Exhibition Paper: Edible? Viviane Le Courtois

Wesley Grover

ARTH 3539

Professor van Lil

 

Viviane Le Courtois’ installation exhibition Edible? is a unique experience that showcases the artist’s work with food over the past 22 years. Before seeing Edible? at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, I was unfamiliar with Le Courtois’ work and, to be perfectly honest, had never really seen an installation art exhibit firsthand. I was not sure what to expect and the only knowledge I had going into the museum was that food was the medium. Immediately upon arriving I realized that Edible? was not merely constructed of food, but incorporated almost every facet of human interaction with it from the beginning of production to post-consumption. The exhibit defined the entire building’s atmosphere and created a friendly environment that invited the audience to engage with and even become a part of the work. After leaving Edible?  I felt it was a successful exhibition because it appealed to a diverse audience, effectively communicated a message, and created a unique experience that cannot be replicated.

In order to fully understand the depth of this exhibit it is important to remember that it is comprised of Le Courtois’ work over the past two decades. When she began working with food in the 1990’s Le Courtois was still living in France, where she was born and began her career before moving to the United States (www.bmoca.org). By viewing her artistic development over a period of time, the audience was able to track Le Courtois’ evolution as an artist as she explored new mediums. This included plants, sculpture, photographs, video and audio recording, drawings, and food, among others. The wide range illustrated how the entire exhibit has been constructed over many years, as technology and food production has evolved. Many of these pieces have been exhibited around the world, but this specific installation was created for BMoCA. As described on BMoCA.org, this was “the first opportunity to experience a large selection from this body of work in context.”

It is a daunting task to describe everything that Edible? had to offer and do it justice. This is partly due to the broad range of subject and material, but also because there was a certain ambiance that cannot be explained, what Walter Benjamin referred to as the “aura of art” (www.marxists.org). However, I will do my best to describe the exhibit and my experience with it as accurately as possible. As I entered the exhibit I was immediately offered a porcelain mug (made by Le Courtois) and invited to pick my own tea from The Garden of Earthly Delights, which was cultivated by the artist and setup in the middle of the room. As I helped myself to a cup and sat down on the rugs and pillows that made up a seating area around the garden, I realized that I had already become a part of the exhibit. I was not just engaging with it, but consuming it as I sipped my tea. It was a very cozy setup in The Garden of Earthly Delights and I mingled with other visitors on the pillows for a time. It was not until after leaving that I noticed it was the artwork, and more importantly our interaction with it, that brought the audience together. Without my knowledge, Le Courtois used food to get me acquainted with strangers and engage with them. It was an effective method to demonstrate the power of food and get the audience comfortable, but this was just the beginning of the artist’s social commentary.

After a few minutes on the pillows I ventured out to the rest of the exhibition. As I walked through Le Courtois’ various projects I was overwhelmed by the depth and complexity of her work. She did not simply gather a bunch of materials, throw them together, and call it art. Rather, she undertook procedures that require time and knowledge, such as growing vegetables or brewing kombucha. She took pictures, shot videos, sketched drawings, sculpted clay, and even created new techniques using junk food. One of my favorite parts of the exhibit was the Pickles series, which was inspired by Le Courtois’ mother who “had a tendency to keep pickle jars long after the contents had been consumed” (www.bmoca.org). These jars did not contain pickles, but random objects that she associated with her mother. I really enjoyed this series because it was the most personal and conveyed an intimate memory. The purpose of “pickling” foods is to preserve them; however, Le Courtois was doing it to preserve a memory her mother, specifically, how her mother interacted with food. I felt that this piece was important to the exhibit as a whole because it humanized the artist and offered incite in to her own experience with food and consumption. Furthermore, the repetition in this series was representative of the entire exhibit. Le Courtois uses repetition to illustrate the mass amounts of consumption and waste that is created in the world. People are usually unaware how much they really consume, but by juxtaposing all of the jars the artist forces the viewer to recognize it. Observing the long process and many stages of food production, I could not help but contemplate my own habits of consumption afterward.

Another piece that I particularly enjoyed was a group of small statues made from candy, titled Little Fat Kids.  Though her materials were unconventional, Le Courtois used a traditional method to create these “little fat kids”; she melted the candy and would then cast it in a mold. All of the statues were identical except for their color. I believe this was meant to demonstrate that although they appear different at first glance, they are not really. They are all just “little fat kids” being mass-produced. In my opinion, Le Courtois chose candy as the material for this project for several reasons. First, it suggests that we all become consumers at a very young age. Candy implies happiness, youth, and immaturity. The statues indicate that we become a product of our own consumption and it overtakes our bodies; it is deeply rooted within our society. Furthermore, the arrangement of the statues in rows also comments on the means of production. The large corporations that produce candy do not view their customers as people, but as “little fat kids”. The statues are consumers lining up for candy and appear fresh off the assembly line themselves. This illustrates how people become obsessed with consumption to the point that it defines who they are.

As I continued walking through the exhibition I could not help but observe the audience and their reaction to it. There was a diverse group of guests comprised of different ethnicities, ages, and social statuses. Everyone seemed to have a positive response to the exhibit, but what I found most interesting was how they expressed it. A group of people in their twenties sat around The Garden of Earthly Delights, discussing the work for most of the time I was there. Eager to demonstrate their knowledge they were in the in the thick of it, right in the very heart of the installation. Older couples cautiously worked the perimeter, occasionally venturing in to the garden, as they took in the exhibit. They were not as quick to touch and engage with the work as the younger generation that demands constant stimulation. And then there was the group of little kids, dragged to the museum by their parents, who appeared to get a sugar-high from the mere sight of candy, as they ran through the exhibit full of naïve excitement. The kind that can only be described as “a kid in a candy store”. As I observed this I could not help but feel that we were all truly a part of the exhibition. It would not be complete without us going through it: using, consuming, and at the end of the day, when the tea exits our bodies, producing more waste from it. We are all conditioned to ignore our patterns of consumption, however it was impossible to do so at Edible?. For the fifteen minutes, half-hour, or however long that a visitor spends in the exhibition, they are forced to confront their own personal consumption and reflect on how it has shaped them.

 

 

 

 

http://www.bmoca.org/2012/02/viviane-le-courtois-edible/

http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm

http://www.vivianelecourtois.com/

Wesley Grover, Visiting Lecture 2: Aki Sasamoto

To say that Aki Sasamoto’s lecture was not what I had anticipated would be a great understatement. Although, in hindsight, I suppose I should not have been so surprised given that she is an installation and performance artist. It seemed as if Aki was unable to turn off her creative and artistic mentality and she treated the lecture like its own performance. Aki’s energy was contagious and it quickly became apparent why she is a performance artist as she thrived before the audience. The lecture began in a rather unorthodox manner in order to engage the crowd. Rather than speaking directly to us, Aki introduced herself by typing on to the screen. This was indicative of her desire to break conventions and deviate from the norm. Aki then provided a list of topics and invited the audience to shout out which ones we wished to hear her discuss. This was an interesting technique to involve the audience in her presentation, which reflected the general disposition of her work. Though the lecture appeared discombobulated and unorganized at first, it became clear that this was a reflection of Aki’s artistic process; by the end she had created order out of chaos in a less than conventional manner. As she spoke Aki would bounce around, seemingly off topic, unable to control her energy but ultimately constructed the lecture into a cohesive performance that demonstrated her artistic ability.

Aki began by sharing one of her more ambitious projects, titled “remembering/modifying/developing”.  She worked on this project, which can be considered both installation and performance art, from 2007-2008. As she worked Aki setup three cameras that recorded her sporadic movements from different angles over time. The cameras were not in fixed positions, as they would move if bumped into, and demonstrated how her work changes when viewed from different perspectives. As the process documented Aki at work, we were able to observe her break society down into four categories. The cameras recorded Aki using a chalkboard to outline what she calls “The Judge Mental and the Purpose of Life”. Here Aki explained that she has divided society into four types of people: the norms, the odds, the tinks, and the rest, which she refers to as “Professor K”. The “norms” are defined as the vast majority of people that are unable to break free from society’s restrictions. The “odds” are described as the oppressed or people who are bullied by society. The “tinks” represent those who succeed in overcoming the norms. The rest, or Professor K’s, are the few who are able to occupy the space between the tinks and the odds. As she worked on the board, Aki illustrated how all of these groups are connected and relate to each other. Furthermore, by creating a visual diagram for us to see Aki was able to articulate how these four groups perpetuate the system. Though her manner of presentation made it feel quite unorganized at first, Aki was able to explain how order exists within the project.

“remembering/modifying/developing” exhibited Aki’s unique ability to turn her artistic process into a performance. The process alone became its own work of art that is indicative of the piece as a whole. By recording her movements from different angles, we are able to observe how the piece, and more importantly the meaning, evolves.  In doing so Aki illustrated that our experiences are constantly changing who we are. As she remembers and draws on her past experiences, Aki then evolves and modifies her approach as she continues to develop. This project shows that we are in an ever-changing state as a result of our experiences and adapt to fit in to our environment.

Another memorable project that Aki discussed was “Skewed Lies”, which was inspired by her aversion toward mosquitoes. Like her other work, this project was largely concerned with the different types of people in society. Mosquitoes, she explained, are much like the undesirable members of society and during this project she attempted to “become” one in order to understand their thought process. Aki shared several photos of her performance, where she was dressed and acted like a mosquito, clinging to the walls as she tried to get closer to the light (a bug zapper). I believe it was meant to convey how one’s position in society deeply affects his or her actions. By adopting a different perspective, Aki illustrated how her disposition evolved as a result. Though it would be more powerful to see the actual piece being performed, Aki’s pictures were able to convey the overall message quite effectively. From what I observed of the project and the audience’s reaction to it, “Skewed Lies” was able to successfully reach the viewer and provoke a response.

I found Aki’s presentation to be incredibly informative on a number of levels. Her work is representative of the evolution of contemporary art and incorporates elements of the past, present, and future. Through her performance and installation projects, Aki pushes the envelope to challenge her audience. The lecture itself was a performance that illustrated there is no right or wrong way of doing things; it is more important to express one’s true emotions no matter how he or she goes about doing it.

Wesley Grover, Lecture Review 1: Arlene Shechet

I attended the lecture by visiting artist Arlene Shechet and was immediately impressed by the variety of mediums that she works with. As an artist Arlene has exhibited great diversity throughout her career and has produced work from materials such as glass, clay, plaster, wax, and paper, among others. Being able to hear her talk first hand about her artistic process was both intriguing and enlightening. As Arlene gave a very intimate account of her career and how she has developed her own style over time, it was amazing to see how her work has progressed. One particular aspect of her artistic process that struck me was Arlene’s openness to new things. She does not let her past work confine her future progress, as the diversity of her work demonstrates, and Arlene frequently begins a project without knowing where it will go. Her acceptance and willingness to take on new challenges has greatly contributed to Arlene’s success. As she described a number of pieces throughout her career it became apparent that Arlene’s artwork is a very personal reflection of her life and an outlet for her emotions.

Arlene began her presentation by taking a look at her Buddha series, which she began around 1992. At this time she had been profoundly affected by the loss of a close friend, as well as the birth of her child. Through these life-changing events she began to adopt an eastern philosophy, which can be observed in her work. While messing around with plaster Arlene noticed that one of her pieces bore an uncanny resemblance to a Buddha. She then became inspired and produced an entire series of Buddhas made from plaster. As this idea evolved Arlene began to look at each Buddha as a miniature “Stupa” and her work conveyed a spiritual meaning. The process is perhaps equally important as the final product for Arlene; while working with plaster it transforms from a liquid to a solid state, which illustrated Arlene’s belief that all things are changing all the time.

Her work continued to evolve and Arlene began to incorporate paper into her project. Originally hesitant to apply plaster on to paper, Arlene embraced the medium as a new layer to work with in her multifaceted repertoire. She began to create Mandalas on canvas using only blue and white paint to create the impression of a blue print. These Mandalas conveyed a sense of spiritual guidance that expressed Arlene’s personal desire for harmony in her life. She would then apply these Mandalas on to the plaster Stupas and use the mold as the stand for each piece. The final product was a beautifully crafted piece that was aesthetically and intellectually stimulating. I found it incredibly informative to learn how Arlene created such a cohesive concept without knowing where the project would go. By keeping an open mind and constantly exploring new mediums, Arlene successfully constructed art that carried individual expression and challenged her audience to consider their own spirituality. It was enlightening to see the process from the artist’s perspective and learn how she gained inspiration.

Arlene went on to describe some of her more recent projects, which continue to demonstrate her open state of mind. I particularly enjoyed her “Out of the Blue” Series using glass. This is another medium that transforms throughout the artistic process and carries a salient meaning to the work overall. The installation series was comprised of a number a glass pieces that are meant to look like rope. The blue color of the glass continues the theme of guidance (i.e. bluerint) as well as connoting a nautical motif. The glass rope bares a similarity to clay coils and reiterates Arlene’s belief that all things are interrelated. When installed, the glass is attached to walls and the rope appears to be woven in and out of the wall. It creates a beautiful contrast between the rope and the absence of it, inspiring the viewer to contemplate the visible and invisible. Some of the glass bares the image of a knotted rope, while other pieces are loose ends. In appearance, this series is simple and pleasing to look at, yet it is endlessly thought provoking and challenges its audience.

I really enjoyed the opportunity to hear Arlene speak because it was informative on many levels. Her approach to her work was inspiring and being able to see how she has evolved through each project was a great experience. Arlene’s attitude toward her work and her life are synonymous and I believe a lot can be learned from her. She has overcome adversity in her life and her work is a direct reflection of that. Arlene’s success is by no means accidental and it can be attributed to her willingness to evolve and explore the unknown.

Clyfford Still Paper, Wesley Grover

At first glance Clyfford Still’s Colorfield paintings look like nothing more than paint smeared across a canvas with little rhyme or reason. My first reaction to many of his works was simply, “I could have done that”. Yet after viewing Still’s progression throughout his prolific career from his earliest paintings to his later Abstract Expressionist works, it becomes apparent that there was a method to his madness. When viewing the vast body of Still’s work in chronological order it is clear that he has not simply applied the paint carelessly; the composition of each piece has been carefully thought out and chosen for a specific reason.  Even the size of his paintings are quite significant as one can notice that the scale of Still’s work increased over time. Though his earlier works display a greater skill of depicting reality, Still’s Colorfield paintings exhibit the unique style that made the artist an iconic member of Abstract Expressionism. By the end of his career one can observe that Still was not trying to illustrate reality, but express his emotions.

Having only been familiar with Still’s Colorfield works before visiting the museum, I was greatly surprised by the artist’s talent at the beginning of his career. From an early age Still displayed an uncanny ability to paint the world around him. These paintings bare no resemblance to the iconic style that would make Still famous. Rather, the artist seems more concerned with developing his skills to imitate reality. An example of this is PH 45 (1925); this painting is a magnificently colored image of a rock pile. The subject matter is easily discernible because it is painted in a very traditional manner. PH 45 looks almost like Academic Art, especially when compared to his later work, however Still’s attention to lighting and sketchy brushwork make it appear Impressionist. Furthermore, the subject matter is much more traditional than his later style that would gain him recognition. The image is as close a depiction of reality as any of Still’s work would ever come. The size of this painting is also significant because of its conventional scale, which Still would later deviate from. In this painting one can observe the work of a young artist trying to find himself while imitating his predecessors. This is an important part of artistic development and must not be overlooked in order to fully understand how Still became an Abstract Expressionist.

By the mid 1930’s one can witness Still’s progression as he begins to formulate his own technique. It was around this time that figuration in Still’s work deteriorates and it starts to take on an Abstract aesthetic. The subject matter also begins to evolve from traditional imagery and becomes more concerned with expressing Still’s own world. These changes can be seen in Still’s 1937 painting, PH 344. This painting displays his liberation from traditional artistic style as Still moves toward expressing his own thoughts. PH 344 depicts two figures standing side by side yet they bear little resemblance to any human form. The figures’ bodies are emaciated and fleeting; they appear to be collapsing on themselves. Still has clearly overcome the constraints of traditional art and is no longer attempting to imitate reality. This painting suggests that he is more focused on expressing emotion. The figures would not be recognizable if it were not for their tired, droopy hands and weary ribcages. Still also demonstrates a free use of color as the figures range from white to orange, red, and brown. He is no longer stressing over imitation, but rather creation of a new environment that exists within the painting. His work from this time period indicates that Still is attempting to express the physical demands of farm life. This type of subject matter was first witnessed in the works of Realists, specifically Gustave Courbet’s early paintings. However, the style in which Still portrays farm life is quite unique because of the lack of figuration. Unlike Courbet, Still expresses the physical demands of this type of work through the disparity between the painting and reality. The literal size of his paintings also starts to increase during this time, as Still departs from traditional scale. PH 344 does not imitate a tired worker as seen in the real world, but rather expresses the worker’s physical deterioration and exaggerates it beyond what can be observed in reality. This painting also demonstrates Still’s concern with verticality, which would emanate throughout his career. The two figures appear as if they are attempting to stand upright but are being weighed down and their bodies’ are folding. Still believed that vertical figures represented life and horizontal figures represented death; the reason for this was verticality suggests growth while horizontality connotes death, such as lying in the ground. Perhaps this was best described in the artist’s own words when he said, “My paintings have the rising forms of the vertical necessity of life dominating the horizon. For in such a land a man must stand upright, if he would live. And so born and became intrinsic this elemental characteristic of my life and work” (Plaque, Clyfford Still Museum). This becomes an increasingly important component of Still’s work as figuration continued to decline.

As his style progressed one can start to observe early elements of Abstract Expressionism in Still’s work by the 1940’s. Around this time he begins to ignore figuration altogether and his paintings bear no resemblance to the physical world. Rather, as Still developed Colorfield painting he became entirely concerned with expressing inner emotions. This would remain consistent throughout the rest of his career; although he first started to investigate the expressive force of “color fields” in the 1940’s, Still did not perfect this style until much later. As his work took on anti-compositional qualities one can observe Surrealist influences, such as exploration of the subconscious. This is seen in his 1959 painting PH 972. This painting exhibits many of the integral qualities of Abstract Expressionism, which emerged as a solidified art movement at this time. When viewing this piece the first thing that stands out is its massive size. The painting is so large that when standing in front of it it becomes its own environment. Still, along with other Abstract Expressionists, was heavily influenced by the scale of Mexican murals. It was a crucial characteristic of the movement, which would serve to draw the viewer in and affect his or her experience. PH 972 engrosses its audience and brings them into the world of the painting, thrusting itself upon them. The lack of structure in this painting indicates that every bit of the canvas is equally important, even where there is an absence of paint. Still has not merely smeared paint randomly across the canvas, but has applied it so as to evoke certain emotions within his audience. PH 972 also maintains the importance of verticality in Still’s work, as one can observe “lifelines” running up and down the painting. Dull earth tones are outlined by an absence of paint and appear to be rising up against a vibrant orange background. The orange is dominating and almost violent as it envelops the muted colors’ ascension. PH 972 makes it clear that Still has been liberated from traditional composition; he explained this quality within his work, stating, “I never wanted color to be color, texture to be texture, images to become shapes. I wanted them all to fuse into a living spirit” (Plaque, Clyfford Still Museum). This clarifies why Still’s Colorfields can be viewed as their own unique environment. They embody an emotion or spirit that cannot be found in the real world. PH 972 demonstrates the essence of Abstract Expressionism for all of these reasons. It is a non-objective painting, which seeks to express and evoke emotion.

Prior to my visit to the Clyfford Still Museum it was hard to comprehend why Still’s Colorfield paintings are so revered. They appear as if there was little thought put in to the composition of these works. However, visiting the museum offers Still’s audience the experience to observe how he arrived at Abstract Expressionism. His earliest works exhibit the development of traditional artistic skill and thought. As Still became liberated from the confines of his predecessors it is apparent that he forged the way for contemporary art. Still’s ability to break free from the past solidified his position as a prominent member of artistic development. Today artists attempt to imitate his style but are unable to achieve such prominence because Still has already broken the shackles of traditional art.