Zoe Leonard Talks about Her Recent Work

Artforum International, January 1999 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Zoe Leonard Talks about Her Recent Work

I see this tree from my back window. I've had the same apartment for eighteen years, and I've watched this tree grow up and around the fence. I'm amazed at how, over time, it has absorbed the fence into its body.

In 1994, I started spending time in Alaska. The first time, I stayed six months. I returned in 1995 and lived up there alone for a year and a half in Eagle, a small village on the Yukon River. I got interested in the idea of subsistence - of living more directly from my own labor. I heated with wood, hauled my own water, and gathered and grew some of my food. Gradually, my experiences there seeped into my work.

At first, I had no intention of taking any pictures while in Alaska, but eventually I began dealing with the new imagery that surrounded me. The pictures that resulted were different from anything I had dealt with before, such as the wax anatomical models or the fashion-show pictures. But I realized that my perspective had accompanied me. I had shifted from examining historical images of women to looking at the land around me, but I retained my concern with analyzing and understanding our culture, our society.

Contrary to my expectations, Alaska both expanded and clarified my politics. I began to grasp the connections between social issues in New York and land-use issues in Alaska. For instance, the economic link between the Alaska oil pipeline and the urban consumer. It became possible at a private level for me to think differently about what I consume.

I was afraid at first that I would have a hard time making art in Alaska. What I found was the opposite. I was surrounded by the complexity of nature, and I began thinking about our "progress" as a people, about the choices we have made. I thought a lot about hunting, about our predatory nature. No one wants to admit they're a predator, but it's impossible to find someone who doesn't sanction killing on some level - for food, or for political or moral reasons. Somehow we no longer really view ourselves as part of the food chain. What we eat is prepackaged and delivered to us. Our shit disappears when we flush the toilet.

While in Eagle, I got a rifle and began to hunt a little - small game, birds, and ducks. I also helped friends deal with their moose and bear. After a while, I began the series of "hunting" pictures.

What I've always liked about photography is that it's such a direct way of showing what's on my mind. I see something. I show it to you. When I returned to New York, the tree outside my window attracted my attention in a whole new way. Once I had photographed it, I began to notice similar trees throughout the city. I was going running every day and noticed trees that had grown through fences and gates, pushing the metal aside, or others that had warped and bent to the pressure of the steel. In some, the barrier had been almost swallowed by wood and bark. I was amazed by the way these trees grew in spite of their enclosures - bursting out of them or absorbing them. The pictures in the tree series synthesize my thoughts about struggle. People can't help but anthropomorphize. I immediately identify with the tree.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Zoe Leonard Talks about Her Recent Work


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?