Six questions for
Leonie Brandner

Tique asks six questions to an artist about their work and inspiration.
This week: Leonie Brandner.

Artist Leonie Brandner
Lives in The Hague, The Netherlands

How do you describe your own art practice?

Ceramic, paper-mâché, fabric and embroidery, scent, singing and botanical storytelling – these are the compounds of my practice. First and foremost, I work with installations, room-stretching constellations of objects. I love playing with scale, blowing things up that are minuscule, like vast mossy structures, and shrinking others down, like a pair of intricately embroidered lungs that comfortably fit into ones hand. Yet despite my installations often being vast, I cherish the fragile, the fleeting, the delicate and tender as the vitality and determination of my practice. I actively integrate fleeting components like scent, sound and light as textures in my work, they give the objects I make a sense of depth, a texture beyond their surface. Textures as something resonating in the hollow of the mouth, vibrating under the tips of fingers or as an aftertaste on tongues. And it is them, textures, that bring the various aspects of my work together in kaleidoscopic worlds on the edge of evaporation.

Which question or theme is central in your work?

The stories I aim to tell with my work evoke the land and the troubled relationships we have to it. In my night-garden ‘My Ears Are My Eyes’, 2021, I attempted to evoke the complex story of the Evening Primrose, a night-blossoming flower, invasive to Europe yet medicinally cherished in North America where it natively grows. The basis of the ‘Mossopera’, 2022, forms the story of the fertility goddess Retia, whose betrayal was commemorated in a Swiss folk song over the course of 2000 years; a memory the opera singer Nina Guo and I honoured in our collaborative project.

My work tells of loss, dislocation, things gone by, fleeting and ungraspable. Yet it also aims to provoke abundance and a necessary joy to stay alive, not on our own but in a bustling world of complexities. We all belong together – the loss, the hurt, the joy, the humans, plants, animals, rocks and minerals. That is why I am invested in making ecosystems: installations in which the individual parts, objects, scents, texts, songs and video alike not only reference but dependent on each other.

Eager to expand my knowledge on health and medicinal practices, I have completed a course in Ethnobotany and Ethnomedicine at the University in Zurich after my MA in Artistic Research. I am invested in this field of research in relation to our capacity to heal, not only physically, through medicinal knowledge, but also emotionally, through storytelling.

What was your first experience with art?

I am not exactly sure it was art and in fact I was too little to consciously remember the moment myself, but it is the first thing springing to my mind, when I hear the question: It is the moment I stood inside a whale and heard its beating heart.

There was a whale exhibition at the Zoo in Zurich when I was very little and my aunt and uncle took me to see it. They tell me of this life-sized model of a Blue Whale visitors were invited to walk into, something particularly my uncle was very excited to do. Yet as soon as we were inside the body of this huge creature and we felt its heartbeat shaking through our own bodies, I was so scared all I wanted was to leave.

Today I don’t remember being scared nor do I remember the event itself. It lives in me only as a story my family tells me again and again. Yet the image of this story has imprinted on me. It is imposing, fantastical, mysterious, too immediate and yet otherworldly – and it is those feelings, that all have to do with belonging and curiosity, I find most exhilarating to harness within my work.

What is your greatest source of inspiration?

Myths and legends, everything old and buried, somehow half-forgotten yet mesmerizingly glittering and sparkling and alive. I love reading about archeology, history, evolutionary biology or finding images of ancient scripts, yet above all I love stories. I love how stories hold the capacity to build bridges, draw connections between people and creatures, between moments in history and to future times. There is so much more than I can see, so much I will never be able to imagine. And this, precisely this, the not knowing, is the reason to wonder, to delight, to cheer in the face of the things that are more bizarre, obscurer and much more enchanting than my wildest imagination dares to dream. There are no hard walls; there are no concrete beginnings, no final endings. I am making work not to find a beginning, not to find an ending, not to gain certainty, but to weave and to swim, to stay afloat in an ocean of stories I want to inhabit.

What do you need in order to create your work?

Time. A lot of time. A lot of my work is made over a really long period of time and oftentimes I don’t know where I will end up when I begin. I often start simply with a certainty, a necessity, that this image, this idea is something I have to turn physical. I could turn to ceramics, or embroidery, fabric, paper and glue and then I just keep going and going and see where it takes me. Often the physical making of my work is not only time-consuming but also very repetitive. So not only do I need time, I also need a lot of patience. But it is precisely this aspect of my work, I need so dearly in my day to day. The repetitiveness gives me a moment of reset, a moment to calm down, get lost in an action, allows me to dangle my mind and listen to audiobooks.
I never make mock-ups, tests or trials of my work. I much prefer to full heartedly jump and see what happens as I start to swim. I actually really like not knowing where my work takes me. If I did, all I would be doing is ti plan and execute. I think it is much more exciting to figure things out as I go along and to keep being surprised and astounded by what I find on the way.

What work or artist has most recently surprised you?

For me it is rather the work of an artist that keeps surprising me again and again: the work of Rory Pilgrim. I first encountered his work when I studied in London and I had the chance of meeting him in a small solo exhibition of his in Peckham – I was deeply humbled by his work which has zero allures and cuts straight to the core.
Most recently it was his film The Undercurrent, for which he was awarded the Prix de Rome, that has stuck with me. It is the feeling of belonging, of warmth and the subtle understanding of the complexities of people’s lives that make his work so unbelievably enchanting, fascinating and so rapturously beautiful it is heartbreaking. I think his way of capturing and harnessing fragile emotional states inside his work and translating them without simplifying, being prescriptive or reductive is utterly genius.

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