Interview with Karoline Lebrun, featured artist at Galerie LOCK
On Thursday, March 27th, Montreal-based Karoline Lebrun’s solo exhibition Tresse opens at Galerie LOCK. Showcasing the artist’s recent drawings, photographs and small-scale sculptures, Tresse is an inventory of series focused on hair as material, subject and memento. Karoline and I exchanged a few emails edited and condensed in the interview below, which touches on her practice at large as well as specific pieces and themes to look for in the upcoming show.
Karoline Lebrun, Hairtape, 2014. Photo Kevin Leung-Lo for Galerie LOCK.
As a multidisciplinary artist, do you feel that there is one grounding medium, like drawing, or photography, that you always start with, or come back to?
Drawing is the foundation of my practice. Everything else stems from that.
That’s interesting because I’ve known you primarily as a photographer. Your photo work has included a range of performative portraits and self-portraits as well as modified found photographs. What’s next for you in terms of photo?
Photography is a medium I mostly use for process. And also scanning. I love scanning everything. I scan my drawings, I scan my art objects, I’ve been scanning tons of hair. Photography and scanning are a way of seeing the work through a different medium. After working so intricately on something for an extended period of time, I find it necessary to put a space between me and the work. That’s what photography and scanning do.
You tend to work in series; in your opinion, what’s the advantage of working in series versus discrete projects?
I like repetition, it helps ground me and the work.
There is often a strict formalism in your work. How do you balance aesthetic concerns with the demand for conceptual work?
I make, first and foremost, as a personal need to create. What I make comes from what I’m most interested in, whether it’s a collection I’ve started or a topic I’m interested in reading about. The concept appears as the work gets made, and the work shifts and changes as the concepts form. My aesthetics, no matter the subject or medium, are orderly, clean, and monochrome. I can still explore different topics while keeping my aesthetic intact.
The drawings in Tresse are pretty different from your previous drawing work, which was locked on grid paper. What made you switch to a freer form?
My last project came from creating my own grid paper, either by drawing or embossing paper, and then drawing over top. Free form is something I enjoy doing, while the grid satisfies this other part of me that seeks precision and control.
I’ve seen you work on minute patterns before – small-scale drawings that grow over the page. But I’ve also seen these drawings transposed onto walls and transformed into large murals. They lose nothing of their intricacy, but the effect is entirely different. What drives you to make the jump between scales?
To work on paper with pen is a very indulgent thing for me. I need to do this alone with my face close to the paper, my hands ache, and the work is just for me. Once the piece is made large, I feel like it no longer belongs to me. The large scale is a change of focus. When drawing on paper, my attention goes inward, fixating on the very small details. The larger pieces feel more like a relief. Having the pieces next to each other, though they have the same pattern, makes for a completely different effect, like a room within a room. Someone hangs it on the wall and the piece becomes larger than that person.
Are they always meant to be seen together?
After years of doing this, it is only recently that I find the relationship and the co- existence of the two scales necessary.
You’ve told me that Tresse was a collection of series that dealt with hair. How many series are there in the show?
The show holds four series. I don’t consider the photographs with the hair as part of a series but rather individual works, though they are similar. The found photographs in Brunette, Ponytails, Blondie, Fringe and Pigtails are an extension of the theme of memory.
A lot of the humor in Tresse comes from minute transgressions — the braids slither off the paper onto the matte, the wall, locks of hair escape the glass panes… Surfaces that aren’t meant to be touched, let alone to be hairy, are blooming unexpectedly. What does it mean for you, to work on or around limits?
I like to use the idea of escape or expansion—something bigger in size or personality than its physical surroundings, i.e. like a turtle that’s outgrown its tank. The objects stem from me, from my mind, and as the work develops they become physically larger and grander than my person. For instance, the small braids evolving into the mural.
Karoline Lebrun, Fallen Soldiers, 2014. Photo Kevin Leung-Lo for Galerie LOCK
Tell me more about Fallen Soldiers. Didn’t the project start sometime in 2012? Was this the first of your hair-based series?
Yes, the project started in late December 2012.
What directed your choice of materials?
I started with the idea of preservation. At first I thought of using blood between the slides as a way of preserving DNA and packaging it in a delicate way. I later experimented with hair, braiding it and using the slides to emphasize the intricacy of the braid. This eventually turned into a project that took place over the duration of a year, cutting strands of my own hair, braiding them, placing them between two plates of glass, and finally soldering the glass together.
You’ve mentioned Victorian mourning jewelry and hair keepsakes as an influence or a starting point for some of the series in Tresse. How did that inform the process of encasing your hair in microscope slides? Is it meant to be read as a record of time?
Cutting off my own hair for these pieces felt more like a physical sacrifice; I was literally putting myself into the work without the work necessarily being about me. I began to dye my hair blonde at the tips and dark at the top to create a gradient effect once the slides are seen lined up beside each other. If you look closely, you can find two slides with pink braids as well.
My fascination with mourning jewelry began a couple of years ago when I first saw the collection belonging to a friend in Toronto whose been searching for these objects for the better part of five years. I then sought them out and became fascinated with this idea of holding a physical part of a loved one, on your person, after they have passed.
As much as mourning jewelry is an interest of mine, what mostly inspired these pieces was the history of soldiers going off to war, taking with them locks of their family members’ hair as keepsakes. Also, the woman staying behind would let a single lock of her hair grow endlessly until her husband returned. This theme of memory is something I carried into the series.
The hair slides are also for me a way of being remembered. I was actually discussing this with a friend the other day. I was saying how a person’s whole life is everything to them, and once they pass, only a handful of people in the world truly feel affected. Through Fallen Soldiers, I’ve preserved a physical part of my person… It’s like planning your own funeral before you die.
On March 27th, the night of your vernissage, you’ll be performing with Juliana Keller of Women with Kitchen Appliances and Sidney Satorsky, aka Yume. What can we expect?
We have a group called Sonic Electric. It’s an experimental noise, performance art collective. Though we work as a single entity, all three of us have very specific roles in the performance. Julie primarily makes sound using domestic and industrial objects with the use of contact mics and delay pedals. Sidney creates a droning atmosphere using a combination of electronic instruments and audio processing equipment. And I primarily thread my voice through a sea of different effects pedals. The three of us listen to each other, building atmospheric noise.
Do you know the work of Hrafnhildur Arnardottir, aka Shoplifter? Is her work relevant in terms of your practice?
I’ve never really thought about her before in terms of influence, though Bjork’s album cover for Medúlla was always very attractive to me. The masks I made for my vernissage performance are in line with her work, where the masks are like a wall of hair covering our faces while we perform. Besides Shoplifter, Winnie Truong and Rebecca Drolen are other artists that I admire who use hair as a theme.