Through The Past Brightly: Niki Lederer speaks about ‘Found Color’ exhibit at 337 Project Space

By Steve Davison

Junk Sculpture is a sub-genre of Found Object Sculpture, and artist Niki Lederer adds another dimension to that definition with her thoughtful pieces made entirely from brightly colored plastic containers obtained from curbside recycling bins. ‘Found Color‘, an exhibition featuring the Brooklyn- based artist, opens 337 Project Space, located at 337 Division Avenue. The opening reception is Friday, December 4th from 6-9 PM, and the show runs through the end of December.

Having the chance to preview the show, it is an appropriately titled exhibition as Lederer’s sculptures snap and pop with an ebullient playfulness that is undeniable.

Niki Lederer "Fantastic Brickplastic" diptych (detail). Photo: John Berens

Fantastic Brickplastic diptych (detail).
Photo: John Berens

Curated by Tom Duimstra, ‘Found Color’ is another entry in Project Space’s commitment to bringing National and International artists to Grand Rapids, and the Avenue for the Arts.

The Brooklyn- based artist has had solo exhibitions at such places as New York University, Melville House Publishing, DUMBO – Brooklyn; Stantec Window Gallery, Toronto.

Lederer’s sculpture has a balanced symmetry, such as Fantastic Brickplastic Diptych, which Duimstra describes as a “big plastic patchwork quilt”, albeit not exactly the sort of thing one would want to wrap themselves up in on a frigid December evening. In the same vein, A Softness You Can Feel Blue, is anything but soft; it’s all cut shards and jagged edges bolted together in seemingly random swirl of blue plastic. Similarly, Green Machine, also featured in the exhibit, reminds one of a mutated Venus fly trap of future.

Niki Lederer "Fantastic Brickplastic" diptych (detail). Photo: John Berens Recycled plastic bottles, wire 30 x 30 x 20 inchesNiki Lederer, Green Machine, 2015.
Recycled plastic bottles, wire, 30″ x 30″ x 20″
Photo: John Berens

“I seek to draw the viewer’s attention back to these discards—to take a moment to notice how wonderful they are. By bringing attention to those materials I also hope to suggest a humorous approach to the futility of mass consumption of material resources in contemporary life” – Niki Lederer

"Found Color" at 337 Gallery Photo courtesy Tom Duimstra

‘Found Color’ at 337 Project Gallery
Photo: Tom Duimstra

The show also features work by Michael Peoples. Peoples’ Crayola and wax pieces are well-paired with Lederer’s sculptures. The two artists combined works create a burst of color that transforms the 337 Project Space into more something resembling more of a psychedelic preschool playroom than art gallery. Michael Peoples ‘The Great Race‘ consisting of hundreds of Crayola cast ducks, was featured in SENSE at the UICA for ArtPrize 7.

Michael Peoples, "Mouse", 2015 Photo: Tom Duimstra
Michael Peoples, Mouse, 2015
Photo: Tom Duimstra

Below is an email interview I conducted with Niki Lederer regarding the exhibit ‘Found Color’.

(The following Q & A has been edited for clarity)

Art-Hack: This is your first solo show in Grand Rapids. Your work and Tom Duimstra’s work seem like absolute kindred spirits. Both of you build sculptures utilizing found and discarded objects with vibrant colors to great effect. As logical as the two of you working together seems, how did you come into contact with each other?

Niki Lederer: I came to know Tom Duimstra’s work from Facebook and friended him there. We have many friends and colleagues in common but have yet to meet in person.

AH: On your website it says that you had work published in ‘Die Verschränkung von Kunst und Nachhaltigkeit’ as one of five featured artists “exploring art and sustainability”. Can you give some examples or details about how sustainability informs your work?

NL: Sculpture by its very nature takes up space, as a sculptor in NYC I am in a constant battle for space to both make and store the work. My studio is currently crammed full of plastic bottles that I have collected, cleaned and sorted to make my work from. I am acutely aware that anything I make becomes part of my carbon footprint so sustainability informs my work because I have no choice in a way. If I am able to intercept material that is readily available to me via the waste stream I feel less guilty about making objects that take up additional space on the planet.

AH: In your bio, you state your method reclaiming materials from curbside recycling, specifically brightly colored plastic bottles. The Brooklyn Arts Council site states that you have a “love/hate relationship with consumer culture”; what have you learned about consumer culture since beginning this project?

NL: Since beginning this project, I have learned that a vast amount of people use liquid fabric softener. The blue colored bottles are the largest quantity I mine from the weekly curbside recycling. I use dryer sheets myself and find this quite shocking. The fabric softener is very hard to clean off of the interior surfaces of the bottles I collect. I wonder what it is doing to the clothes and the waste-water it washes its way into. Fabric softener comes in second only to the corn and soy cooking oil that is virtually impossible to clean off of harvested bottles before I use them in my sculptures.

AH: Do you try to use all of the materials that you collect?

NL: I do use most all the materials I collect. I have many bags of clean plastic bottles ready to go in my studio right now.

AH: Has anyone ever tried to stop you from taking their curbside recyclables?

NL: Sometimes people that collect bottles for money from the recycling are weary of me approaching, but when they realize I am only interested in the opaque color plastic bottles that have no refund value they don’t mind. They no longer see me as competition

AH: What sort of reactions have you received in regard to your work?

NL: Often viewers of the work are curious to know how I color all of the bottles, they think that the color has been painted on somehow. When I tell them that the sculptures use the bottles as I find them with their color intact, they begin to recognize which bottles are which, like corn oil, or fabric softener or bleach. That is where the exhibition’s title “Found Color” comes from.

AH: Are there any other artists exploring art and sustainability that you feel we should know about?

NL: From a historic point of view other artists exploring art and sustainability by way of found object sculptures are Picasso, Duchamp and Méret Oppenheim. Other contemporary artists exploring art and sustainability include John Chamberlain and Louise Nevelson.

AH: Are there any activists or environmental writers who have influenced your work?

NL: I grew up in the suburbs of Vancouver and studied sculpture on Vancouver Island so I came of age surrounded by environmentalists and that influenced my world view. When I was a kid, David Suzuki, was always on tv and radio, explaining something related to nature and the environment, so the subject was all around me.

AH: The subject matter of your work is ever changing unpredictable. You work has ranged from Purebred Dog silhouettes to shoes to chandeliers. Can you give some insight into how you choose your subject matter and what can we expect to see at the 337 Gallery exhibit?

NL: I always choose my subject matter from what is happening around me in my day-to-day life. When I started making the dog silhouette work, I had just gotten Poncho, my first dog and was spending a lot of time walking him and meeting new dogs in the neighborhood. I kept a little notebook and mapped all my sightings, Bull Terrier on Driggs ad North 7th, that kind of thing. Later on, while I was teaching Bikram yoga in my Williamsburg neighborhood, I was struck by how many clear plastic water bottles went out to the curb from the yoga studio for the recycling every day. I started to collect them and use them in my work. These water bottles became the plastic “crystals” in my chandeliers.

My current interest is in the found color provided by the opaque plastic bottles put out in curbside recycling. The colors are designed to be eye catching so that consumers will pull these brightly colored products right off the shelves. Most of the work at 337 gallery will be made from post-consumer commercial plastic I harvest from recycling bags put out for collection the night before. I don’t add any color to the work, I simply remove labels, clean the bottles and then cut them up o I can reconfigure them into a new object.

The public is invited to attend the opening reception Friday, December 4th from 6-9 PM.

‘Found Color’ can be seen though December at 337 Project Space, 337 Division Avenue, Grand Rapids, MI.




One Response to “Through The Past Brightly: Niki Lederer speaks about ‘Found Color’ exhibit at 337 Project Space”
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  1. […] of six recent pieces from the RE>CRETE>WORKS series. Like fellow Brooklynite Niki Lederer who exhibited her sculptures constructed from recycled plastics at 337 in December, 2015, Goldman uses recycled materials to create his […]

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