Brittany Hill Vivian Le Courteous Review

Brittany Hill

Contemporary Art

Exhibit Review


Vivian Le Courteous: Edible?

The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art is currently featuring a twenty year retrospective of the Denver based artist Vivian Le Courteous. Throughout her career she has been exploring a multitude of ideas that stem from food: as a connection to family heritage, community, ritual, and types of consumption. She uses a wide range of mediums such as video, installation, sculpture, photography, and most recently interactive installation. As the title Edible? enquires, viewers must question what is food preparation? What is important? What is edible?

The back room of the exhibit features a broad selection of her work from the 1990’s to more recent work. Everything from sculptures to video fill the room, which is permeated with the sound of loud crunchy chewing, coming from one of the pieces. Some pieces explore the artificiality of food production and call attention to the unhealthy consumption which takes place in our society. In the piece Fat Little Kids, several small sculptures of bulbous human figures are lined up. They are made up of artificial colors, and have a plastic sheen to them, however upon inspection, it is revealed that they are actually composed of melted candy. Having an “edible” material being mistaken for plastic clearly communicates the concern for artificiality in our mass consumption society. She approaches this same theme in other sculptural work, such as the piece Artichoke. The sculpture is an artichoke head, finely detailed, and cast iron.

The image of the vegetable is universally pure and nature, but the metallic dull quality of the iron that encapsulates it is shockingly lifeless. I found this to be one of my favorite pieces, aesthetically speaking, because the juxtaposition between fake and man made, and the natural environment was very appealing. I also that it was very accessible to a viewer; she is exploring important issues, in a very conceptual way but is still very readable to a broad audience.

Le Courteous also approaches the theme of socializing and community that is connected to the ritual of eating and food preparation. How to Eat an Artichoke is a sculptural byproduct of an interactive performance that took place. Three hanging grass baskets display the eaten leaves of an artichoke, dried and curled from time. She asked participants to sit together and eat an artichoke. In turn, they interacted with each other, shared and talked, all while scraping away at the artichoke’s leaves. The product is somewhat interesting to see; being able to decipher everyone’s unique teeth marks, and different ways of eating. All the natural elements in the piece made me read into it as almost native, especially with the implications of a ritual theme. The contrast between this type of work, and her other work that uses man made material shockingly works well together, and truly strengthens her exploration of every aspect of food.

In the first exhibit room when you first enter the museum, Le Courteous invites you to become an active participant in the piece. The space is filled with living plants, sitting on the floor, being lit from overhead. The walls are lined with simplistic black and white photographs of plant organisms at microscopic levels. The aesthetic space is very earthy and authentically natural. The participant is invited to pick their own leaves to make a cup of tea, contributing to the ritual of healthy consumption. There are seating areas where they can relax and enjoy the space while drinking. Once finished, the cup should be thrown against the wall, which creates a stunning array of terra cotta dust speckling the wall above a pile of broken cups. The performance is very ritual-like, the smashing of the cup is strange and violent, but the entire experience is comforting, in that it invokes a strong sense of community and togetherness over something so natural and universal: food.



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