ELISABETH PICARD expertly manipulates a variety of materials into unexpected forms, while maintaining their material identities. For the last five years, she has transformed manufactured, plastic zip-ties into organisms, land forms and architectural curtains, emphasizing accumulation, texture and transparency. Elisabeth earned her BFA in 2004 from University of Quebec and her MFA in 2011 from Concordia University, both in Montréal, Quebec. She has exhibited widely throughout Quebec, including solo exhibitions at Materia (2012) in Quebec City and the Centre d’Exposition de Mont-Laurier (2012). In 2016, she created two new pieces at the Centre d’exposition Raymond-Lasnier for the Biennale Nationale de Sculpture Contemporaine, which are on view until September 9, 2016. Elisabeth is represented by Lonsdale Gallery in Toronto. She lives in Montréal, Quebec.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about the relationship of the single unit to the whole in your work and in nature?
Elisabeth Picard: I often use single zip-tie units in repetition to create a massive texture. I also assemble a few single units to create hand-sized pieces that may be seen as miniature sculptures or sculptural sketches for a gigantic construction. Single units can also be attached together to create bigger pieces. I often think of my pieces as similar to permeable cellular forms that are bound together because both configurations would let water and light pass through.
It is the architectural potential of the material—to be cut, bent and torn— and its translucency that stimulates me to create organic and abstract shapes. My relationship with nature surfaces by itself, even when the plastic material is far from nature. The forces of nature create growth, movement and transformation in animals, plants, cells and landscapes. My sculptures could be associated with some static stage within those realms.
OPP: When did you first begin to work with zip-ties?
EP: One of my major interests lies in the possibilities of the
material and the pure pleasure of exploring many ways of manipulating
it, following my intuition and gestures. I distinguish my production and
creativity from that of other artists because my intention is to
develop ingenious applications of different materials. Before using
zip-ties, I worked with rattan, wood, metal, resin, beeswax, plywood and single face cardboard.
While studying for my Master’s Degree in Fibre Arts at Concordia University, Montreal, I discovered how important and creative contemporary basketry is in the U.S. In 2010, when I was about to start new work for my thesis, I went to the library at my favourite museum, the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA). There I opened a magazine and saw a 3D representation of a translucent wave of spikes. I had a flash of working with zip-ties. I created my first significant piece Flot and then 18 small sculptures known as Constructions in 2011. As I was developing this new body of work, I went online to see how this material was being used and I realized that there was great potential for me to manipulate it in a personal way, because I consider it like some sort of Meccano. Since then, I have been continually evolving with this material, integrating dyes and programmed LED lights. With some hindsight, I realize that my use of zip-ties is a continuation of early works with rattan but with the intriguing properties of resin.
OPP: Your titles often refer to single-celled organisms—Nuées : Ceratium, Phacus, Closterium (2014), Asterionellopsis glacialis (2013) and Diatomée 5 (2013) are just a few examples. What role does scientific research play in your practice?
EP: Science and nature are my major sources of inspiration: I have studied the work of D’Arcy Thompson, Peter S. Stevens and Buckminster Fuller. Looking at their work, I encountered beautiful antique illustrations of radolaires
and other sorts of cells, seaweeds and invertebrates. I have become
very interested in the relationship of growth and transformation in
evolution. These features inspire my work without leading me to
represent them. It is more of a parallel universe that I study for its
I find it very difficult to give a title to a body of work and not have it suggest a single reading for the viewer. Because few people know Latin, I use these terms to give more of a clue that can be researched later. Furthermore, specific cellular and phytoplankton names are a source of inspiration for titles of new shapes that I have just created because they happen to look similar.
OPP: In your earlier work (early 2000s), there are a lot of recurring forms: voids, circles, tubes, and mazes,
all of which also had the quality of cumulative, organic growth that is
still present in your more recent installations that now make more
direct references to natural forms and organisms. Was this a conscious
shift? Or something that grew out of material changes?
EP: My earlier work referred to a spiritual state that is the result of observing sacred architecture. I was interested in the personal or grounded self-connection that develops during the state of contemplation and elevation of the spirit without the religious content. I discovered that this interest was linked to the thought of Indigenous peoples: for them the spirit is grounded within nature. My work kept the same approach but took another form: a reading that relates to the basic architecture already present in nature’s shapes and force. Karl Blossfeldt’s black-and-white photographs of specimens show this.
OPP: Setting content and imagery aside, describe your
experience in the studio making work built from repetitive processes.
What do mean by the phrase “meditative approach?” Do you think of your
studio practice as a meditation practice?
EP: I do not consider my art practice as meditative. However, creating work stimulated by the material’s potential is a form of focused involvement. Also the fact that I produce a massive construction through repetitive action requires a capacity of endurance. While making a large body of work, I may let my mind become centred in another state, or maybe I am being simply obsessive compulsive.
When I am
creating work, I like to think about the boundaries of scale. I imagine
that my miniature work could be gigantic for a firefly. At the opposite
end of the scale, some of the larger installations could be seen as Nano
texture, a piece of material bigger than the building that hosts my
work. Also, I like to look at textures and patterns that attract and
excite me. I have a tendency to create dense work that demands a lot of
visual attention, and I play visually with depth and surface to make the
viewers lose their points of reference, if they so wish.
I use a ‘’meditative approach’’ more with the idea of producing an awareness of nature, of showing its power and capacity for change, thus showing respect for our interconnection with nature and understanding of what we do to it. However, I am not an ecological artist, and no art works are truly green or have zero impact. I am trying to be better in my everyday life and to compensate in other ways, but I feel torn because I love both nature and plastic.
Crédit photo: Jean-Michael Seminaro et SODEC
OPP: What's next for you? Where do you see your work going in the near future?
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). In March 2016, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work will be included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition as part of the ANNUAL, on view from September 16 - 29, 2016.