Jac Leirner

8 levels


Not on display

Jac Leirner born 1961
Spirit levels
Displayed: 75 × 7320 × 35 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Tate Americas Foundation (Latin American Acquisitions Committee) 2015


8 Levels 2012 is a wall-based sculptural work by the Brazilian artist Jac Leirner consisting of eight differently coloured spirit levels lined up end to end. It is hung high on the wall, well above the viewer’s eyeline, and because of this, its industrial appearance and its bright colours, the sculpture recalls the work of minimalist artist Donald Judd (1928–1994). 8 Levels was made for the exhibition Hardware Seda – Hardware Silk at Yale School of Art’s Edgewood Gallery in 2012 and was included in Leirner’s solo exhibition, also titled Hardware Silk, at White Cube Mason’s Yard, London, in 2013.

The title for the exhibition, Hardware Silk, comes from Leirner’s use of found objects, in this case tools, equipment and articles from hardware stores, while silk comes from the Portuguese word for cigarette papers – papel de seda (literally silk papers) – and relates to Leirner’s work Skin 2014 (Tate T14208). It is also the overall title of the extensive series of which 8 Levels is a part. Like previous series it is based on the activity of collection, accumulation and classification. However, for Hardware Silk Leirner adopted a new way of gathering her found materials, through shopping (rather than appropriating or recycling). She commented on the process undertaken for the Yale exhibition: ‘I ... experienced something new – to go shopping for materials. It was great! In this country [America] shopping is one of the main things in life. So for one week I was only shopping for materials that I had chosen the previous week while thinking what I could do. Yes, this full-time shopping experience was new.’ (‘Jac Leirner in Conversation with Robert Storr’, in Yale School of Art, Edgewood Gallery 2012, p.11.)

Leirner has often worked in extended series; Moacir dos Anjos, the curator of her 2012 retrospective, has commented that ‘considering in retrospect and as an overall set, her production involves a little less than ten extensive and cohesive series of works, all of which refer, without any apparent hierarchy, to the space of real experience as well as the symbolic space of art’ (Moacir dos Anjos, ‘Jac Leirner’, in Pinacoteca de Estado do São Paulo 2012, p.12).

In 8 Levels Leirner demonstrates her concern with industrial materials and tools, as well as her ongoing dialogue with artists she admires and her enduring engagement with colour, and particularly the interaction of different colours. In this she has been influenced by artists such as Paul Klee (1879–1940), Josef Albers (1888–1976) and Hélio Oiticica (1937–1980), as well as the work of Donald Judd. The colour combinations and wall-based linear form of 8 Levels also recalls the work of fellow Brazilian Willys de Castro (1926–1988), in particular his series of Active Objects 1959–62, which used colour and geometric design to elicit a phenomenological response from the viewer. This work typifies Leirner’s engagement with the sculptural language of Oitcicia, Judd and de Castro while also challenging the limits of minimalist and conceptual art. Although phenomenology – which has played a fundamental role in the development and articulation of post-war modern and contemporary art in Brazil – has been a key concern, Leirner’s approach differs from de Castro in that she uses found materials rather than more abstract shapes. The artist’s work has been consistently concerned with approaching concepts of the real through the material and the everyday. She places an emphasis on the everydayness of being or lived reality (‘vivencias’), in which everyday objects, equipment and tools are aspects of the environment within which we determine ourselves.

Speaking about her use of repetition and industrial tools and materials, Leirner has said:

I never tire of repeating the same gesture, like the repetition of a mantra. I know the result of this repetition will be beautiful. One bead followed by another, one hole followed by another ... I like to use great quantities of the same article, things that in themselves don’t seem like much show their radiant presence and its great artistic potential when multiplied. A single bead doesn’t make a rare jewel. But a quantity of beads can achieve impressive results … Taking into account the aesthetic affection that I grant things, tools have always come first. They carry with them the genius of the inventors, engineers, designers, the perfection of the industrial finish. They’re generally beautiful and most often strange. They are, at last, like sculptures – complex and loaded with references. A great part of the materials I use that aren’t tools also bring these references; they were industrially processed, designed by professionals. Business cards, cigarette packs, ashtrays or utensils and airline company blankets are tools we use on our trip through life and the world.
(‘Guide to the Unknown’, interview with Rodrigo Moura, in Saber desconocer/To Know Not to Know, exhibition catalogue, The 43 (Inter)National Salon of Artists, Medellin 2013, p.335.)

Leirner was born in São Paulo in 1961, where she continues to live and work. She studied at the Fundação Armando Álvares Penteado (FAAP). Leirner has exhibited extensively both within and outside Brazil and Latin America since the beginning of her career. She has had solo exhibitions in institutions including the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, and Modern Art Oxford (1991), the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1991), the Bohen Foundation, New York (1998), the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro (2002), the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo (2012) and the Museo Tamayo, Mexico City (2014). In 1983 and 1989 she participated in the São Paulo Biennial, and in 1990 and 1997 her work was exhibited at the Venice Biennale.

Further reading
Jac Leirner: Ad Infinitum, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro 2002.
Robert Storr, Jac Leirner: Hardware Seda – Hardware Silk, exhibition catalogue, Yale School of Art, Edgewood Gallery, New Haven 2012, reproduced pp.10, 64–5.
Moacir dos Anjos, Jac Leirner, exhibition catalogue, Pinacoteca de Estado do São Paulo, São Paulo 2012.

Tanya Barson
September 2014

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Display caption

Leirner’s sculptures are often composed of found materials. Here, a number of spirit levels have been mounted onto the wall, in an arrangement whose industrial look and bright colours resembles a series of works by the American artist Donald Judd. Leirner’s use of familiar industrially produced objects reflects the desire (associated with many Latin American artists) to bring art closer to everyday life. Of her use of tools, Leirner has said: ‘They carry with them the genius of the inventors, engineers, designers, the perfection of the industrial finish.’

Gallery label, October 2016

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