Exhibition Paper – Viviane Le Courtois – Elizabeth David

Libby David

Viviane Le Courtois

 

Viviane Le Courtois was a fascinating artist to see at the BMoca. This currently Denver based artist was born, and attended college in France, from 1969 until graduation from the International School of Art and Research in Nice in 1992. She then moved to the U.S. in 1994 where she has continuously produced work about food. The exhibition was a collection of her work, entitled “Edible?”, spanning this 20 year period of process and conceptual based artwork. The artist is commenting on the norms of consumption in society today, as well as the connections and disconnections we can have with our roots, concerning the culture of eating. In her artist statement she says, “My art is a series of experiments, chance discoveries and reflections on everyday life… I select or invent processes and materials to fit each concept from multimedia installations to sculptures and original etching processes.” These ideas were clearly portrayed in her exhibition, along with other thoughts on wasteful consumerism, addiction, and other social commentaries. This show intrigued, disgusted, and overall impressed.

The first work you experience as you enter the gallery is “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, and it is all at once a calming and intriguing experience. Meant to be conducive to gallery openings and other encounters, this piece allows you to interact with it anyway you and the people around you choose. There is a strong sense of love and care that goes into the piece, what with the simple, rustic accessories around the thriving plants, and homemade rugs and tables. The rugs as well as drapery coming from the ceiling were made from recycled t-shirts gathered from friends. This only increased the sense of care; I really felt that this was someone’s garden and indeed the artist tended to it like such, returning every Saturday to water the edible plants and allow viewers to sample them. Another part of this first installation that intrigued me was the shelves of seeds germinating in tupperware containers. I knew what they were right away just because of the context, but they mostly looked like bugs, set aside as these weird specimens and they immediately made me think; edible? A recent work that was also placed in this room was a series of kombucha etchings, which I found incredibly beautiful and detailed. These prints were probably my favorite part of the show. There was also a large jar filled with kombucha, which I thought was incredible-looking, but at the same time really grossed me out. I knew someone who used to brew and drink kombucha all the time, but I do not think that her jar ever had that much of the culture. Once again, as I am looking at the squiggly layers of material that looks like brains, I think; edible? It is a strange conundrum, because at first you may think, we eat living things all the time, plants and animals. Technically however, when we eat these things they are already dead whereas with this drink you are ingesting actual living cultures. As before, Courtois’s work is dancing on the lines of what you can, cannot, and would want to eat.

The next works, entering the subsequent gallery space and going left so that her work unfolds chronologically, deal with the motions of everyday eating. The looks of some of the displays are similar to that of science and anthropology museums, and is intended as such by the artist. It makes me feel like we are supposed to be scrutinizing these objects, and trying to recognize the significance of their history. For example, “Chewed Licorice Sticks”, was a piece with a row of these items, which looked like strange old roots, completely inedible. It was accompanied by a video of Courtois repeatedly chewing the licorice, and it is then that you feel more attached to the piece. To see that they were made by her craft of mouth and then arranged so articulately really accentuated this constant motion of eating that happens throughout our lives. Courtois says, “I obsessively accumulate and transform conceptually interesting, useless but precious objects.” Another two pieces going along with this idea are “Moldy Sculptures” and “Apple Cores”. Both of these are similarly displayed, and both feature basically unwanted pieces of trash, though preserved and beautified in their own way. The moldy sculptures of a zucchini, spaghetti, and a pear core are coated in clear resin. This piece makes me think that we need to appreciate the life cycle of nature, and treasure what is evidence of that; like old moldy food. The apple cores in the other piece are actually iron casts, and their arrangement and textural qualities lend themselves to being really aesthetically pleasing. I think about the norms of consumption with this piece, because each apple is eaten the same way, and who is to say how you must eat an apple. I also get a sense of love of these apples, that has inspired their creation; to cast something in iron is to really make it glorified, preserved and remembered, even though it is such an ordinary fruit of life. There is also an artichoke in cast iron that is a more recent work, and I think this goes right along with the apple cores. The artist is cherishing this otherwise useless or average object, and it is even more meaningful in this case because the artichoke is an important plant from her childhood, and she has more pieces dealing with this as well. I enjoyed these artworks because it asks what do we cherish, what do we think is beautiful, and how do we show that. Her displays, processes, and items she chooses really get across these ideas.

Leading into the next section of the exhibition, was a piece called “Candy Curtains”. This piece seemed a little more craft-like rather than something with a deep concept, but it was very fitting because it led into a whole section addressing ideas of over consumption. The curtains both enticed and repulsed at the same time because it was just strings of delicious treats, but I knew that they were old and had been there for awhile. Straight through the curtains was the piece, “Cheetovore”, and it was another one of my favorite pieces. It looked like a slab of meat hanging in a butcher shop, but it was made of Cheetos. To me this piece is about the idea of contemporary consumerism as being brutal and abrupt, like a slab of bloody meat. This brutal process that I think of is not necessarily in the making of Cheeto’s, but rather in the general commercialized market of chain companies selling meat. I am forced somehow to think about the hushed up, yet increasingly exposed industry of raising chickens and cows for slaughter in horrible conditions. There was also, in this social commentary on mass consumption, a couple works dealing with ideas of obesity, lethargy, and over-eating of foods that are bad for you, like candy, which many of these pieces utilize. One of them, titled, “Little Fat Kids”, was made entirely out of melted down candy; a little fat kids dream treat. But looking at these pieces close up, and being familiar with mold making, I got a strong sense of inedibility and foreboding. I knew that though they were really just sugar, they were covered in some kind of lubricant or other inedible substance applied so that the cast could be removed from the mold. These pieces, were not only reminiscent of the obese image, but they made you feel bloated as you might imagine having eaten all the candy that went into the works. They deal very directly with over-consumption, and it is fitting because her last section makes a return to the beginning, and thinking about eating and consumption in terms of her roots.

Courtois returns to ideas about repetition and tradition with, “Generations of Peelings”. The video installation piece includes dehydrated potato peelings piled on top of recycled burlap potato sacks, and placed at the foot of the projection. This video is 30 minutes long and is simply the artist’s hands peeling potato after potato. Like in her first piece, “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, this piece seeks to be read as a return to days when people spent time together growing, preparing and eating food. The use of the potato also relates heavily back to the artist’s family, and traditions of the women peeling and cooking for generations, hence the fitting title. It is literally, generations of peelings on the floor in front of you, and the peelings you can imagine that might have built up over actual generations. This act can also be associated with the act of carving or creating sculptures, and in this way it is truly a beautiful representation of an art and of an everyday act that we need for survival. “How to Eat an Artichoke” is also a piece linked strongly to her heritage. One of her grandfathers farmed artichokes, so she grew up eating them and cooking them with her mother. The collection of items on display was the details from the original installation and interactive piece in Denver. It included hanging shelves with dried artichoke leaves, and hand-woven baskets, because her other grandfather was a basket weaver. The piece was also very much like, “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, because during the original, the point was to provide a space for viewers to stop, share an interesting snack and perhaps get involved in talking with others. This piece allows us to blur the boundaries between life and eating, and art that is still strongly conceptual, although different. Although with both of these pieces I know that the dried peelings and leaves are not edible, I still get a strong sense of the hand that went into making and preparing the food that was inside.

Viviane Le Courtois’s body of work about, and dealing with food was expansive and fascinating. I enjoyed that she touched on many different aspects of this theme, like the repetitive and normal aspects of it, as well as important family traditions, and other traditions that may or may not be dying. She also comments on mass consumerism, what is beautiful, and how one might react to something being inedible and disgusting versus something that is appealing. I found that the piece, “Pickles”, grossed me out the most, because each jar was carefully tended to, to give a creepy, specimen-like appearance. In this way and with her other pieces Courtois’ work really engaged all of my senses, and really helped me to look below the surface and appreciate her work just for their inspiration, even though all of her artwork was aesthetically pleasing and interesting. This artist was a pleasure to experience first-hand, and I look forward to following her work in the future.

2 Responses

  1. I really love how much detail you have put into describing the works- esp when talking about the Garden of Earthy Delights (which btw you accidentally named it “Earthly,” drop the L). I also really enjoyed how much you put into sharing your own thoughts, and was able to get a better sense of your descriptions when you put in your own interpretations.

  2. I like how you talk about the pieces progressively, and walk the reader through, the way a visitor would experience the museum, room by room. you also did a really good job describing the pieces in depth. Also, i like how you give background information of the artist throughout the paper when you are describing how her personal life influenced each piece.

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