Artist Q&A: Rodrigo Lebrun

Posted on 09.05.2019

Rodrigo Lebrun, exhibited his work ‘Green (Screen) Dreams’, twice with Invisible Dust, first at York Mediale (27/09/18 – 06/10/18), and second at the North Lincolnshire Museum (19/1/19– 17/3/19). If you missed the exhibitions, or are just intrigued to find out more, Invisible Dust Project Curator Martha Cattell, sat down with the artist at North Lincolnshire Museum to talk about ‘Green (Screen) Dreams’.

Martha Cattell: Can you tell us a bit about ‘Green (Screen) Dreams’ and how it came about?

Rodrigo Lebrun: ‘Green (Screen) Dreams’ is the manifestation of almost a year-long dialogue between Invisible Dust, North Lincolnshire Museum and myself around the impact of climate change in Scunthorpe and the Humber region (and for that matter, the rest of the world).

The name derives from this idea of environmental utopias which seem to be further and further away from reality and closer and closer to CGI-only representations.

The work is a triptych and it’s a multilayered journey through the region’s geological, economic and political history. It also looks into different actors; the individual, the community and the global,  the physical and the virtual…oh, and Brexit, because Brexit sucks.

The piece is essentially a rebrand of Scunthorpe in the shape of a mock advert where a sales representative (in the best Foxtons meets Reddit style) is trying to lure people into this tropical dream only made possible through climate change, 3D software and tons of wishful thinking.

MC: You are not from Scunthorpe, so how did you go about researching the area and what were your impressions of the place?

RL: I traveled to Scunthorpe on 3 different occasions and the idea was to have conversations that would help me understand more about the place from a local perspective without losing sight of the broader picture. I think it was an interesting juxtaposition between what I read in the news and on the internet in relation to what locals told me and my experience of the place.

‘Green (Screen) Dreams’ is a manifestation of those dynamics, contradictions and tensions. It’s the constant interplay between dysfunctional realities, both local and global, and an optimistic outlook towards the future which I would argue is both genuine and escapist (and not necessarily restricted to Scunthorpe).

MC: The environment and climate change are obviously themes that come up in this work, and I wondered what role you think art can have in tackling climate change?

RL: That’s a tricky question, because it implies a single definition/role for art. The type of art I make and appreciate is the one that provokes the audience both intellectually and sensorially. In that sense, I agree with Jeremy Deller who once said in a talk that art shouldn’t heal. If anything, it should have an unsettling effect on the viewer, trigger new view points and perspectives, be a catalyst for inquiry, discussion, and assessment for individuals and the collective. I reckon that’s even more pressing in relation to climate change since it is also a collective and individual problem. For me it’s important to highlight the dynamics at play and hint to people and institutions who benefit from the world’s collapse.

MC: You have spoken about how important the internet is to your practice, do you see it as both a negative and positive force?

RL: I think it depends on what side of this ever changing equation we find ourselves on. I feel I have massively benefited from the internet in the same way I have benefited from globalisation, the EU and to a certain extent liberal capitalism. Having said that, that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t foster a more critical perspective and empathise with those who might feel left out or even harmed by those forces. The key for me is how we can exercise kindness and empathy on a global scale. I could argue the internet could help with that (though it seems to be doing exactly the opposite at the moment). Visually, I think it’s a fascinating playground. I love how you can be exposed to so many aesthetics in one place and how it has become the repository for some of the best and trashiest art. In my case, it’s a great source of inspiration and a way of gauging what people are interested in at the moment. There’s something quite powerful about this idea that we now have the opportunity to record our own biographies in real time (or abstain from it if we choose to, though I’d say it’s pretty hard to do so).

Ideologically it has truly shifted the balance of power to a certain extent (with some scary implications). Even the discussion around fake news bears the question of what real news are. Ok, there are blatant lies on the internet, however, I find it a tad naive to assume that there is this thing called reality or truth.

MC: The process of creating your artwork is interesting and you have mentioned the importance of accidents and mistakes, could you expand on this?

RL: I’m definitely not on a journey towards perfection. If anything, I believe mistakes, accidents, typos, glitches and even my own lack of technical expertise allow me to find manifestations for my work that I might not have originally planned or imagined.

Mistakes have the power to slow us down and consider the mistake and its implication and alternatives to them.

I love the idea of giving away control during the process. Which sounds fairly counterintuitive given that I was pretty OCD growing up. Having said that, I find it liberating. It’s almost as if the work is trying to tell me something which, time and time again, tends to be more interesting than what I had previously thought.

It’s thinking outside the box, with the difference that the box is doing the work for me.

MC: Capitalism is often a major critique with your artwork, but the art world itself is often part of the capitalist system. How do your challenge this in your work?

RL: We all need to pay the bills until the day we won’t have to (bar those who were born into wealthy families). In the meantime we need to fight the system from within.

In my opinion it has to do with how art serves the artist and vice-versa. If it’s just for status, validation or wealth, then I think it’s not dissimilar from any other neoliberal activity (however highbrow one might try to frame the work).

I find it problematic when art is self-serving from an individual and institutional perspectives. Art making is already a fairly elitist activity given tuition fees and how the art world operates and validates the work. Hence my issue with some contemporary art conceived to exist and be appreciated solely in academic circles (which in turn claims to be quite lefty and progressive). In my mind it totally defeats the purpose.

MC: You delivered an artist workshop at the North Lincolnshire Museum Takeover Day, what did you learn from this and the opportunity to talk to audiences about your work?

RL: I really value moments when reality and the work co-exist. As an artist, I’m emotionally invested in the work and that can sometimes prevent me from seeing it for what it is. By chatting to people, I have the opportunity to see the work from their viewpoint. I’ve experienced a few occasions where some people didn’t know I was the artist and they spoke candidly about the work. For me this is gold because I know the work isn’t perfect, and sometimes I don’t even know where to take my practice. I’d argue that ‘Green (Screen) Dreams’ reflects some of these constructive (and sometimes destructive) criticisms. I reckon the important thing is to remember that the work isn’t sacred.

The workshop was tough, but at the same time it made me reframe my approach to it (while it was happening). I designed it for an art-savvy audience but then most participants didn’t have formal arts education. I had to adapt and I was fortunate to have some help in the session. This goes back to the point I made earlier about mistakes. It truly slowed me down and made me reconsider my process and it will definitely affect future workshops.

MC: Have you got any plans to expand ‘Green (Screen) Dreams’, or do you have any other works in the pipeline?

RL: Environmental collapse is a universal subject. In that sense the project can be manifested in so many ways. I guess it could and should become a series. Right now, the work, the subject and I need to rest a bit.

I’ve been especially interested in how we tell stories from oral and written traditions to what is becoming a visual/multi-media record. Coming from Brazil, I find it critical in relation to native populations and their cultural presence/ survival. I’d love to reconnect to some of my roots while at the same time trying to find a way through which these cultural manifestations can exist in a way that feels contemporary while preserving its history and traditions.

Watch the project film here.

Find out more about the artist here.

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