Creating bright sculptural forms from everyday objects, Brazilian artist Jac Leirner presents her first solo exhibition in Ireland at IMMA
14 February – 5 June 2017, Courtyard Galleries, Admission Free
One of Brazil’s most internationally renowned contemporary artists, Jac Leirner presents Institutional Ghost at IMMA. Leirner emerged on the international art scene in a number of high-profile exhibitions in the early 1990s, at the forefront of a generation of artists looking to the art of the 1960s and 1970s as a point of departure. For this, her first solo exhibition in Ireland, Leirner responds to the particular architecture of the courtyard galleries at IMMA to adapt and present work specifically for these rooms. Since the mid-1980s, Leirner has collected specific temporary and incidental products of everyday life, tapping into what she has described as the ‘infinity of materials’. Some are derived from her own personal use and consumption, while others are found objects. This exhibition includes recent sculpture, installation and works on paper made from these everyday objects such as spirit levels, plastic rulers, cigarette rolling papers and luggage tags. Their appearance in her meticulously constructed work, separated but not entirely dislocated from their original use, provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the ways in which we interact with, travel through and embrace our environment in our daily lives.
Curator and IMMA Head of Exhibitions Rachel Thomas has said about the exhibition that “It is exciting to have the work of Jac Leirner at IMMA, as she saliently references the Brazilian legacy of constructivism and appropriates her works with this vibrant history into visually compelling sculptures and installations that demand to be seen and enjoyed.”
Indeed Leirner’s choice of materials is carefully selected and, as evident in the exhibition, she adopts a formal rigor and aesthetic to the way she collects, arranges and assembles these objects. Leirner describes her work as a reflection on materiality, space and colour and she orders her vast quantities of materials in accordance with their shape, colour, texture, size, weight and other characteristics that are in keeping with their function. By re-purposing these everyday materials into visually compelling and frequently playful sculptures and installations, Leirner creates new and unexpected associations that provide a statement on the unfolding of art in recent decades. Although her choice of particular materials might point to issues related to consumer culture and the by-products of consumption, Leirner’s issue is art as its main concern.
This interest can partly be attributed to the important collection of Brazilian constructive art from the 1950s and 60s held by her parents Fulvia and Adolpho Leirner. It included works by leading artists responsible for making this tradition one of the most fertile in Brazil, and growing up amongst these pieces became paramount to Leirner’s early visual education. Leirner’s work draws on a multiplicity of artistic traditions however, including referencing specific moments in art history such as Minimal Art, where the artwork endeavours to reveal the essence of a subject by taking away all non-essential forms or concepts. Her practice also references Conceptual Art, as well as Arte Povera in its use of unconventional materials and style. Leirner is also indebted to the legacy of Brazilian Constructivism and its approach to aspects of the environment in which we determine ourselves.
As part of her exhibition at IMMA Leirner presents selected uv inkjet prints and works on paper from the Junkie series, which reference her addictions and document a haunting, compulsive habit as well as visualising notions of dependency. Together they create a compelling series of associations and narratives that chart the passing of time and the dynamic associated with taking drugs and the promise of euphoria they might pose to an addict. During binges along three separate nights in 2010 Leirner sculpted miniature figures, including a head and heart, from lumps of cocaine, before juxtaposing them with objects found to-hand around her house and documenting them. The somewhat hazy quality of the prints evokes the sensations of a drug-fuelled binge. Arresting, unsettling and occasionally humorous, Leirner’s juxtapositions relate the curious presences of the cocaine-sculptures to other, more banal objects such as coins, stones, a blood-soaked bandage and a tiny horse sculpture, in terms of scale, weight, function and surface. The titles, which include Oh Yes Yes, Mental Case, About Men and Animals, Hide and Seek and So Male, reference these juxtapositions and associations of the objects to the sculptures, adding humour to the drama.
The works in this exhibition are informed by Leirner’s interest in the visual expressions of consumer culture and the re-configuration of her materials into formal arrangements. Skin (Raw King Size Slim), 2013 comprises 297 meticulously aligned cigarette rolling papers (silk papers) gummed directly onto the gallery wall in a pattern that evokes the grid structures and clarity of space inherent in Minimalism. This installation references both the habitual, repetitive activity of rolling silk papers and the tangible nature of this delicate material used to contain tobacco and pot. Leirner draws on her own experiences: she has been an avid smoker for much of her life and consequently is acquainted with products related to the tobacco industry and the various types, colours and formats of these rolling papers. The Skin installations act as a sort of self-portrait of the artist and her participation in and commentary on the accumulation and circulation of commodities, a comparable role we each play in this.
Leirner engages with the spirit of Minimalism in the new work incorporating rulers tailored at IMMA’s space. Rulers are unexceptional utilitarian presences in our everyday lives. Here they are transformed, with the minimum of artistic manipulation into rhythmic patterns bursting with rich visual dynamism that suggests mathematical operations, systemic structures, patterns and circuits. A wall-based spirit level work is an example of the homage Leirner makes to industrial materials and tools and their inherent industrial finish. Her ongoing dialogue with artists whose work she admires is also evident in this work as it engages with the sculptural language of Hélio Oiticica (1937–80) - exhibited at IMMA in 2014.
Leirner’s enduring engagement with colour and love of music is apparent in Hip Hop Around the Fireplace, 2017. Her immersion in São Paulo’s punk-rock culture and her involvement in the punk-rock band UKCT during her youth also shaped her artistic sensibility. The continuous line of colour encircling the chimney breasts is articulated by dynamic pattern, stuttering, pulsating pathways that suggest movement or the rhythm of music. Her passion for music goes from hard-core punk to classical and contemporary music.
The delicate suspension of luggage tags which constitute Cloud are reminiscent of works in Leirner’s Corpus delicti (Body of Evidence) series (1992–3). During this time, at a moment in which the discourse on globalisation was taking hold in the art world of the 1990s, the artist was frequently flying across the globe. This experience led her to remove, in some cases surreptitiously, the highly specific and particular objects found in airplanes and airports. The luggage tags, air-sickness bags, earphones, napkins, boarding passes and (now defunct) ashtrays amassed and reconfigured as artworks in the Corpus delicti series act as an archive of a time, in the not-too-distant past, when smoking was permitted on airplanes. Crime in this case becomes institutionalised, and this is a statement of the series.
About the Artist Jac Leirner was born in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1961, where she lives and works. She graduated in visual arts from Fundação Armando Álvares Penteado (FAAP) São Paulo in 1984. Leirner has exhibited extensively both within and outside Brazil and America since the beginning of her career. Selected solo exhibitions include: Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderna, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria; Museo Tamayo, Mexico (both 2014); Yale School of Art Edgewood Gallery (2012); Centre d’Art de Saint Nazaire, France and the Estação Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo (2011); Miami Art Museum (2004); the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro (2002),Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo (1999); the Bohen Foundation, New York (1998), Centre d’Art Contemporain Geneva (1993), the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (1991) and exhibitions and residencies at Museum of Modern Art Oxford and the Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis (both 1991). In 1997 and 1990 her work was exhibited at the Venice Biennale and she participated in dOCUMENTA (IX), Kassel (1992). In 1989 and 1983, Leirner participated in the São Paulo Biennial. Her work in included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, Walker Art Centre, Tate and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Residencies and Awards include 2012 APCA Award: Best Exhibition of the Year - Estação Pinacoteca, São Paulo and Yale University School of Art (both 2012), teaching and artist in residence at Yale University School of Art; John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship (2001); Ryjksakademie Beeldende van Kunsten, Amsterdam (1998) and University College, Oxford; Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Arts, Oxford University; Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, England and Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis, United States (all 1991).
Associated Talks and Events
Curator’s Lunchtime Talk: Drop in Wednesday 15 March, 1.15 – 2pm / Meeting Point / IMMA Main Reception / Free Join Karen Sweeney, Exhibitions, IMMA, for an insightful walkthrough of this exhibition. For a full programme of events visit her exhibition page.
This exhibition is presented as part of an exciting on-going initiative, New Art at IMMA, proudly supported by Matheson, which allows IMMA to continue to support artists’ vital work in a strand of programming that recognises and nurtures new and emerging talents, new thinking and new forms of exhibition-making.