Jac Leirner's multifaceted work is formulated through a process of collecting and ordering; tapping into what the artist has described as the ‘infinity of materials’. Since the mid-1980s, Leirner has amassed the ephemeral and incidental products of consumer culture, and reappropriated them into visually compelling sculptures and installations that demand to be both seen and read. Through their seriality and bold accents of colour, her work references both the history of Brazilian Constructivisim as well as the legacy of Arte Povera and Minimalism.
While Leirner's material is often taken from the everyday and even banal, it is also personally significant. In the ‘Pulmão’ or 'Lung series ‘(1987), for example, she kept thousands of Marlboro cigarette boxes, left over from her habitual smoking habit, over the course of three years. Every aspect of their packaging was used – from their cellophane wrappers to the tiny tax stamps on each box – in a series of sculptures that emphasised the organic relationship between material and the artist. Cellophane tear strips, are knotted and hung in an amorphous mass on the wall, for example, while the translucent plastic wrappers from each pack were stacked in groups of tens inside clear plexiglass boxes. The graphic, red and white Marlboro boxes themselves – all 1,200 of them – were strung up on polyurethane tubing and hung, necklace-like on the wall.
From the early 1990s onwards, Leirner began to exhibit internationally and the experience of frequent flying led her to amass the highly specific and particular objects found in airplanes – including earphones, napkins, luggage tags, boarding passes and ashtrays, now completely redundant. Leirner gathered this material together over a number of years into a series of work entitled Corpus Delicti, where groups of objects are presented in different layouts and configurations. The path of these objects is characteristic of Leirner's transgressive approach whereby ephemera without value, and, in the case of the airplane ashtrays, objects that have been illegally removed, become artworks, institutionalised by their display within the museum. For Leirner, the works ‘convey a history, with the idea of transgression imprinted on them’. In 1990 Leirner was a visiting fellow at Oxford University as a guest of the British Council, and artist in residence at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
Likewise, Leirner has mined the environment of the art world to produce work that comments on the consumerism of the culture industry in various subtle ways. In ‘Nice To Meet You’, for example, a project that the artist realised for the Brazilian pavilion at the Venice Biennial in 1997, she presented business cards from art world professionals in a single line around the building. In another series of work entitled Names (Museums), she made patchwork carpets and wall hangings out of stuffed plastic bags, obtained from various international museum stores. In this way, the fluxus or waste of the museum is returned as artwork through its graphic ordering of colour, form and design. Leirner was also awarded a fine arts fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in 2001. In spring 2012 Leirner exhibited at Yale School of Art, featuring items created when the artist was in residence. The exhibition was organized by Robert Storr.
While Leirner's work makes us look beyond the hierarchical focus of the culture industry and refocus on the byproducts of circuits of consumption, in her most recent work, she moves beyond acquiring found objects to make work whose relationship to the legacy of Brazilian Constructivism is clearly evident. Crossing Colors (2012) consists of colourful lengths of wood slotted together, cross shape on the floor. In different sizes and arrangements, the strips interlock with carefully engineered slots, reminiscent of the interior of storage and jewellery boxes and their incidental divides between each compartmentalised section.
Leirner organises and presents her material in surprisingly complex ways, where the banality of each object is heightened, enabling a refocus on their form, colour and beauty. Described by curator Robert Storr as a 'self-made Situationist', her work highlights the duality and absurdity of objects experienced in everyday situations in works that, in one measure, assert and negate their own meaning.
Jac Leirner was born in São Paulo in 1961, where she lives and works. Solo exhibitions include Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh (2017); Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2017); MoCa Pavillion, Shanghai (2016); Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderna, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain (2014); Museo Tamayo, Mexico City (2014); Yale University School of Art, New Haven, Connecticut (2012); Centre d’Art de Saint Nazaire, France (2011); Estação Pinacoteca, São Paulo (2011); Miami Art Museum (2004); Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo (1999); and Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva, Switzerland (1993). Group exhibitions include 12th Sharjah Biennial, United Arab Emirates (2015); 47th Venice Biennale (1997); Documenta 9, Kassel, Germany (1992); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1991); Museum of Modern Art, Oxford (1991); 44th Venice Biennale (1990); 20th Bienal de São Paulo (1989); and 17th Bienal de São Paulo (1983).