone peeling the potatoes. I sat and watched it for a while, strangely interested in the simplicity of the act. It was not until my trip down from the second floor that I noticed that the pile under the screen was a pile of the dried potato skins from the video! It was strange, but very interesting. I really enjoyed discovering the link between the object and the video.

In addition to using food in her art, Le Courtois told the BMoca that she truly enjoys interaction with her audience. After reading this, I understood why she came out and was talking to everyone. She liked to have those who view her work to be able to touch it, smell it, taste it, in addition to just seeing it. Reading this made me realize how incredibly down to Earth she is, and how she is interested in how her audience is able to interact with her.

After thinking about how Le Courtois was able to get her audience to interact, I researched some other instances of audience participation. It turns out, according to Denver Westworld Blogs, the rugs that I mentioned earlier were made from the t-shirts she collected from others. This was a really fun way to recycle and incorporate more from other people into her pieces. She took people’s old junk and turned it into something new and beautiful for another audience.

The most interesting aspect of the exhibit was how the different sections were so unlike the others. One was a beautiful, natural garden. The next seemed like the basement of some mad scientist. The last resembled a landscape from another planet. I did not know how to react as I went through. I am used to trying to find a common theme in all aspects of an exhibit. But there did not seem to be one common link through all the parts of this show.

I love this feeling when I leave an exhibit. I feel almost disappointed when I see many works of one artist and they all resemble the others. I really appreciate when the artist can showcase their diversity. That is exactly what Viviane Le Courtois did in this incredible exhibit. There was a section to sit back and relax in nature. There was a section to destroy. There was a section to marvel at the mathematical angles surrounding you. And there was a section to unnerve you. There was an opportunity to see, to smell, to taste and to touch. There was so much space for the audience to interact with the works, and that really made it an incredible experience for me. This exhibit really seemed to have it all.

The icing on the cake was getting to meet the artist herself. I have never had the opportunity to meet an artist while looking at their show. Meeting her really added another angle to the show. I got to see what she was like before I looked at her work. And as a psychology major, I really appreciate getting to meet someone before I learn anything about them. Physical presence and conversation is a powerful thing. Even though some sections of this exhibit made me uncomfortable, I now realize that there was a time and a place for discomfort. It was strategically placed alongside the place for relaxation. It was a truly incredible experience.

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