The Fruitmarket Gallery comes alive with Jac Leirner’s vibrant reinterpretations of everyday objects and modern life.
Jac Leirner says her art has three characteristics: “Humour, mathematics and paradoxes.” It’s what makes the Brazilian artist’s work so approachable. She communicates directly, without the need for footnotes. “People not only enjoy it, they understand it,” she says. “Somehow they know exactly what that work means.”
It’s not exactly that her first solo exhibition in Scotland is designed to be laugh-out-loud funny, although she sometimes deals in jokes. It’s more that in her re-appropriation of everyday objects, she is ever likely to startle and delight. “These materials belong to all of us, not to me alone,” she says. “It shows people that the possibility of making something out of something else is right there at your hand.”
Take Blue Phase. This piece from 1991 is made up of decommissioned bank notes, lined up to snake across the gallery floor. Or there’s Corpus Delicti, a display of ashtrays she pilfered from airplane armrests in the days of in-flight smoking, shown with the corresponding boarding passes. One recent work consists of 30 spirit levels of varying lengths sitting in neat horizontal rows at the junction of two walls.
Leirner’s stock in trade, in other words, is the ephemera of modern living. She has worked with cigarette packets, plastic bags and electric cables – material that is all around us, yet taken for granted. With a keen eye for colour (the same keen eye that creates her associated watercolours) she makes arrangements that allow us to see such material afresh.
“Colour has always been a very important part of the whole thing,” she says, noting the parallels between her sculptures and the geometrical arrangements of her paintings. “They are practically the same. You see both side by side, they have a lot to do with each other.”
If the 21st-century sculptures on show at the Fruitmarket have an elemental clarity, it is a clarity born of painstaking work. Having collected objects, she can think about them for years. “I experiment with them and discard most of the ideas I have,” she says. “To put materials together I will need to find a solution, a technique, so that they keep together. Most of the ways don’t satisfy me, so I discard ideas until I get to the point that I think the materials feel really comfortable with themselves.”
Time plays a key part. On the one hand, the passing years bring new inspiration, on the other, they affect the look and texture of the material itself. Additionally, a lot of her work is autobiographical, representing life events, such as journeys she’s taken, that necessarily take time.
“It’s funny because I keep working through the years or even the decades with the materials, but in the end I get to the most simple solution, like a line with hundreds and thousands of pieces of the same material,” she says. “After I’ve tried many other possibilities, I get to the simplest one. It’s hard to get there but it’s so great when you see that what you have constructed really seems to be at its best.”
WORDS: MARK FISHER
WHERE & WHEN
Jac Leirner Checklist, Fruitmarket Gallery, until 22 October, Mon–Sat 11am–6pm, Sun 11am–5pm
Free, Tel: 225 2383