When the ordinary becomes art

Sometimes, the simplest things in life are the most beautiful — particularly when it comes to the art on display at the Yale School of Art.

On Monday night, a crowd of about 65 graduate students and community members gathered at the Art School’s 36 Edgewood Ave. building to hear Brazilian artist Jac Leirner speak about how her artistic career has reflected her love of everyday objects. Leirner, whose “Hardware Seda — Hardware Silk” exhibition is currently on display in the gallery, took her audience through a slideshow of her installations, highlighting the beauty of the simplistic materials she incorporates into her work.

In her talk, Leirner emphasized the importance of respecting all art forms and materials.

“Respect is the key to all of our questions here,” she said, pointing to a winding, snake-like piece she created out of obsolete banknotes.

Leirner said that early in her career, she began to create art out of large quantities of simple materials, focusing particularly on “polluted” materials: objects that had lost their practical value after being used. Gradually, her banknote works became representative of more than just art. She showed a piece that featured banknotes of varying worth, which she said symbolically reflected the unstable nature of the Brazilian economy.

“I knew they would become something special,” she said.

Leirner displayed photos of her “Lung” series, in which each piece consisted of a different component of a Marlboro cigarette package. One piece comprised over one thousand cigarette packages. Leirner said that this piece took over three years to complete because she needed to smoke all of the cigarettes in order to use the packages. As she progressed through the slideshow, she noted the respect she has for the materials used in each one. The works included a collage of car window stickers, a long strand of turnbuckles and a succession of airplane sickness bags.

“All are great, all are beautiful,” Leirner said of the everyday materials she uses.

Since her childhood years, Leirner has been deeply involved in the art world: Both of her parents were art curators, and she recounted stories of accompanying her parents to countless cities to acquire works for their collection. Leirner noted that her parents had “a small budget but a lot of passion,” adding that her current focus on the arrangement of everyday objects as opposed to elegant paintings could be attributed to her experiences with her parents. She said that when many of her contemporaries in Brazil were creating large paintings, she was creating art out of cigarette packages and plastic bags.

Decades after Leirner created her first piece, she said is still exploring various representations of simple objects. She recounted how she recently turned one piece that consisted of silverware laid out on a flat surface into a free-standing assembly of the same forks, knives and spoons.

Three audience members interviewed said they appreciated Leirner’s practice of using and reusing everyday items. Ghazaal Vojdani ART ’13 said she particularly enjoyed Leirner’s variations of one type of object across multiple works.

“The way she keeps collecting daily, ready-made materials … in this way she truly is an artist,” Shih-hsiung Chou ART ’14 said.

Leirner’s exhibition will remain on display through Sept. 30.

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