On a freezing, overcast Wednesday, February 21, at 2 p.m, I attended the warm and enjoyable artist talk and reception at the Roger Hall Gallery.
The feature artist Renee Couture had a very large wooden sculpture (titled I am not my great grandfather’s forest) set up in one area of the room, along with a beautifully patterned wallpaper (titled I am not my grandmother’s flower garden) she designed on the wall right behind the chair in which she sat, and different art pieces along the other walls, with one between two walls.
A big inspiration for her was that they don’t have all the nature we have in Oregon at where she’s from, in Wisconsin. Renee shows us the range of the public’s relationship with nature, and how it changes over time. As she says, “We have so many different ways to value this area”. Her mediums consist of drawing, photography, and sculpture. She explained to us the situation in which the Roseburg and Douglas county’s library’s hours were decreasing at a certain time, and they eventually shut down, which was very eye-opening for Renee. She decided to start a seven year odyssey in which she found out the history of the area she now calls home. In that time she became more interested in capitalism, the environment, community, and how it can be changed so easily by public opinion. She is now part of the Gray Space Project, a group of artists formed in 2016 who are located in the Corvallis, Eugene and Roseburg areas, and find their way around institutional structures that need artists to ask permission. They have a portable 6’x6’x6′ cube consisting of steel and plexiglass that they transport their art in and show in particular places that have to do with the art itself.
The pieces she talked the most about were I am not my great grandfather’s forest and I am not my grandmother’s flower garden, which she helpfully explained her process in making them to us. For I am not my great grandfather’s forest, Renee was fascinated be the trails and streets on the map of her town, and she liked to think about how her grandfather could have freely walked wherever he wanted, without being constrained by No trespassing signs and other rules we have now in our modern time. She made graphs much like that map, and used the software Rhino (which she explained as tricky to use) to laser cut each piece of wood she had with the designs. She labeled each piece so they could be set up together correctly, in case she might not be there to help set up the gallery. “With sculpture, you need to consider space, they’re like mini monuments”. She looked at the gallery building before making this piece, because she wanted something that would fit right in the space, and look interesting from all angles, including through the windows. For I am not my great grandfather’s forest, she went to a local farmer’s market, and there was a flower booth. At the flower booth, she saw that they were throwing away flowers that weren’t fit in the sellers’ mind to be sold. For some reason, she was more fascinated by the discarded flowers than the flowers being sold. This made her think, “what makes us decide that some flowers are better to be sold than others?” She took pictures of the discarded flowers (with permission) and she also took pictures of some trash she found on the ground as she was walking. She put them together in a kaleidoscope pattern on Photoshop to make a unique wallpaper, unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
A very helpful tip Renee left us with was, “You can change up your media, many artists are very generous, and are willing to teach about their media”. It was very inspirational and great advice, because it can be a frightening thought for some artists (myself included) to get out of their comfort zones and ask fellow artists about what they do or for tips.
In conclusion, Renee’s art is meant to open up our minds to thought on our relationship to nature, and what trash is vs. art in our opinion. She used very interesting processes to design her pieces, and I highly recommend checking out her exhibit in building 11, before it closes March 22.