Briefly describe the work you do.
My work explores the various relationships between capitalism, the environment, and one’s community. Through the lens of postmodern environmentalism and bio-regional ethics, my work considers the interdependence between people and nature. My practice is project-based, conceptual in nature, and moves fluidly between sculpture, photography, and installation. I see my art practice as an investigative process.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I spent my younger years in mid-west suburbia running around outside playing tag, active in sports, and waterskiing. I think playing sports and learning foreign languages helped give me discipline. When I became involved in visual art I found similar characteristics were involved – discipline, practice, improvement – but with the added bonus of exercising creativity. For about four years I ended up living abroad and traveling extensively. I think this made me aware of my surroundings, interested in learning about cultures, and appreciative of the work which occurs within communities. Currently, I live in a small mountain community on seven acres in a historically timber dependent area. Much of my work now revolves around learning about the place where I currently live.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
Within my studio practice, I try to work hard and enjoy myself. The “toiling” comes in if there’s a big deadline or when I need to acquire new technical skills for a project (which is often because I don’t chain myself to one particular media). I also read and write a lot, and I go for walks in the mountains. Sometimes I just lay on the floor and stare at the ceiling.
My studio is not a stereotypical “big space with white walls”, nor a “small desk in the corner”. I live in the mountains. My studio is in a retro-fitted 20 foot camper/travel trailer. It’s located in my garden and is surrounded by trees and piles of wood used to heat my home. Where I live and how I live has an influence on my work.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
The county where I live is “ground zero” for environmental debate surrounding the extraction timber from the federal land in the surrounding mountains. I often think of my work is an attempt to make sense of a history from which I was absent as a means of understanding my own present and the place where I live. As an artist, I am able to “hijack” the timber debate from environmental activists, politicians, and the timber industry through my work, something I never saw myself doing. I think as an artist I am able to offer a unique perspective to this decades old debate.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I am disciplined when it comes to my studio practice. I schedule a certain number of hours per week on “all things pertaining to art”. This includes not just studio work, but also research, writing/sketching/note taking about my work, finding materials, applying for grants/residencies/exhibitions.
I do different activities at different times of day. I like to complete difficult readings in the early morning over coffee; meanwhile I work in studio or work on applications in the mid-morning through afternoon; any writing/sketching/note taking about my work happens in the evening. What I end up doing depends on deadlines, project development, and/or my job schedule.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
A lot has changed since I finished grad school in 2010. In grad school, you are bombarded with critical feedback and there is an expectation of production – your whole process is on hyperdrive. Now that I am no longer in grad school, I have come to the simple conclusion that work needs time. I am starting to feel comfortable giving my process the time it needs. As a result, my production has slowed because I give myself more time to read, more time to write, more time to draw, more time to plan work and variations of work
In terms of content there has also been a shift. Since 2010, my work shifted to articulating the complexity and range of the public’s relationship with their surrounding landscape. My work it is now rooted firmly in what it means to live in a rural community in the Pacific Northwest timber country. I use whichever media and/or mode of working most appropriate to express my ideas. I began re-appropriating and re-contextualizing everyday materials and/or imagery while in grad school and continue to do so. While I make distinct bodies of work each body of work is tied conceptually.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
In grad school, I read a lot of philosophical writings about labor and “the everyday”. While these writing still influence my work, I’ve added writings about “place”. Over the past few years I read just about everything Wendell Berry has written, plus works by Gary Snyder and Alain de Botton; most recently I’ve recently added John Brinckerhoff Jackson and Yi-Fu Tuan. Art historical writers I enjoy are Helen Molesworth, Julia Bryan-Wilson, and Miwon Kwon.
I talk a lot with my husband about issues surround land use management practices and forestry practices. I also have a couple artist-friends with whom I discuss my work and about ideas surrounding “place”. They ask me tough questions and offer insights that help me see and think about my own work more deeply.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I teach, which I actually see as being an extension of my studio practice. Sometime the modes I’m working in within my personal studio practice find their way into assignments for my students, and vice versa.
Outside of those activities (teaching, making art), I would want to run a small gallery space or run the gallery at the community college where I currently teach. Running a gallery space would give me the opportunity to add to the arts conversation in my area, support artists, and use all the skills I learned in grad school in a different context. I think it would be an interesting and exciting challenge. Or I would be an organic farmer.
Renee Couture’s work examines the complex relationships between capitalism, the environment, one’s community. Her practice involves moving fluidly between sculpture, photography, and installation. She uses both formal and conceptual strategies in creating her work.
Couture graduated from Buena Vista University (Storm Lake, IA) with a BA in Studio Art and Spanish in 1999. She spent the next four years traveling throughout the United States and South America. Couture has taught a range of art courses in children’s camps in the United States and abroad. She earned her MFA in Visual Art from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, in 2010. Her work has exhibited nationally.
Couture lives on seven acres in the mountains of rural southern Oregon with her husband, two dogs and two cats. When she’s not in her studio working, she’s in her garden growing food. Couture is currently adjunct faculty in the Fine Arts Department at Umpqua Community College.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.