Diminutive and soft-spoken, with black owl-eye glasses and long, wavy dark hair, Viviane Le Courtois is one of those "still waters run deep" types, whose mind, you just know, is working overtime, all the time. Viviane is a thinker and an observer: There's a bit of a scientist in this artist, whose work often deals with how wasteful we are and what we leave behind. Fruit parings, shredded junk mail, worn shoes, dried mushrooms, junk food and holey socks -- these are just of few of the unusual mediums with which she works.
I visited with Viviane at RedLine, where she is a resident artist and keeps a studio that in some ways resembles both an informal museum and an alchemist's laboratory. The shelves, walls and floor are lined with past, present and morphing works, some of which are continuing experiments, from the dark kombucha mushrooms she keeps floating in a solution of tea and sugar to, conversely, the prints she makes from the residue left behind after peeling one of the dried mushrooms off an etching plate.
On the large work table, a flock of iron sheep graze; over in a corner lie bricks fashioned from shredded junk mail. Though she told me by e-mail that she was not really working on anything new that was visible, that's not really the case. Viviane is clearly always working on something, whether she's preparing wax sheep molds for an eventual iron pour (she'd like to increase the flock to 100 for an installation in the works), building sculptures from marshmallows, creating a troop of fat children from hard candy or twisting old socks into "fossils."
In recent years, Viviane has begun using materials she collects from her Facebook friends; for one project in progress, she plans to sculpt portraits of Facebook friends from wads of their dryer lint. Even the shoes she wears are part of an ongoing experiment.
Viviane and I begin with a walk-through of "How to Eat an Artichoke," part of a RedLine resident artist group show on view through November 26. Designed as an interactive installation, the inviting beetle-kill pine table set with simple ceramic dishes is surrounded by hanging baskets filled with chewed artichoke leaves left behind from three public events where participants were invited to sit at the table and share artichokes.
Everything in the installation was handmade or prepared from natural materials by the artist, from the ceramic dishes and baskets of sumac branches and yucca culled from the yards of friends to the artichokes themselves and the vinaigrette for dipping. "People sat at the table and talked to each other," Viviane explains. "They ate together and shared their personal culture of eating, using the handmade objects. The interacting with the people was very good."
The leftover leaves were left to dry in the hanging baskets surrounding the focal point of the table. A complex study of the community of eating and its by-products, the installation continues to change, even after the people are gone, poignantly recording what Viviane calls "the traces of everyday actions."
"I like how the dried-up stuff looks," she says, pointing out the faint artichoke stains on handmade mulberry paper and the tooth tracks left on the curling leftovers, a lovely spread of dusty greens and purples striated with the varied evidence of having been chewed and eaten. "Different people eat them in different ways," she notes. "The artichoke is a strange vegetable. Many people don't know how to start eating one." Not everyone would study these decaying leaves so closely, but that's the point -- both the study and the decay. The artichoke leaves are strangely beautiful and, even more so, telling.
Viviane, a native of France, came to Denver in 1997 to study art history at the University of Denver and has been here ever since. In addition to her work as a studio artist, she teaches students of all ages, both at UC Denver and Downtown Aurora Visual Arts, where she works with at-risk youth. Lately, her goals as an artist reach toward other cities. After working her way up through the local echelons, from early co-op shows to more recent exhibits at RedLine, Plus Gallery and MCA Denver, it's possible that she's antsy, and rightly so. Viviane's diversified oeuvre is deep, complex, steeped in process and extremely interesting; it's work that deserves to travel.
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Learn more about Viviane Le Courtois at her website; from 6 to 9 p.m. December 3 and 1 to 6 p.m. December 4, Viviane and her partner, the photographic artist Christopher Perez, will host an End of the Year Sale of artworks at 1316 29th Street.