EXCAVATIONS OF THE DEEP: Artist Jess Leitmanis on her solo show at Lone Goat Gallery in Byron Bay

Perhaps the first thing you should know about me is that I have over 720 kgs of marine debris rope in my possession. I wasn’t always this wealthy. This didn’t come about by pure chance. I’ll endeavour to enlighten you on what led me to this juncture, how I became the proud guardian of this unusual bounty, and what I’ve been doing with it...

me and ball of rope - cmyk.jpg

I wear a mask when working. Micro-plastics break away and become airborne during the unravelling and weaving process. It sticks. To my clothes. To my eyelashes. To my mind. Without a mask, my nostrils would become coated with a fine plastic dust. I have experienced this once, early on, working with coloured rope. Yes. Bad news. I keep the majority of the broken fragments and fibres that are too small to weave, because this is an important part of the story and the lifespan of our ‘stuff’. It is interesting to note that on a molecular level, the composition of plastic is so complex that it cannot return to an organic state. This in itself is food for thought... Perhaps not only in the abstract sense.

rope crumbs- cmyk.jpg

Each piece of rope behaves differently depending on the composition of filaments and the quirks nature has imposed on it. In working with this material, I’m forced to be adaptable and responsive, rather than attaching myself to a rigid idea of an outcome. Art basically teaches me about life. It is in the challenges that I find the most potential for growth.

1. spouts from which to drink CMYK print.jpg

The triggers for my work are undoubtedly environmental in sentiment, but the conversations that really intrigue me are ones that explore the motivations that have led us here. I work with the excess of human society, the bits that have fallen through the cracks. I look at the objects we construct; their function, design, and lifespan; I'm interested in what they tell us about ourselves and our values as collective culture. I'm basically wanting to hack open and inspect the thought processes that brought about this version of reality. What is driving us? Human choice. Behaviour patterns. Values. Biology. Environment. Information. Disconnect. I want to understand the influences, and consider the alternatives. So my artwork is about creating dialogue. And that’s also what I do when I find these bits of debris. I have a little chat with it...

I imagine the journey it has been on; the lengths it has traveled to find me; here, in it’s current disheveled state. The rope holds character. Experience is etched into its sun weary flesh. An old sailor, brittle, faded, baked and ravaged by the ocean, and the elements. Character is why I choose rope in favour of other debris. I unravel it to highlight the variation between the interior and the exterior. The exposed parts of the rope hold the charms that only time and a life of experience can impart. Sheltered inside the twist are fibres still strong and vibrant in colour. Once the rope is unraveled we begin to see the full picture, a timeline of sorts. With each piece I work with a fairly restricted colour palette, so that the rope and its character can do the talking. I’m focusing on the texture of the rope, the degradation of a material.

In my current exhibition and previous works, I’m being quite playful with the titles of my art. I reflect on the past, and how we use relics to draw conclusions about former civilisations. Then, I use that lens to challenge how we see ourselves in the modern day. A contemporary archaeology of sorts. Perhaps helping us step outside the present moment and observe ourselves from a different vantage point. Initially I found it hard to articulate what I was doing with these names, because there’s another side to that coin. It’s me having a laugh during the creation process. Making light of a grim situation, or the absurdity of humans... My humour can be quite dark. So I think it’s one of those things that came about intuitively, or subconsciously, and then I understood its purpose later. Also, I think that dark humour, and being quite cynical at times, is strangely what makes me so fiercely optimistic. There’s something about laughter in that darkness, that reminds you there’s always a way out. Dark and light are often found in the journey of making art, funnily enough.

There’s definitely something in the idea of duality, of opposites, that I’m intrigued about or drawn to. It’s something I play on a bit with my new body of work. I’m looking at the inter-related nature of things and curious parallels. The relationship between mind and matter. To what degree does our internal world influence our external world? To what degree does our environment influence our thoughts? The seen and the unseen. The surface and the submerged. The conscious and the subconscious. Perhaps it’s all one and not the same.

For me, art is an invitation to look at the world through a different lens. Still, we all respond with our own eyes and our own individual set of experiences. It is impossible to do otherwise. That is the cool thing... An artwork exists, resonates, connects in a different way with each of us. Every person breathes into it, different life.

A contemporary archaeological dig of mind and matter.
23 March – 18 April 2018

Jessica Leitmanis
instagram: jessleitmanis