Viviane Le Courtois creates processes and Processus

Viviane Le Courtois is a Denver-based multi-media artist from Brittany, France. Her work ranges from etchings and drawings to video to interactive installation pieces that go outside of the studio and intentionally engage their audiences, and for nearly three decades much of it has served as commentary on social and environmental issues – issues that call back to Le Courtois’s childhood.

“I grew up on a farm where we grew our own food. My mom was into cooking and eating what we grew. I grew up that way; it’s just always been a part of my life,” she says. “It came into my art when I was 19 when I started to do a lot of things with what I could find in my everyday life, whether it was eating or walking or meeting people or transforming things that I could find every day. I’ve been working like that for 25 years now. There’s a good continuity in all my work from very early on.”

Le Courtois tries to make people think and remember what they see with her work. A recent piece created for the Biennial of the Americas in Denver Civic Center Park entitled “Grazing” had people sitting on rugs on the grass at wooden tables overflowing with fresh greens.

In her artist’s statement on the piece, Le Courtois said, “Cows eat fresh grass. Humans grow grass and eat dead cows. This piece reverses this cycle by providing a social grazing experience of fresh greens to humans. Like cows gather around food, graze or pick the nicest grasses, people will sit on handmade rugs, socialize and feed on juicy live greens emerging from wooden tables. The piece is designed to invite discussions about food aesthetic, food production, and social experience.”

“That piece had a lot to do with what we eat, having people taste some fresh greens to see what the difference is in what they are eating versus food they get from the store. It’s not fresh and it doesn’t taste like real food anymore,” Le Courtois says. “I grow a lot of my own vegetables. It’s a part of my life. I want people to realize that what they’re buying is just junk, especially in areas with food deserts and short growing seasons.”

Another project entitled “The Garden of Earthly Delights” had Le Courtois growing herbs, sprouts and greens at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and serving them to museum visitors each week. “It was an area of discussion between people around the food they eat every day,” she says. “I create environments for people to discuss these things. It’s not about telling them what is good or bad but creating an environment where they can discuss it with each other.”

It was her move to America that really affected her and inspired the themes prominent throughout her work. “I was quite shocked by people’s diet here, what they eat and how much junk they put in their bodies,” she says. “Every time I go in the supermarket it shocks me what’s allowed to be on the shelves. I never had junk food as a kid; it just didn’t exist.”

She started working with kids, watching what they eat, giving them healthy snacks, and teaching them about health through art projects at DAVA, a community art organization.. She saw kids eating nothing but Cheetos and candy all day, many of whom were either overweight or malnourished, which led to a series called “Junk Food” that she started producing in 2001 with overweight sculptures of “marshmallow people” made of candy and a large stuffed doll of a grotesquely obese person made of neon orange knitting, the same shade of Cheetos.

Le Courtois teaches and curates exhibits in addition to her creating her own work. Her next evolution as an artist and de facto arts advocate/activist is an experimental art space and social club called Processus. This “Institute for Art and Life” located in Denver’s RiNo Art District is a collaborative working space for artists, in the same mindset as co-working spaces for freelancers and small start-ups or hackerspaces for high-tech tinkerers and makers.

“It’s an evolution of what I’ve been doing for so many years,” says Le Courtois. “It will be a co-working space for artists. People can come make sculptures and woodwork. There will be many different areas, but it will also be about interactions and the space, creating creative energy between people to make even stronger work, having discussions about art and life and making things that matter.”

She saw a need for a space in Denver where artists could use the equipment they need to create their work. She previously had a studio at RedLine Denver where there were about 15 artists in residence that created a really positive collaborative energy, but, she says, you couldn’t really make a mess there. “There was a need for a shop where you could really make work. I wanted to take that aspect of interaction and have facility where people can make work, make a mess, and work with tools. There’s no place like that in Denver.”

With Processus, Le Courtois is focusing on artists who don’t have a lot of money and want to be part of a community of artists that want to work together in the same space. “If you’re going to make a sculpture or cut wood you have to have all the tools in your own studio, and you’ll pay a lot of money to do that in Denver right now.”

The space, created in partnership between Le Courtois and artist Christopher R. Perez, is currently being renovated and will open this fall. It will include a coffee shop that serves natural foods, and it will host workshops and discussions. Processus is located a block from RedLine and Le Courtois hopes to collaborate with them. She also plans on activating the space with ongoing installations, pop-ups, and participatory events, “not just one day here or there but a place where this happens all the time.”

Artists pay a membership fee and are then able to use the space for a certain number of hours. There will be no high-tech equipment inside, no 3D printers or CNC machines, but areas for wood-working, sculpting, and a dark room with equipment for developing traditional film.

Le Courtois wants the focus to be on making things by hand and interacting with other artists. “It’s really beneficial to be in the same space with other artists,” she says. “I need to bounce ideas on other people. I think it’s going to be good for other people. This is a natural evolution of my work creating a space for people to think, interact, engage, and discuss ideas. In addition now they can actually make stuff.”