This profile originally ran in the April 2013 CUAA Newsletter
Lea Cetera, A’05 creates in video, sculpture and performance producing temporal installations that examine the space between object and body, public and private, and virtual and real. She uses techniques from theater, film and puppetry. She has a MFA from Columbia University and a BFA from the Cooper Union School of Art. She is currently exhibiting at the Pilar Corrias Gallery in London. You can learn more about her at her website. Mary Lynch, ChE ’82, asked Lea about her work and her experiences at Cooper.
Why did you choose Art as a career and how did you come to choose The Cooper Union for your undergraduate degree?
I came to Cooper because I knew it was the best, and that it is a difficult art school to get into and the only free tuition art school in the country. When I applied to art schools, I got into RISD, Chicago School of Art and Design and MICA. As soon as I received the acceptance letter for The Cooper Union, my decision was made. I wanted to go to Cooper for a few years by then. I chose art as a career because I wanted to do something that I felt I was really good at, got excited by and felt like I could make a contribution to. I could have gone to school for biology or chemistry, but it didn’t feel right. I actually even did a pre-college engineering summer course at Cooper when I was in high school in Chemistry, but it just wasn’t for me. I believe people should always do what they love.
What did you enjoy most about your experiences as a student at Cooper?
I enjoyed my classmates, the classes, the professors, the facilities, and most importantly, never feeling burdened by student debt. I had the time and space to be a creative and be an autonomous thinker. The program at Cooper is rigorous and professors treat young art students as mature artists and interesting thinkers. It felt good to be responsible for my creative decisions. I had a great time and chances to experiment with every art medium in a great environment. I am grateful for my Cooper experience.
Did you have a favorite class and/or favorite professor?
The most formative classes and professors for me were Video 1&2 with Walid Raad and Shelly Silver, Sculpture with Niki Logis and Doug Ashford, Studio Lighting Techniques with Norman Sanders, and History of Cinema with J. Hoberman.
You have worked in a variety of art fields and explored several medias. Do you want to tell us a little about this journey and about some of your works?
At Cooper I started working primarily in photography, video and sculpture. I was always flitting around those three genres. It wasn’t until my senior year that I started working in performance with my fellow classmates Amber Marsh (Art 04) and Christin Ripley (Art 06). Performance was really new and I loved discovering it. Amber and I continued to collaborate on our performance art collaborative, IMAGINATIONEXPLOSION until 2008, when I began work on a feature length film, Vibrant Futures with Robin Schavoir. In 2010, I began studying at Columbia University for my MFA and that is where I began working with video installations that combine performance, video and sculpture.
Can you tell us what draws you to performance art?
I never thought I would end up being interested in performance. Performance Art was not part of the curriculum when I was a student at Cooper from 2001-2005. Some students in my year and the year after mine embraced the performative aspect of art in their work, and it fell under the catch-all of Sculpture. I was always drawn to video and maybe that’s why the performative aspect became important in my work. There are not clear divides for me, between performance, film, video, sculpture, photography — even painting, drawing, printmaking. They are all tools to express ideas. I guess I am drawn to performance because it’s the most challenging and therapeutic form of expression to practice. I really love exploring identities with it.
The piece that you are exhibiting in London is called “Coded Conduct.” What is the significance of the name? What do you expect viewers of this work to feel and to learn?
Coded Conduct is a group show, that is on exhibit from April 12 to May 9, 2013 at Pilar Corrias in London. The curator invited me to be a part of it. The four artists in the show are all incorporating performance in their works and all deal with subjects relating to tension between what is seen and unseen. The curator is Isabella Maidment. The piece I am showing in the group show is titled “Balance Totem for Posturing” (Images from show) and it is an evolving piece that I have been working on. This is its second incarnation. Its first title was “Röda Staketet (Red Swedish Fence)”. For me, this piece focuses on the act of viewing an art work that is performance and sculpture. The viewer sees in the objects the memories of human activities that are associated with the objects. The memories are brought to life through projected performance/actions that have just happened in and around the objects in the installation. The projections have an almost ghostly appearance which is intentional. The work exists somewhere between sculpture and performance. It addresses an alienation of the human body and the physical object within technology, and the slippages that go along with that in time and spatial/visual phenomena.
How do you like working in London?
London is great. It has a similar pace to NYC, so I strangely feel at home. Installing contemporary art in a gallery is kind of a universal, so I feel like I exist in a bit of a bubble, but a good, art bubble.
Where will your art take you next? What is on the horizon for Lea?
I am going to attend a 5 day Holography workshop in Columbus, Ohio made possible by the Center for Holographic Arts (located in Long Island City) in conjunction with Ohio State University from April 21-25, and then I will be teaching studio art to middle school students in Beacon, NY as a part of Dia: Beacon’s outreach program for the month of May, which I am very excited about!