Sometimes, the simplest things are what surprise us the most. A bag of tea, for example, so small, fragile and with a short lifespan, can be used to carry out small actions such as being piled up, overlapped, sewn or folded; it can turn into a true set of shades and textures. The artist Denise Blanchard uses this and other elements to create, achieving interesting visual and sensorial experiences.
Everything starts with an idea that has potential and later you try it out. Samples or prototypes are made, some are changed along the way because they don’t work or because unexpected things happened; they could perfectly go hand in hand with the original idea. We should be mindful of what appears, of the new discoveries. This is how Denise works; she is always alert to that happening around her in order to capture those materials that can be turned into something else, giving them a new life and a new meaning.
She has a preference for waste materials and recycled materials, which she uses in original ways; she has worked with fragments of different canvases, resins, acrylic, thread, tea bags and lately she is experimenting with wine filters. According to how the materials behave, she determines her work process and how to construct the piece. She is a very versatile artist and is recognized as clever and imaginative.
Her latest work’s main element is tea bags. The artist carried out an entire collecting process for used tea bags, which she obtained from cafeterias and friends’ homes, to later dry them and prepare them to be used again, but with a different purpose. “There are many techniques to use the material. I sew by machine and by hand. I fold them and do origami, I intervene with mono-prints and acrylic, among other processes. When I’m finished, I apply a UV filter and sealant for their protection as well as to make them last,” she tells us.
The process is very natural: Denise makes sure to not alter the material with any type of chemical, which is why the color that we see is the unique result of the tint that is typical of this type of infusion. It is a non-traditional waste material that is immensely poetic and symbolic. “Despite having been designed industrially, they manage to define their individuality upon being used through their serial process, thus transforming them into small, unique and one-off modules that upon being joined, strung together or knitted, change their functionality and become warm textile blankets. They become tapestries that contain stories and experiences expressed through their use, thus emphasizing and elevating their original context.”
From her work with this material, other types of exhibitions have arisen with two-dimensional work and sculpture. She has made works where the emphasis lies in the composition with color and its different transparent shades, where she has also incorporated lighting. In other exhibitions the goal is to narrate a story with collage technique and finally use them as modules joined together with resin which makes them interesting sculptures. The tea bag is adapted to the artist’s needs and shows us its many facets.
Despite the fact that she works with different materials and that her premise is experimentation, Denise does have a constant element in her work; rethinking things. Finding something’s maximum potential. She is able to see the many possibilities that even the simplest materials have to offer by seeing the beauty and richness that each one of them provides us with. While her work could be defined under various movements such as Arte Povera or textile art, her notion goes beyond. However, she feels uncomfortable when she is placed into one category, since her work doesn’t have limits and expresses and communicates with a lot of intensity. “I have a lot of references, but I would classify them as artists who implement unlikely mediums, whether by communicating, protesting or simply creating in an unusual way. One artist that sums up a lot of what I want to say would be Ai Wei Wei, whom I had the chance to see in exhibition in 2014 in the Brooklyn Museum in New York,” explains Denise. Another artist that comes to mind when seeing Denise’s work is Eugenio Dittborn; her relationship with this artist stems from the fact that both work with simple or waste materials and use display as a composition technique. Clearly both of them have different intentions, but they share a common base.
Denise has, just like her work, another side; she is an elementary school teacher who specializes in visual arts. Although she is not currently working with kids, all her passion for experimenting tries to be passed on to her students. “You’re always challenging them and giving them ways to solve any kind of question by using creativity. You can only be a guide. They are the creative ones.” Also, she has a workshop on textile art for adults once a month along with Maite Izquierdo, and she actively participates in the Arsfactus collective, along with the Santa Rosa Art Factory in Santiago, Chile.
Denise Blanchard’s work draws us in with its forms and colors that drastically arise from within each one of the materials that she uses. She puts aside the object’s functionality in order to elevate it to become an image, to give it character and its own individuality. In her words: “The materials are the pretext for creation. They turn into artistic creations by working with them by hand.”