Burnt out cigarettes hang suspended on a cable perfectly taut, stretching from one end of the room to another. A delicate membrane undulates across the gallery wall, its cells a brickwork of white rolling papers – the work aptly named ‘Skin’ (pictured). There is a silence to the exhibition as I follow the path of a two-mile-long oscillating copper wire, at the end of which a filament lightbulb solitarily shines like the sun in Monet’s ‘Impression, Sunrise’. This is, of course, the work of Brazilian artist Jac Leirner, in her show Add It Up currently on display in Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery.
Corresponding with the exhibition’s title, numbers superficially play a role in the understanding of her work, though really, there is not a lot needing comprehension. Composed of years collecting objects, from the tapering snake of 50,000 Brazilian banknotes in ‘Blue Phase’, to the 2,488 sheets of cigarette paper smothering the gallery wall, Leirner’s work emphasises the importance of time in the pieces she creates – not only in their setting up, but also in their amassing of material.
Despite this, her art breathes an air of ephemerality; we know the objects of her work exist only within the walls of the gallery, being otherwise obsolete in the outside world. The lightbulb in ‘Little Light’ cannot shine forever.Amidst Brazil’s period of hyperinflation and fleeting currencies, the cruzeiros bills strung together in ‘Blue Phase’ would today have no value. The burnt-out cigarettes in ‘The End’ have already, well, ended their lives, candidly strung like cadavers at the viewer’s eyes – a stark contrast to their skins stuck to the wall, waiting to start a new life. The by-products of Leirner’s addictions and obsessions become rejuvenated in the sterile surroundings of the Fruitmarket, metamorphosing from the fulfillers of her bad habits to the materials of her artwork.And with this comes an intimacy between these objects and the viewer. The taught cables diagonally traversing the gallery space seem like lasers hired from a Bond film set; one has to negotiate them gingerly, or else risk offsetting the used cigarettes and miniature spirit levels from which they’re precariously threaded.
Our innate desire for order and satisfaction is channelled in ‘Levelled Spirit’, where a procession of spirit levels climbs up the gallery wall in perfect balance – but we can’t help assuming the time it would’ve taken to achieve such perfection.
Leirner seems to succeed in revealing the hidden perfections within objects marred by time, usage, and dirty habits, reincarnating such items deemed antiquated by the speed at which society and modernity progress. Leirner’s pieces combine assemblage and bricolage with colour, in perfect balance with the surrounding gallery space.
Without considering the context behind the art, this exhibition is a brilliant place to admire pieces that are simply satisfying, borne from years collecting objects to make them. Running until October 22nd, her work remains in its minimalist stupor, frozen in time – from both the start and end of a lifecycle, but finding a renaissance in a setting where its components can finally be esteemed.
Add it up
Until 22nd October
Photo credit: Carlos Finlay