Leigh Ledare - INTERVIEW- Paris & Brussels -Double exhibition.

Par Laetitia Allal,

Leig Ledare, 01. A dream into the REal. Very sensuous...


Leigh Ledare, Personal Commissions: ‘A dream into the Real. Very sensuous, cheerful, SWF, 38, gifted, charming looking for a distinguished, very affluent hi-end art lover, a patron to share great heights. Ext#6910’, 2008.
C-Print, 50.8 x 36.2 cm. Courtesy of the artist, Pilar Corrias, London and Office Baroque, Antwerp.

Who is Leigh Ledare? Could you introduce yourself?
It’'s a sort of impossible question to answer. I'’d say that who each of us is depends entirely on who, and what circumstances, we’re set in relation to, not to mention our individual responses to those situations? We are always both influenced by, and in turn influencing, the social world around us. We always carry these relationships around in our heads.

Leigh Ledare, Collector’s Commision (Thea Westreich), 2008.  C-print, 93 x 75.5 x 5 cm.


Leigh Ledare, Collector’s Commision (Thea Westreich), 2008.C-print, 93 x 75.5 x 5 cm.Courtesy of the artist, Pilar Corrias, London and Office Baroque, Antwerp.

When, how and why you did you become a photographer...?
Well, initially I went to school for writing, but I was always interested in psychology and in the ways individuals navigated social situations, at any rate more so than in photography per say. I suppose this emerged out of the complicated relationships that other members of my family had to representation. My grandfather, who home-schooled both my brother and me, was a poet and educator, but also friends with the sociologist Irving Goffman, so my experience with my grandfather planted in me this interest around how individuals live within and negotiate broader social structures.

Which photographers/artists/directors… have had the greatest influence on you?
Many of my influences are not photographers: Fassbinder, Mike Kelley, Kaja Silverman, Jerzy Kosinski, Judith Butler, Thomas Bernhart, Robert Walser, Andrea Frasier. Of course, I would also underscore the importance of my subjects and those who collaborate on the work with me. Being based off concrete situations, the work refers to the actual situations I'’m submitting myself to. I try to very carefully listen to the materials that are in front of me. And I really don’t make work unless I feel there is something that I need to address. Usually it has to do with some situation that grabs me or that I intuit as raising some interesting issue, or pries open something that is bothering me. That’s not to say the work is simply about reacting to the world in a straightforward manner, from some fixed position of who I might be. The problematic positions I sometimes allow myself to inhabit are a means to raise these questions. Who I am in the art and who I am in my private life have overlap but aren’'t inseparable as well.

You started out as assistant Larry Clark, what did you learn at his side?
Well, Larry tried always to investigate things from the gut, having conviction that there was content that, while being very difficult to present, was important to be discussed, not least of all because other people were grappling with these same issues but in terms of visibility the issues were being relegated to a kind of cultural blind spot. In a sense I feel the same responsibility to address these issues.

Leigh Ledare, Collector’s Commision (Thea Westreich), 2008.  C-print, 93 x 75.5 x 5 cm.


Leigh Ledare, Leigh Ledare, An Invitation: Monday,July 25, 2011, 2012.Photolithograph, 144.8 x 76.2 cm Edition of 16. Courtesy of the artist, Pilar Corrias, London and Office Baroque, Antwerp.

Provocation is an essential part of your work. Do you want to flout conventions?
I’'d stress that the provocation in the work isn'’t to shock but is to get people to actually start paying attention to dynamics they may not want to, and ways that they are also implicated within those dynamics. Because the work raises a set of questions around how we portray ourselves, and how we represent each other, there’'s a set of ethical questions raised also. In a sense the work complicates what we might typically expect from a photograph, something that proposes an authentic portrait of a person, or that attempts to portray their dignity. I don'’t believe that this authentic self exists, but rather that we perform our identities based on desires that we have to identify and disidentify within broader social frameworks. In a sense these terms around identification constitute a form of language that underlies how we negotiate our self-presentation in the world. Rather than simply creating psychological portraits that might attempt to capture the essence or dignity of a subject, the work attempts to understand the subject as they are positioned within a broader social field, where at times identity and dignity are compromised by a world that, as subjects, we can’t help but be submitted to.

Leigh Ledare, Leigh Ledare, Me and Mom in Photobooth, 2008. Unique silver gelatin print photobooth strips, 19.7 x 1Leigh Ledare5.2 cm.


Leigh Ledare, Me and Mom in Photobooth, 2008.
Unique silver gelatin print photobooth strips, 19.7 x 15.2 cm.Courtesy of the artist, Pilar Corrias, London and Office Baroque, Antwerp.


What are your main sources of inspiration?
Well, there’'s a situational premise to the works. They are almost always constituted through my submitting myself to a situation, implicating myself, and through this reflecting ways that the viewer is also implicated. For this reason I would say that the relationships and situations that the work responds to and is informed by is the solid inspiration for the work. In moments, such as with the images with my mother, I attempted to place a framework over the framework my mother was placing over me. It’s about reflecting this process and how image relations double and correspond to human relations. Also, it’s about the way that images change as they circulate within the world. For instance in the work with my mother, enacting the work through it’s publication shifts the power dynamic that my mother achieved within our family through her sexuality and the masochistic tendency she was expressing. I'’m very interested in how the meaning of images shift by how they'’re used and through their transmugations. Also, how models of how to behave, contained within images, shift historically.

Leigh, Ledare, Leigh Ledare, Mom and Me in Mirror, 2002.  C-print, 50.8 x 61 cm.


Leigh Ledare, Mom and Me in Mirror, 2002.
C-print,50.8 x 61cm. Courtesy of the artist, Pilar Corrias, London and Office Baroque, Antwerp.


What's the message of your work?
I don’'t have a message. I have a desire to question. I suppose that I would hope people to be a bit more courageous about looking at themselves and acknowledging how we’re complicit as subjects in social dynamics that might often be very compromising. Certainly there is a questioning of morality, but more importantly it’'s impact on the individual. I often present these questions in a suspended state, intentionally holding back a message, as an attempt to activate the viewer’s own relation to the situations within the work, their own ideas around ethics and so forth, and also out of an empathy and respect for my subjects. The architypal nature of many of the rôles within the work allow for the viewer to identify in very personal ways with work that might be seen as depicting an other, calling the viewer’s own moral understanding of desire and so forth into examination. I suppose there could be some message about tolerance, but this is also complicated through the fact that sublimation in the work also does not necessarily end up at it’s end point in a liberation. In this sense the work inhabits a position of implicit critique. I don’'t see it as prescriptive, but rather as an example of ways not to be, or positions that are complicated by broader cultural and social frameworks. I have a great amount of empathy for my subjects and for the process of being caught up in these conditions.

15.  Leigh Ledare, Mom and Catch 22, C-print, 89 x 59 cm


Leigh Ledare, Mom and Catch 22, C-print, 89 x 59 cm.
Courtesy of the artist, Pilar Corrias, London and Office Baroque, Antwerp.


Many people have discovered your work through the pictures you took of your mother. These images are often deemed disturbing Do you understand that?
The work with my mother was the first work I made. It was a project that took 8 years to complete, and for this reason my intentions shift over the span of the work. There is a complex relationship to the material I’'m photographing and how the camera is being used throughout the project, both by myself but certainly by my mother too. This relationship is unstable in the sense that it attempts not to essentialize my mother but record her self-representations as responses to economic, social and intimate needs. There is certainly an ambivalence that lies at the core of the work, and perhaps this is disturbing, but I also think it’'s an accurate reflection of life and relationships. In no way do I intend to present something that is resolvable but rather reveal the contradictory social demands placed on the individual, drives that compete and conflict with each other in cacophonous ways. There was an extremely open and intimate relationship that I have with my mother and which was developed through the work. The work comments as much on the confusion around these sexual boundaries, as suggests reasons that through imposing herself on me as a subject she was asking me to be complicit in her sexualization. I saw her sexuality as a means of antagonizing her father and refuting expectations he had for how she should behave as a mother, daughter, and woman of her age. On one hand she was trying to engage in a sexualized economy to find a man to sponsor her, as a form of soft prostitution. But it was also about affirming her own creative life and her relationship to me and my brother. She was challenging propriety, and also including me within the whole scenario as her son photographing her to drive home that antagonism she felt towards being told how to behave. It’'s much more complicated than simply lust. There'‘s a whole kind of eroticism that underlies the risk involved in this, something I would suggest is completely distinct from pornography, while there were also instances that she was articulating herself in a pornographic manner, but never removed from a set of relationships, never simply for prurient interests. The work has focused on these multiple levels of authorship and where this slips back and forth. In that sense it’s very different from traditional ways photography is thought through. This is certainly part of the interchange between the artist and their subject but I try to make this all visible and show the actually complexity of these relationships, something usually concealed, often speaking to a much more manipulative and complicated negotiation on part of the artist and the muse. For me the interesting question is how is each image motivated? How is it used? And how through its use does the multiple meanings of any image shift?

Leigh LEDARE, Double Bind Diptychs, vol. 2 sur 3, 22.8 x 31.7 cm, 112  pages, éd. limitée à 85 ex. numérotés et  signés + 15 E.A. Produit et publié en 2012 par mfc- michèle didier ©2012 Leigh Ledare et mfc-michèle  didierLeigh Ledare, double Blind, Diptychs
Leigh LEDARE, Double Bind, Diptychs, vol. 2 sur 3, 22.8 x 31.7 cm, 112. Limited edition of 85 sets of 3 volumes and 15 artist’s proofs.Certificate signed and numbered by the artist. Produced and published in 2012 by mfc-michèle didier + 15 E.A. ©2012 Leigh Ledare et mfc-michèle Didier

Could you explain the story of Double Bind (The exhibition and the book)?
I was married to a woman for 5 years, then divorced for 5 years. At that point I convinced her to come with me to stay for 3 nights in a remote cabin in Upstate New York. Over this period I made roughly 500 photographs of her. Just before we went on the trip she remarried. Two months after this first trip I asked her to repeat the trip, this time alone with her current husband, who also photographed her over the course of their 3 night stay, giving me the undeveloped film upon his return. So there’'s this repetition of the two trips, and there’s also a temporal dimension that this complicates, in that the photographs taken by her current husband, and given to me, are made from a position that I occupied ten years previously. The project stemmed out of a set of concerns that were present in the work with my mother. I involve the current husband for a simple but extremely important reason: my ex-wife (who also happens to be his current-wife) is the structural core of the project, the object photographed. By involving her current husband this creates a comparative structure whereby each photograph of her must be read from the position of my relationship with her (the exhausted marriage), or her current husband’s relationship with her (the newlyweds). Rather than being a simple object photographed, the dialogical structure of the work forces her agency to become apparent through the way difference is articulated by the two sets of images, registered through the boundaries recorded in the photographs of the two relationships. In that way the project doesn'’t attempt to essentialize an image of her, but rather to ask how these relationships triangulate, and how one party, involved in their own representation, attempts through their representation to articulate something to a third party. There is always this conversation between the various relays of husband/wife, wife/ex-husband, ex-husband/husband. I’'ve tried to focus on these relationship structures that we can all relate to in some way: mother/child/husband/wife… in order that the viewer brings with them their own relation to these roles. In this important way the work is not solely autobiographical.

Leigh Ledare,Husbands: 21.6 x 27.9 cm - 96 pages.Leigh Ledare, Husbands: 21.6 x 27.9 cm - 96 pages.
Leigh LEDARE, Double Bind, Husbands: 21.6 x 27.9 cm - 96 pages. Limited edition of 85 sets of 3 volumes and 15 artist’s proofs.Certificate signed and numbered by the artist. Produced and published in 2012 by mfc-michèle didier + 15 E.A. ©2012 Leigh Ledare et mfc-michèle Didier

We tend to write off the people we no longer love. In the story about your ex, you show that love can morph into tenderness. And it's also very interesting to see this woman through your eye, and then through her new husband's eyes. How did it all come about?
Well, it took time to convince them both, but ultimately it was an experience that had as much to do with the mutual acknowledgment of each of our affections within the situation, despite the shift in our roles. And while it certainly raised questions around trust, on many levels, ultimately my ex-wife, Meghan, and her new husband, Adam, were extremely brave in being open enough to it and believing that there were important enough reasons to participate in the project. Perhaps in Double Bind the collection of various public media and ephemera, pages torn from magazines, advertising, eroticism, cultural reviews, etc…, which alongside the personal images of my ex-wife, makes up the second comparative structure, is the most direct way in which I’'ve tried to looked more broadly at how our culture, saturated by images, serves to model our experience. But I was also interested in how, in a Warbergian sense, we interpret or read our own individual experience against this shared cultural background of images and representation. The conflicting demands of this media are also so pervasive we’re often completely inured to them. I saw this as something that needed attention beyond more simplified approaches to critiquing media representation that arose in the 80's. Of course this tries to draw on and expand out from feminist discourse, but also tries to complicate it by breaking down the distance between a critical intention and an inhabitation of these problematic identifications.

Leigh LEDARE, Double Bind EphemerasLeigh LEDARE, Double Bind Ephemeras
Leigh LEDARE, Leigh LEDARE, Double Bind Ephemeras: vol. 3 sur 3, consisting of 6 revues : 30.9 x 41.3 cm each - 80 pages each. Limited edition of 85 sets of 3 volumes and 15 artist’s proofs. Certificate signed and numbered by the artist. Produced and published in 2012 by mfc-michèle didier + 15 E.A. ©2012 Leigh Ledare et mfc-michèle Didier

There is a tendency to want to remove from his life the people you dés-aime, there, with your work on your ex, you show that love can just turn into a different love. And see this woman through your eyas or new husband eyes is very interesting. How was this desire?
Part of this project certainly was about maintaining this openness, but also the vulnerability that this comes with. I think far too often we treat relationships in categorical ways that do an injustice to portraying the actual complexity of real lived experience, intention, and so forth. One of the main things I'’m interested in is how we are formed as subjects not based on identity but rather at the level of desire and motivations, driven by all of these other social pressures. But another issue is that the project is premised on the failure of a marriage, and so in this sense subjecting a human relationship to a system of representation also parallels this cycle of failure, the sublimation does not necessarily result in a completely positive transformation of the energy. Instead, I believe it points to these conditions of the apparatus, such as Georgio Agamben discusses, that show how we’re instrumentalized by certain programmatic ways that dictate how our relationships might play out, or rather how we might play into them. Again, what does it mean that we identify certain traits to the marriage? Certain emotional context? Perhaps ultimately the images of loss, love, and so forth, are just as coercive of an emotional response as the advertising images that are placed in comparison to them. I don't mean only to say that we’re stuck in this apparatus, but also to point to the fact that we develop our own meaning of our experience from within the limitations of these inherited ways of understanding our lives. Once aware of this, I believe a lot more becomes possible.

Leigh Ledare, Mother with Wrist Brace


Leigh Ledare, Mom in New Home, 2007.C-print, 76 x 101 cm.Courtesy of the artist, Pilar Corrias, London and Office Baroque, Antwerp.

There is a documentary feel to your work. Noody's family is perfect. Your mother’s series, for example, looks more like a declaration of love than a provocative statement.It seems like you want to say : you can love your mother, even if she's different. Am I right ?
It'’s not a question of it being possible but rather of it being impossible not to, regardless of boundaries that we feel we need to put in place socially. One question for me is what expense comes with these boundaries? How do pressures such as shame and guilt, that are generated externally but interpolated by the subject, come to shape décisions related to thèse boundaries. How do we put up boundaries as forms of self-preservation, and at what cost do thèse carry in terms of affirming or denying another person? Much of it is indeed a questioning of how différence opérâtes, and I would argue that inhérent in this is a form of politics and biopolitics.

Leigh Ledare, Personal Commissions: "Let the Good Times Roll. 1 Blond, 53 yrs old, curvey, buxom,


Leigh Ledare, Personal Commissions: "Let the Good Times Roll. 1 Blond, 53 yrs old, curvey, buxom,slim, clean, petite. No diseases or drugs. Seeking healthy, honest, reliable, financially secure younger man for discreet sensual fun. Ext#1084", 2008. C-print, 50 x 36,2cm. Courtesy of the artist, Pilar Corrias, London and Office Baroque, Antwerp.

There is often a lot of hypocrisy around the issues of sexuality and morality. Are you trying, to show us all the things that morality prevents us from seeing?
Certainly. This question of how we are conditioned culturally in ways that we offen refuse to acknowledge is key. A lot of the conflict that arose in the US during the culture wars of the 1980s, for instance, stemmed out of an attempt through censorship to suppress content that might publicly reveal individual’s private desires that the moral position of conservative aspects of this moment were completely opposed to. It was about a fear of being corrupted, the enemy inside each of us. There'’s a series of works that I started making recently where I enlisted very young children, 3 and younger, to draw over photographs of my mother. The conditions that the child is brought up in has a huge impact in the way they understand their own sexuality and also the moral atmosphere around the body. That gap between the viewing child's understanding of the image, and the adult viewer's understanding of the image is what I was trying to get at. I made a point of only asking parents who had brought their children up not sheltered from nudity and who also wouldn't make too much of the image or treat the act of drawing over it in a way that would make their child self-conscious. The kids were allowed to respond to the image however they wanted to, with no expectation of how the drawing should be treated. Beyond the project itself, and this questioning of the conditioning of morals that the trace of the child’s response suggests, it was also an attempt to point to a multiplicity of understanding in reading the image, something that the viewer would also be asked to confront and become complicit with when the pieces are exhibited.

Leigh Ledare, Mom in New Home, 2007.  C-print, 76 x 101 cm..


Leigh Ledare, Mom in New Home, 2007.C-print, 76 x 101 cm.
Courtesy of the artist, Pilar Corrias, London and Office Baroque, Antwerp.


There is something really sad about your images. We have the feeling that you want to express some intimate pain, and talk about time passing by and women's place in society. Aren't the pictures of your lother a sort of homage to women?
I'’m very aligned with a feminist position, although upon first hearing about the work one might not assume so. I believe it comes through very clearly. I definitely see all the work as containing this attitude, as an hommage, but I also hope to speak to these gender complications. In terms of the work with my mother I also felt that the ideas of sexuality that she was using, a certain celebration that was aligned with a specific moment of women’s liberation, plays out very differently in our current cultural moment. The carelessly liberated presentation of one’s self on the internet, for instance, seems to me to be extremely compromising as it plays out socially, a kind of false bill of goods. On the other hand I think that this idea of privacy as we know it is completely shifting, so how all of these potentially stigmatizing issues are measured will be in relation to how these concerns around privacy develop. Again, it comes back to this issue of how the individual is expected to negotiate and navigate within broader society.

Leigh Ledare, Husbands: 21.6 x 27.9 cm - 96 pages.


Leigh LEDARE, Double Bind, Husbands: 21.6 x 27.9 cm - 96 pages. Limited edition of 85 sets of 3 volumes and 15 artist’s proofs.Certificate signed and numbered by the artist. Produced and published in 2012 by mfc-michèle didier + 15 E.A. ©2012 Leigh Ledare et mfc-michèle Didier

What's the next step for you? What's your next obsession?
There’s a Survey of work that has just opened at WIELS in Brussels that will be up through November. In that show there are a number of other bodies of work presented that all relate to the issues we’ve been discussing. The show will travel to Kunsthal Charlottenberg in Copenhagen in January. I don’t think about my projects topically as much as being about using specific situations in order to further explore and unfold themes that I'’ve been building throughout my work to date. I try for each project to be in conversation with, and to call into question and redefine, the themes from my earlier projects. In this way, the work isn'’t an obsession over an object, but an attempt to construct a discourse that can address and build upon these broader conversations around représentation and the image. It’s a continuation of this larger project.

Installation view of the exhibition Leigh Ledare, et al. at WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels, 2012. Image by Filip Vanzieleghem.


Installation view of the exhibition Leigh Ledare, et al. at WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels, 2012. Image by Filip Vanzieleghem.Courtesy of the artist, Pilar Corrias, London and Office Baroque, Antwerp.

mfc-michèle didier gallery Paris
Double Blind
Until 10 November 2012
66, rue Notre-Dame de Nazareth,
75003 Paris

Leigh Ledare, Et al.
WIELS
Until 25 November 2012
WIELS, Centre d'Art Contemporain
Av. Van Volxemlaan 354
1190 Bruxelles - Brussel