Brooklyn-based Rita Leduc is a multimedia artist who uses installation, photography, collage, and drawing to examine the impact of place. Taking a democratic approach in her selection of location, each series embodies what the artist refers to as the “sensorial fingerprint” of each space. Her work has been exhibited internationally, in such places as Trestle Gallery, Public Access Gallery, and The Skirt, all Brooklyn; Wells College, Aurora, NY; and the Nizhny Tagil Museum of Fine Art, Nizhny Tagil, Russia, among others. She has held residencies across the country, and is currently an adjunct professor at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University and at Ramapo College.
Ximena Kilroe, an aspiring art historian and writer who has spent the summer working with BRIC’s Contemporary Art Team, met with Leduc in her Brooklyn studio to discuss her process, most recent residency in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, and tiny human animals, a.k.a., babies.
I wanted to see if we could start by talking a little bit about your process. With regard to your installation pieces, you seem to work within both nature and manmade spaces, so I hoped you could speak about your decision-making process.
Sure - really, I just like place. I think it comes from a love of nature; my upbringing was very much in the woods camping, so I feel at home there. Or rather, my experience of going and staying in one place for a certain amount of time and then understanding it as a comfortable space came from going to various campgrounds and staying there for a week or so. By the end of the time you understood that the wind blows this way so hang your clothes here, the poison ivy is here so play catch over there – whatever. You get this much more specific understanding of place.
However, I don’t think that’s limited to nature and I actually think nature is all around us - in urbanity as well - and so even the things that are manmade are responding to the ecosystem and their environment. It comes from this idea that we are - everything is - existing in this reciprocal relationship. If you put a building here, this building is going to respond to the ground and the wind and the sun and everything is just connected.
I like to say that anybody can give me any space and I would be happy to make a body of work based on that space. There is no space that is better than another, you just go and learn that space and you make work about it and what it tells you, and how it affects you and how you affect it.
So it seems like you view spaces from this democratic standpoint where there’s no hierarchy, but then, how do you pick? At what point do you see a space and do you think: I want to take the time to get to know this space and go through that process?
Well, the space in Brooklyn, that’s where these drawings are, the ones that are more urban, that’s down the street. So I literally would just take my toolbox filled with art supplies and just drive or wheel it down to the space and camp out there and make work. That was at a time when I didn’t have a residency. And then these works here – these are from a residency that I had last year in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. I’m going to the desert in Oregon in August so that’s going to be a whole new body of work. I try to explore a variety of environments but then at the same time, it’s also important to study different places that have similar environments – it challenges me to discern their nuances.
I think a lot about, well, you used the word democracy, in nature or in the world. We as humans tend to elevate ourselves, we think we’re number one, when in reality we are all equal and have this reciprocal, interconnected relationship with other animate beings. So in my work I’m trying to, kinda go undercover, or you know, go in these places to try to open up my pores, let my boundaries seep into the boundaries of what we call plants and grass and ground and walls and trees. We don’t know what they think, but my guess is that they don’t define boundaries like that; they’re much more fluid and everything is connected. And I talk about - and now have one of my own - babies, and how when they’re born they don’t know where their body starts and stops. That is a much more animalistic way of seeing the world. They’re born as animals and then we make them human. It’s kind of sad because they lose a lot of sensory perception. They’re born with all of these very intuitive traits.
Anyway, the installations – there are two types. The two dimensional photographs are made with temporal installations that I create on site, and then I photograph through the installation so that there’s the existing landscape with materials that I’ve used. So in those photos, there’s a conflation that happens. The photos visualize the conflation of boundaries - that interconnectedness I mentioned before.
With the exhibited installations that come later, my hope is that they’re more of an experiential conflation, so when you enter them, you start to feel the openness and the reciprocity and the sensory affects. I’m hoping to kind of resensitize my viewer by breaking a location down and presenting its sensorial parts.
You mentioned babies, and I noticed you had articulated something similar in another interview. In that interview, you mentioned the idea breaking down the boundary between “me” and “not me”, or “us” and “not us”. I wonder, I mean I suppose you could tie anything into a political framework, but do you think your work is in some ways a response to the ideas of division and othering that are currently prevalent? Do you see your work as going beyond speaking about the actual space, and touching more broadly to the human experience?
I love that you went there; for me, the answer is yes. I really don’t believe in telling people what to think with my work but I really love that you listened to the things that I was saying and then you put it into a context. I’d like to open people’s minds to get them there, but not tell them exactly where “there” is. For me, it’s always been really important to make the work that I want to make and that’s true to me. But just as much as a place is going to have an affect, culture has an affect and politics have an affect. Things are seeping into me all the time. I have been working with all these ideas for a while and I’m happy that they are starting to become part of a conversation. Did I answer your question?
Yes, absolutely. And I think that’s part of what is interesting about your work. For instance, in your installations even though you create a barrier when you put up these materials that have to be looked through to see the space, the materials are transparent or at least not fully opaque; they feel like a guiding force you’ve set up to help us see the space through your eyes, without making it exclusively about your point of view.
Yeah, I mean materials are so important. I’m making these drawings with graphite but then the acetate collages and the photos, where I use paint and vinyl and marker and stuff in the installation process that I then photograph. And then these other drawings are just everything. I’m so into materials – they help me get closer to this resensitization and asking people to feel more and have empathy. Empathy is a really big word for me, which is something I think is really lacking in the human world right now, so I find a real satisfaction in the variety of different materials that can be used, especially on paper. The same thing happens in the installations where I just try to be really, really specific with my materials and keep them fairly abstract. And when I say that, I mean art materials, not like bringing in materials that have contextual baggage. So that people can just enter them in a purely materialistic way and they can just respond to them as color, touch, smell –
Like very primal-
Yes, exactly. Fundamental. So I think that helps encourage people to get that primal understanding.
So I’m looking at this piece over here, that has a lot of texture in the drawn areas but also incorporates collage. Can you speak a little bit about where you made it and its materials?
This piece I just finished today. So when I go to the residency I make the photos – I bring my toolbox and go outside and add materials on and around framed acetate that I’ve secured somewhere on-site. Then I photograph through the frame. Then with the transparencies, the detritus of the installation, I make the collages. So with the collages I start to see repeated shapes and colors and textures. These are all my marks, so these are repeated things that I used all in one location; these are all from Minnesota. So I’m starting to see a general color palette, some marks and textures and very fundamental properties, basic things that I repeatedly used. And then I make these pencil drawings, that are drawings of the installation photographs without the marks that I made. They are just the environment, and they are studies in the shapes and the textures of the original environment. These other drawings that feel more derivative are made here, away from the site, and are my way of churning and figuring out how the site is represented in my brain. From those I start to get installation ideas.
It’s tricky sometimes because I feel like the work really becomes very diverse, because spaces are so diverse. It’s so contingent on what I get from the space…which of course is also contingent on my own filters.
Thank you for that explanation! I like that there’s so many steps you take to examine a space, both in it and after you’ve left it. Your process seems to align well with your interest in speaking to the experience and affect of a space both through your experiences but also in trying to allow to space to speak for itself.
That’s what I hope. I feel like I need to honor the site. So I am a guest, I am going into the site, I am using it as my temporary home and I need to just observe it and respect it, and see it for what it is. Again - find these very fundamental qualities that I call the sensorial fingerprint. It goes back to empathy, I’m not just trying to use it, I’m trying to be part of it and hear it.