Gallery 2
18.09. - 7.11.1999

ZOE LEONARD ZOE LEONARD  (USA)
photography
18th September - 7th November 1999
Curator: Milada Slizinska


Zoe Leonard, a New-Yorker, has established black-and-white photography as her principal artistic medium. Recently, she has too been engaged in sculpting, installation, and film. Permanent contributor to the Paula Cooper Gallery, N.Y. City. She took part in the documenta 9 held 1992 in Kassel, Germany, and twice (1993, 1997) in the Whitney Biennial, N.Y. City. She has lately presented her work at the Vienna Secession in Vienna, Austria; Kunsthalle Basel in Basel, Switzerland; and, Centre National de la Photographie, Paris, France.


The CCA Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, is now the scene for presentation of her newest cyclic works: Trees and Fences, Nests, and Hunting in Alaska. All those show off a high awareness and ecological sensitivity of the artist.

The first mentioned series displays trees planted in a town environment, surrounded by fences. At an early stage, the metal rims squeeze the growing tree whereas ultimately, they get absorbed by it.

ZOE LEONARD ZOE LEONARD

The second cycle allows us to observe nests snuggled up to the undergrowth that seems to overgrow the two-dimensional surface of a photograph. The latter said series is a result of the artist's two-year stay in Alaska, presenting animals killed by local hunters, a commonplace picture in that region. These pictures recall the European tradition of dead animal painting while also forming part of the context of the lives of the hunters. The exhibition revokes the everlasting questions of the 'Nature versus Culture' relation.


In 1994, I started spending time in Alaska. The first time, I stayed six months. I returned in 1995 and lived up there alone for a year and a half in Eagle, a small village on the Yukon River. I got interested in the idea of subsistence of living more directly from my own labour. I heated with wood, hauled my own water, and gathered and grew some of my food. Gradually, my experience there seeped into my work.
I was afraid at first that I would have a hard time making art in Alaska. What I found was the opposite. I was surrounded by the complexity of nature, and began thinking about our "progress" as a people, about the choices we have made. I thought a lot about hunting, about our predatory nature. No one wants to admit they're a predator, but it's impossible to find someone who doesn't sanction killing on some level for food, or for political or moral reasons.

Zoe Leonard


A decidedly politicized awareness has always inflected Zoe Leonard's fugitive, outwardly quite urban vision: though hard to nail down, she can be counted on to make statement. How surprised (maybe shocked) I was, then, to encounter her two most recent photographic series images of trees and dead animals a starck contrast to her earlier work like the low-angle shots of models, or the "Watermelon Woman" archive compiled with Cheryl Dunye.

The artist whose celebrity since Documenta IX in 1992 has beeen matched by her devotion to grassroots activism is all about edge: the verge of gender bewilderment; the blissed-out canon of beauty harshly rebuked; the crude unveiled. Her fascination with subsistence thus strikes me as wholly in character, an extension of her obsessions woven into a back-to-the-land ethos. These pictures outdoor abbatoirs, streetscape flora that combat the urban fabric signal an effort to inhabit an economy that most of us only glimpse. Leonard remains one of our bravest artist: a moving target who has learned to shoot back.

Mattew Debord
Art Forum, January 1999


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The Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle
Al.Ujazdowskie 6, 00-461 Warsaw, Poland
tel: (48 22) 628 12 71-3, (48 22) 628 76 83
fax: (48 22) 628 95 50 ; e-mail:csw@ikp.atm.com.pl