“When I look back as a child, I was always making big 3-dimentional projects, although I did not see it as art,” says Stephanie Leitch, a Salt Lake City artist preparing for an upcoming exhibit at Nox Contemporary. While studying for her art degree at the University of Utah, Leitch was not interested in the conventional. “I never got a piece of clay and sculpted it or I never chiseled marble.” She says process is what propels an artist. “You are satisfied in the process of something and that something pushes you forward.”
Exploring space, and its evolution through time, is the “something” that has driven Leitch’s work formally and thematically. In “Strata,” a site-specific work using a vacant retail space in Sugarhouse, Leitch considered the Salt Lake environs and the impact of time and physical change on its ecosystem. A graphic pattern of inverted pyramids was created by suspending distinctly shaped fabric units. Each form represented natural processes of nonlinear water systems that collected and eventually released water onto mounds of earth below the form — measurable change in a controlled space. Similarly, in “The Dark Shy Pupil,” molasses and peanut oil were mixed in tubes anchored to the ceiling, and the mixture traveled to the ground along thin fibers, creating pools on the tiles below.
This past month, Leitch has been preparing for a new installation at Nox Contemporary. “Untitled Congregation” will be a massive installation that takes over the entire gallery space and examines another sort of local ecosystem. Like earlier works, it is a time-dependent system, and will play out over a two-hour period on March 15th. In the installation, a skeletal form of 180 “appendages” (made up of a total of 6000 plastic sacrament cups normally used for LDS church services) will hang from a grid structure along the gallery’s ceiling. A flow of water will pass through the grid, and, traveling from one cup to the next through a process of accretion, will unify the entire work in an animation of sight and sound.
But Leitch is fascinated less by any grandiosity, and more by a process that “takes the minute and pushes it to its utmost extent.” This minutia is the source for a unique blend of space and structure. “The water droplets undergo a series of collection, containment and release,” says the artist, and this creates a unique effect on the membrane the artist has created for each receptacle. Given the most fragmented of elemental allowances, the cohesion and play of water will be variable. This might be seen as a microcosm to the spatial structure of the whole. Water is contained and then released into channels whereby its course is entirely unique and variable. With total randomness and the absolutely unpredictable, the only constant here is beauty in a unique and fantastical structure of space.
“Every form is the evidence of action,” says the artist, who describes her massive self-generated work as “a structure which gravity acts upon.” Leitch’s self-generated installations may be considered organic in nature, suggesting metaphorical links to the spatial structures of any number of systems. These might be natural, like the reproductive systems of flora and fauna or the biological systems and subsystems of the human body. Or they might be more abstract, like the development of an ideological system, or the spiritual ecosystem of a collective group. Leitch’s ideology gives form to these complicated systems, creating environments that explore what Leitch calls the “phenomenology of space,” or the influence of space on perception. Ultimately, Leitch addresses the fundamental realities of space, as the site’s source for each installation and as an essential element of each work in her expansive oeuvre. She treats space more as the kind of physical structure it is, albeit hard to define, and less as arbitrary emptiness, easy to ignore.
The form of “Untitled Congregation” — without the animating power of the water flow — will remain at Nox Contemporary through April 19th and a video loop will provide visitors with a simulacrum of the original experience. But since, as Leitch says, the installation is a “process living itself out in front of the viewer,” to appreciate the fullness of the beauty of the spectacle and to perceive the structure of the space and its animated transformation, you probably have to be there.
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Ehren Clark studied art history at both the University of Utah and the University of Reading in the UK. For a decade he lived in Salt Lake City and worked as a professional writer until his untimely death in 2017.