Viviane Le Courtois: Edible? Review

Aly Nack

ARTH 3539-001

Exhibition Review: Viviane Le Courtois: Edible?

 

Viviane Le Courtois has been working since 1989 creating installations based off process and conceptual ideas. She creates these installations using collected materials, sounds, videos, animation, light, interactive elements, and series of sculptures, all of which are inspired by her surroundings and consumer culture whether it is from where she is living to where she has traveled. She received her MFA in sculpture and installation form the International School of Art and Research in Nice, France in 1992. Then after an immense amount of travel throughout Asia and a fellowship from the Korea Foundation, she moved to the United Sates and received her MA in Art History from the University of Denver in 2000. She has exhibited in both France and the United States since then, but now resides in Denver, Colorado. Her most recent installations have made commentary on sociopolitical, environmental and health issues. Le Courtois stated, “Many of my works indirectly criticize global contemporary society including wastefulness, environmental negligence, digital invasion, pharmaceutical foods or lack of observation. Addictions, collections or obsessive attachments to useless things such as food residues, single socks, empty pickle jars, junk food, weeds, plastic bags or junk mail fascinate me. Collaborations and interactions with others are an essential part of the process. My art is a series of experiments, chance discoveries and reflections on everyday life. For me, if people remember what they see, it is art” (www.vivianelecourtois.com).

Le Courtois’ has since been working with food as her main focus both as her medium and inspiration. Edible?, her most recent exhibition at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA), presents a larger portion of her work over the past twenty-two years. The exhibition consists of a “mid-career retrospective” as well as her newest installation, made particularly for BMoCA, The Garden of Earthy Delights. Because she has become so obsessed with using food within her work it is obvious that this body of work specifically comments on consumer culture. She uses sculptures, performances, videos, photos, prints, and interactive installations to explore the “processes of consumption, focusing on the repetitive aspects of food preparation, ceremonial food offerings, and the social implications of eating” (www.bmoca.org).

The Garden of Earthly Delights is the first piece you see as you enter BMoCA. The aroma of different herbs; such as mint, verbena, thyme, sage, and rosemary fill your nose. Each herb is arranged throughout the room in tiny gardens meant for consumption in tea. This is in reference to the ancient process of growing, collecting, and consuming plants. Visitors are given tiny clay mugs and invited to pick some of these herbs in order to brew their own tea. Then they are asked to relax, think, and interact with others around them by removing their shoes, and taking a seat on the beautiful rugs scattered between these tiny gardens. These rugs are actually made from used T-shirts Le Courtois collected from her surrounding community. She then cut the T-shirts into strips and crocheted them into the circle rugs.  After guests finished their tea they were encouraged to take the mug and throw it against one of the walls to the side of the installation. The red clay is in shambles in a pile at the foot of this wall, while the wall itself has remnants of red clay splattered all over it, in contrast to the very bright white wall. I thought this was very interesting because it seems as though she is commenting on American culture and how we do not take the time to sit with our friends and family to talk and enjoy a meal, yet she breaks this tranquility by smashing the mugs against the wall. This could also be making a comment on those individuals that do try to lead a healthy and tranquil life, but that they cannot always escape the pressure of the surrounding American culture. Although, I do remember one of the receptionists mentioning that this is an ancient tea ceremony performed in India.

On the opposite side of this installation there were twenty-one black and white prints on display, known as Kombucha Ethchings. These etchings are made naturally. She allows the dark kombucha mushrooms to float in a solution of tea and sugar, and then places them on an etching plate to dry. Once they are dried she peels them off and wipes the plate with ink to create these beautiful prints. Each print seems to contain different sized bubbles of some sort that form these images that remind me of looking at cells under a microscope. Also in this section of the exhibition was a large jar that contained live kombucha cultures, hence the name Live Kombucha. I knew that kombucha was a beverage, but after seeing that jar of it it became very unappetizing to me and I had no desire to ever try it. I then discovered that you actually remove the live cultures from the top layer and drink the remaining liquid, which made it a little better.

As you make your way into the next room of the museum it displays her earliest work. The first piece that really caught my eye was Apple Cores. At first this piece seemed very grotesque from a far; I thought it was old rotten apples placed on display, but in fact they were made of iron. This piece consisted of eleven apple cores made from cast iron sculptures placed in a glass casing, at about eye level. Each apple was eaten by a participant of an iron casting even at the University of Colorado at Denver, showing different ways that people eat apples. This is obviously a comment on different processes of consumption. Every person has different shapes and sizes of teeth and everyone has different patterns of eating, so therefore it is almost impossible to ask two different people to eat an apple the same way. This is very obvious within each apple core, all of them are different sizes, some ate more then others, and all the craters create different shapes within each apple core.

As you process through the museum you are provided with a wonderful passage way into the next room. Hanging from the door frame are two curtains made from candy, also known as Candy Curtains. These curtains are made from all sorts of candy, anything from marshmallows and licorice to life savers and gummyworms. At first I was mesmerized by these curtains and I really just wanted to pick them apart and eat them, but then I read the information and saw that they were made in 2008, that is a little unappetizing. I found it very interesting to discover that this piece along with many of her other pieces shown were made after she had worked with children, they introduced her to the world of junk food. It is not a surprise then that these pieces reflect on this experience in a number of  “fanciful and abstract ways”. This part of the exhibition is very light, fun, and intriguing in her use of materials. This is also very evident in, Pickles. This installation consisted of two towers of metal shelves, plexiglass, lights, and glass jars that contained many different objects. This was “created in memory of her mother who liked to save everything and kept a cabinet full of empty pickle jars with only vinegar left”. Each jar contained something different from anything like candy to pretzels to dismembered barbie dolls. It is almost impossible to walk by this piece without taking a second look. A viewer could stand in front of it for hours just looking at the multitude of jars and guessing what is inside of each. This was probably one of my favorite installations that was on display. After thinking about it a little more I feel like this is more of a comment of the processing of food. In our culture today everything we eat is processed and dredged in chemicals that are horrible for our bodies. In a way by putting inedible objects in these jars, she is commenting on how our food is practically inedible for all the food processing and preparation that is done to it.

Shane made in 2006, and Little Fat Kids made in 2008 both move you forward into her more grotesque depictions of people, that seem to be focusing on American obesity. Thye both obviously are making a statement on the social implications of eating junk food. Shane is a boy made from paper mache and then covered entirely in pastel colored marshmallows. It is pretty intriguing because she made him so colorful and inviting, but the message behind this piece is quite sad since it hints at the horrible eating habits of young American children. Also Little Fat Kids seems to comment on the same idea. These twenty some sculptures made from melted and cast candy are also very colorful, but instead of being quite pudgy they are a little chunky yet more abundant.

The last an final piece that grabbed my attention within the exhibit was one that focused on potatoes, and more specifically food preparation. Generation of Peelings is a thirty minute video installation of someone peeling potatoes over and over again. At the foot of the video is a recycled burlap sack that contains dehydrated potato peelings. This piece specifically connects with the artist’s heritage and the basic actions of life. Women in her family have peeled and cooked potatoes for generations. She associates this peeling of potatoes with carving sculptures. “It is a beautiful visual, symbolic, and meditative act – an act that feeds many. The piece combines the action of peeling in a video and the residues from this action. Le Courtois collected potato peelings for months for this piece and organized potato potlucks to get more peelings, involving many other in the same action. Today, many people are far removed from the acts of making objects and preparing meals. This piece brings memories of a time where women spent hours in the kitchen to provide basic food for their family.” I thought this was a very nice piece, but I have to disagree a bit with the last comment. I do not want to sound like a feminist or anything, but the American culture has progressed and allowed women to provide for their families in other ways.

Going to the BMoCA allowed me to learn a lot about Viviane Le Courtois. I have to say I was a bit skeptical at first, since her whole exhibition was on food. I guess I was afraid it was all going to be smelly and grotesque, but in the end I thought it was an amazing experience. I was also very interested in the fact that Le Courtois herself performed this ritual every saturday by tending to the plants, serving tea, and offering samples of sprouts, microgreens, and baby greens that are also grown within the museum as part of the exhibit. I wish I had the time to go and meet with her during her performance, I would have loved to be able to talk with her specifically about her body of work. I also love how she is able to put her personal background and experiences into her work, but still allows her audience to relate and experience it in their own way.

 

Works cited:

6 Responses

  1. I was immediately interested when I read about The Garden of Earthly Delights; so much of “Art” with a capital A is displayed at a distance from us on a museum wall, with signs boasting “do not touch.” Artwork that spans out of this “traditional” realm and invites the viewer to interact is always inviting to me. I think that our connection when interacting with a piece can be so much greater than simply looking at a painting on the wall. We are, after all, commonly kinesthetic learners.
    I also consider it important to be able to make my own connections with art, even if they are “incorrect” or not as the artist intended. In the case of Candy Curtains, however, I don’t feel as though it would be much of a stretch to connect the idea to Willy Wonka’s amazing factory. Since the exhibition will be open through June, I plan to make a trip to see the exhibit myself with my dad.
    Excellent review paper!

  2. I really enjoyed your description of “Generation of Peelings.” I thought it was a beautiful piece, but I understand why her comment about the piece being reminiscent “of a time where women spent hours in the kitchen to provide basic food for their family” upset you. While, I think the statement can be looked at as being somewhat confrontational, I think Le Courtois is trying to speak to a larger picture. I believed she is trying to suggest how far American culture is removed from the process of preparing meals because the majority of the food we consume is processed and packaged. This piece is so intriguing because it shows the love and care that goes into even the simplest acts of food preparation, like peeling potatoes.

  3. I thought it was intriguing how Le Courtois was able to bring her own interests in her history, family, and women together through her investigation of food. I also enjoyed your discussion of “Generation of Peelings” because this was a piece I glance over only quickly while at the museum. I didn’t find it interesting, but after reading the background information you found I think it’s more worthy of attention.

  4. I also visited this exhibition. Reading your paper i learned even more about her than i learned when i wrote my own. Your backround information added a lot to your reliability

  5. I am not typically a fan of the type of exhibits that are featured at BMoCA, the last time I visited the space was filled with empty chicken coops and I had a hard time finding the art in any of it; yet, this exhibition seems like it would be something that I would enjoy. It’s quite interesting that the artist made “The Garden of Earthy Delights” so interactive by allowing visitors to create their own tea. I don’t know how I would feel about going to an exhibition and taking my shoes off to sit on the floor, but I can appreciate the inclusion of audience participation, up to and including the breaking of the mugs against the wall. The kombucha prints also sound very interesting; I share your thoughts about ever trying the tea though, I have multiple family members who are really into growing and drinking the disgusting mushrooms, but I have absolutely no interest in ever trying it

  6. I really want to visit this exhibit and after reading your paper I can’t wait until I do. The background information really set up a nice foundation as I read through the rest of the post. Great job describing the exhibit. Love all of the detail! Nice job.

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