Artist of the Week

Fabienne Lasserre

September 20, 2010

Fabienne Lasserre is a visual artist from Montreal, Canada.  She received her MFA from Columbia University in 2004 and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on?  My most recent project, up now at Sikkema Jenkins and Co., is an exhibition called Come Through. It includes 7 artists from different generations, for whom materials and process are crucial, and who operate on and between the edges of various disciplines – weaving, installation, drawing, sculpture, and more. It includes Jessica Dickinson, Emily Do, Sheila Hicks, Siobhan Liddell, Ree Morton, Molly Smith, and myself.

I organized Come Through with Molly Smith. The show stems from a very intimate knowledge of each other’s studio practices and influences. Some of us know each other and visit each other’s studios regularly. We see each others work at different stages: tentative, failed, flawed…confident, assertive, celebrative.  Others are artists whose work we’ve admired for years. The youngest artist, Emily Do, was a student of mine.

One theme of the curation is the knot of exchanges, influences, generations and friendships that flow through our practices.  Through dialogue, teaching, and mutual esteem, we developed a way to understand each other’s work and art – this served as the structure for Come Through. The artists in the show share an approach that allows them to get lost: processes that accommodate paradox, the indeterminate, and “open-endedness”.  We think the show points to the seriousness and rigor of this way of working, which is to be distinguished from a kind of fabled, loopy spontaneity (“so creative, so free!”) typically described in much talk and writing about art and artists.

What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like?  I choose materials that allow me to consider the visible through the tactile, and vice-versa. They tend to have an indistinct, malleable structure: felt, fabric, wool, hair, plaster… They are non-hierarchical -no part has a specialized role, dominates or leads.  I also use paint, and I feel that my work is imbedded in, and often about, painting. Paint is luminal: fluid and solid, simultaneously matter (substance) and illusion (depiction). It has nothing to do with flatness or two-dimensional space. I make works that are in between sculptures and paintings, as representations of an “excluded middle”, what is left out when things are divided into categories. The importance of fluidity, irresolution, the body, and the sense of touch in my work reflect an approach to making that is itinerant rather than formal, and indebted to feminist thought and art practice.

If you could go anywhere in the world where would you go and why?  Traveling is really important to my practice: the flexibility and adaptability that travel requires and entails is very in line with other attitudes and ideas that my practice is based on.  For the last two years I’ve been going for a month to Oaxaca, Mexico and staying at an artist residency called La Curtiduria. I work with a good friend of mine, Alberto Ruiz, a weaver and artist in Teotitlan del Valle, a village 30km from Oaxaca. We work with raw wool (we buy it at the market, clean it in the river, and card it) to make felt pieces, and we later dye them. Later in NY I assemble them in sculptures. Most of the pieces in my last solo show, What is Found There at Gallery Diet, Miami, were started in Teotitlan and Oaxaca. I’m ready to go back there. But I’m also excited to take part in a project this February in Karukinka National Park, in Tierra del Fuego, Chile. This project, instigated by Chilean curator Camila Marambio, will bring together international artists and local scientists to explore the relationship between contemporary art and the unique conservation model developed at the park.

What kinds of things are influencing your work right now?  Recently I read two excellent novels by Samuel Delany: Trouble on Triton and Stars in My Pockets Like Grains of Sand. He is a major, major writer – comparable to Borges in scope and depth. Science-fiction is an important influence on my work because it permits a re-evaluation of what is assumed to be natural. The departure from realism allows ‘truth’ to be stretched, mixed, turned over. For instance, the bodies of aliens and monsters mix species and genders, and often bind masculine and feminine attributes. Concepts of space, time, identity and selfhood can be completely re-defined. This opens up a space for critical thought that is much more vast than if the narrative was tied to reality. It is no coincidence that so many sci-fi novels take place in (and imagine) utopian societies.

I think that art has a very, very restricted agency on the world, especially if one is thinking of any direct, practical effect on social conditions. At the same time, this inability to significantly change society is what places it in a privileged position to reflect on powerlessness. Its negligible, almost laughable, impact on the world, its almost total superfluity, makes it an ideal space to investigate weakness and impotence in a manner unrivaled by other disciplines.  This powerful powerlessness shouldn’t be underestimated.

What artists are you interested in right now?  Here’s a partial and temporary list: Ree Morton, Eva Hesse, Lynda Benglis, Al Taylor, Amy Sillman, Paul Thek, Franz West, Agnes Varda, Jim Hyde, Dieter Roth, Lucas Blalock, Joan Jonas, and Christy Gast.

ow has your work developed within the past year?  I would say that in the last 2 years, my work has become, if not exactly optimistic, increasingly accepting of happiness. Pleasure and joy play a more crucial part. I think I’ve gradually stopped equating happiness and naivety; anger or irony don’t imply a more incisive intelligence to me anymore. Recently I made a piece called “Arbitrary, Decorative and Untrustworthy”, and it’s one of my favorite pieces. It has stripes and garlands, and a bright, hot pink underbelly. My friend Christy (Gast) said it looked like someone’s playground, and husband Brian says it is a birthday cake. My 8-year old niece calls it the Mushroom Table. But my point is that it would never have happened if I hadn’t come up with this title mid-course. The tongue in cheek title enabled me to totally indulge, to be completely loopy and decorative. It was a license to ignore and question the suspicion with which we regard decoration and pleasure.


What was the last exhibition you saw that stuck out to you?  Last night I saw Community Action Center, a video by A.L. Steiner and A.K. Burns. I was deeply, completely impressed. I haven’t seen anything so significant for a long time. I’m still processing it.