A CONVERSATION WITH
SANDRA ERBACHER & JOSEPH LEROUX
Sandra Erbacher: Can you tell me a little bit about your subject matter and choice of materials?
Joseph Leroux: In the Bloom series or pin sculptures I was experimenting with ways to create cloud-like forms that were representative of social networking maps that show all individual connections to one another. I had tried a number of materials that didn’t offer the aesthetic quality that I was looking for in the final product. I went through a long period of material exploration before I realized that I could heat each pin tip and push it into the head of the next pin and wait for it to cool as it became a solid connection. Each of these pieces in the Bloom series is built around the negative space of an object. I was using specific objects as symbols for various groups of people. These objects included a megaphone, bolt cutters, a gun, ear protection and other objects that I used to symbolize particular groups of people including protests of the 1960’s, the occupy movement, and groups associated with anti-authoritarian ideologies. Within this body of work I was exploring how social networking has made it easy to have connections with vast numbers of other people and the lack of considerable substance that has been generated from these connections.
The 2D works start by searching through images from the Adirondack Museum archives near where I spent much of my childhood. I purchase the rights to use each image and then perform mild digital manipulations including making the image black and white, adjusting the contrast, levels, exposure and other basic functions. I then layer thousands of lines in color over the chosen image using transparent markers to simultaneously build up the tonal range of the image as well as distort the specific information within the image. When this layer is complete I use transparent layers of glaze both as a sealant to make sure that there are no physical issues with the underlying information as well as to help steer the images’ tonal quality to a more unified look. The last layers that are put on include both spray paint and airbrush mostly dependent on the degree of control I need for each situation. These layers are mostly dark and again act very similarly to the black layer in a cmyk print. The last layer to be put down is black and it unifies the image as well and adds crispness of the overall appearance. During the entire process of selecting and manipulating each image I begin to imagine what objects or components will add to the narratives that I have imagined for each piece.
SE: You compare your working process to musical composition. What’s on your playlist when you’re in the studio?
JL: I have been listening to a lot of the same music for 20 years. The first real creative expressions that I understood came from MTV and the music that my father had on our record player when I was growing up. Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, Sonic Youth, Radiohead, R.E.M, etc. became raw fuel for my curiosity first in music and subsequently in art. I had very little exposure to works of visual art past Adirondack chairs and painted cow skulls until I was in college.
SE: What significance does the title have in relation to the work?
JL: “The Bluffs” is a reference to a place in upstate NY where groups of young adults jump off of high cliffs into the lake below. I was interested in the title because of youthful lack of concern for the danger involved and the fact that they (including myself) have no real reason to perform this activity other than the excitement of the action itself. I am also interested in the bond that is produced between the people who are involved in this activity.
SE: You mention that “each component within ‘The Bluffs’ plays its part within a larger narrative”. Where is the imagery taken from that you are appropriating? What is that narrative?
JL: The larger narrative is broken up into a series of autobiographical verses, which takes the form as the interaction between image, objects, and the interventions that I impose on these components. I am able to take an existing image such as a landscape or industrial site and react extemporaneously to the historical image as an improvisational musician would to an unfamiliar melody.
SE: You talk about offering a glimpse into the former lives of spaces and a sense of authenticity being contained within a photograph. How does your intervention in the original imagery potentially complicate both of these notions?
JL: I am still in the creation phase of this body of work and I think that my own experience of planning and constructing the work is a separate experience then the visual interaction that the viewer will come into contact with. I view each component within the series as a chance to imagine the places that I have occupied from a historical point of view as well as from a contemporary one. I contemplate the processes both natural and man-made that have taken place in order for my present experience to exist.
My intervention results in the creation of an image that is not historically accurate. The consequence is that I am manipulating historical images in combination with actual objects to offer a sense of authenticity to the narrative that I am constructing. When your father tells you a story about a place that he hasn’t been in a very long time there is a certain amount of distortion, exaggeration, and imaginative treatment that the historically accurate version would not include. The story he tells you is probably more incredible because of those distortions
ABOUT SANDRA ERBACHER
Sandra Erbacher is a German artist living and working in Providence, RI. She has earned her BFA from Camberwell College of Art, London (2009) and her MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2014). She has exhibited nationally and internationally, at Grin Providence, the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, the Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, Mana Contemporary Chicago, Circuit 12 Contemporary, Dallas, The Contemporary, London, Kunstverein Speyer, Germany, Umbrella Gallery, Leeds, and Five Years, London. She is the recipient of the 2014 Chazen Prize to an Outstanding MFA Student, a University of Wisconsin fellowship and the Blink Grant for Public Art 2013. She is currently represented by GRIN in Providence.