Vivian Le Courtois, Edibles? – Erin Lorentzen

Vivian Le Courtois, Edibles? Exhibition Review


Vivian Le Courtois currently has a mixed retrospective and site-specific, interactive installation at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. Le Courtois is a French born artist that received her MFA in Sculpture and Installations from the International School of Art and Research in Nice 1992 and then moved to the United States in 1994. She currently lives and creates in Denver and has exhibited in a number of places in the US and Europe. ( The exhibition Edible? by Viviane Le Courtois at BMoCA not only allows the viewer to walk through the twenty-two years that she has worked with food as a medium, but also contains the installation piece that invites the viewer into the piece to interact so far as to actually consume the piece.

The installation piece that Vivian Le Courtois created for BMoCA is entitled The Garden of Earthly Delights and captures the audience immediately. Six large lights over a variety of growing plants immediately draw the viewer attention inward to the garden feel in this white exhibition space. Questions begin to arise why there are garden like plants growing in a museum and then someone offers to bring you hot water so you can pluck and make hot tea out of the very material that makes up the piece. The idea of art as an edible material is intriguing and out of the ordinary but Le Courtois has used tea, which is a common relaxing type of drink. Much of her other work is made out of Cheetos and candies, and would have been offering a different type of feel.

So why are these plants growing here? Why are people offering hot water to make tea out of the material portion of the art? With The Garden of Earthly Delights, Le Courtois “envisioned a space for people to relax, think, and interact.” Originally gathering the idea from the way people interacted at gallery openings, gathering in small groups, quietly talking and discussing, pausing to think about what’s before them. She wanted to recreate this sense of interaction of thought. Combining that with her ever-favorite idea of consumption, she bound this installation in a mix between the interactions and consumption.

In the information provided on the gallery wall about the piece, Le Courtois talks about the little gardens as “in reference to the ancient process of growing, collecting, and consuming plants.” When Le Courtois comes in every Saturday to “tend to the plants,” she is recreating this type of ancient growing process. The viewer is allowed to take part in some of this process, the consumption of plants part, but the feel of the interactions is more apparent. The way the viewer is invited “in for a cup of tea” speaks greatly on the way communication and interaction is heightened by having some sort of inviting offer of consumption. Over a cup of tea or over a beer seems to be where society has come to discuss a variety of topics, thoughts, and intimate moments. Le Courtois’s rugs made of recycled t-shirts she gathered from friends and families sit in between the tiny gardens, which connects the process of collecting between people to this idea. On the rugs there are ceramic “tables” where the viewers are invited to sit and talk, relax, think or even just be for a moment.  A comfortable social setting is created as her “art.”

Now the viewer has enjoyed a cup of tea, delighted in some conversation among others, and is ready to move back to see the retrospective portion of the exhibition. The advice from the front desk attendant moves the viewer to around the space from left to right. A framed dress dyed with fruit peels and a self portrait of Le Courtois wearing said dress are seem first, but as the viewers turned to see the next piece a lot more stopped to analyze the next piece Bâtons de Rélisse Machés (Chewed Licorice Sticks). This piece created in 1990 exhibits twenty eight licorice sticks that Le Courtois chewed in order to sculpt into their new forms. I was drawn to this piece for its aesthetic qualities of different sizes and shapes displayed in such a scientific and documentary type manner, but in contrast to then ponder that her mouth so intimately sculpted the licorice sticks. The idea of using the mouth, the part of our bodies that partakes in the pleasure of consumption, is being used in such a manner as a tool. This piece really drew me into thinking deeper about Le Courtois’s conceptual basis of both personal and societal consumption.

Now drawn in, I get to the video Movements Répétitifs (Repetitive Movements) where she is performing pieces like Bâtons de Rélisse Machés in a video excerpts compiled into a loop. Although I like the documentation of performance pieces and the ability to view the effort it takes to create, I don’t think the video was essential. From just seeing the licorice sticks chewed I could imagine the task of sculpting by chewing, and enjoyed the idea that the end result was still as interesting as the concept. The end result was again important when I got to Apple Cores from 2007 where Le Courtois had participants eat apples. She then casted the apples in iron to display these documentations once again of the way the mouth works, and here how the mind controls the mouth differently in people. The apple cores left allowed the viewer to consider how each one the person that ate it took in. Teeth imprints and the imperfections take the pieces out of standard “objects” into being a conceptual entity feeding her work.

Another piece that captivated my interest was Cheetovore from 2002. As soon as I had stepped into the retrospective portion of the exhibition, I had heard this constant chewing. Not only does that reflect on the way I thought about the exhibition as a whole but wanted to know where it was coming from. When I got to Cheetovore I had finally figured it out by circling the large structure hanging from the ceiling. Paper maché over a wire mesh is completely covered by Cheetos to take on a flowing, rhythmic shape. This shape can appear to be what was once a person is now covered in their own rhythmic consumption combined with the constant sound of chewing, which can be rhythmic in it’s own way. Of all of Le Courtois’s “covered figures” I found this one to be the most interesting. The idea that she wasn’t using the oversized figure cliché to consumption really grabbed my attention. This figure instead spoke about the rhythms of life and the way consumption can overtake way a person, small or large.  The figure then morphs into this creature that is no longer human but is just a product of their consumption.

Over all, Viviane Le Coutois’s exhibition Edibles? at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art was intriguing and thought provoking.  The Garden of Earthly Delights is a great interactive piece to encourage interaction and thought, which also fits stunningly in a gallery that sits directly in the Boulder Farmers Market fantastically. Her retrospective works allow a nice viewing of her career in considering consumption and modern life.

3 Responses

  1. I also really liked the way the the lights hung over the plants. I thought that it centered them and really created a great focus for the room. I found the way that you could enteract with the art very refeshing becuase many people do not view or understand how growing food can be an art form. The way the art was interact with the tea was really great too becuase people so frequently think of interactive art for children with drawings or running through a maze or somehting.

  2. When is this exhibit over? I would love to go see it! I agree with Kathryn and find it interesting that some people don’t find gardening to be a form of art. But I think that it is just as much an art as a Zen Garden or Lawrence Argent’s work that he only “creatively directs”. I find this artist to be somewhat similar to Janine Antoni in the way she produces some of her works with her body (in this artist’s case, her mouth). It is interesting the difference in the views of what art is today and what it was when my grandmother was my age. I was talking to her the other day about some of the contemporary art pieces I have been learning about and she is astonished as to how “art” has changed. She said “it makes her feel so old”. I don’t think she was view some of Le Courtois’ work the same way we are taught to today.

  3. You did a good job with the amount of research you put into this paper however, I think it would benefit your paper to reorganize the way you talk about the exhibition as a whole. Some sections of your paper, particularly at the beginning, are slightly hard to follow because you jump back and forth between a few of her main ideas. I think you are on the right track. It sounds like you really enjoyed the exhibition.

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