The Pink Lady apple falls farther from the tree than commonly recognized. Eclipsing the Red Delicious and Granny Smith as the most favoured version of the archetypal Western fruit, the beloved variety is a trademark, a highly monitored breed first cultivated in the 1970s for optimal tartness, sweetness and storage properties. Fruit, it appears, is subject to acute systems of enhancement. In Sonia Leimer’s exhibition ‘Encounters’, the artist delves beyond the peculiar history of this particular produce, towards panoramic structures of classification and world-making. The innate tendency to order is at once a desire to know, a desire to conquer and a desire to wield control. The artist critiques this impulse, unveiling the extent to which territories are mapped and languages are learned. In this regard, she analyzes the broad effects of standardization on our globalized world. Leimer’s work demonstrates how these patterns pervade from the cosmos to the garden.
Nostalgia animates Leimer’s installation Pink Lady (California) (2017), composed of an aluminium apple-measuring device enlarged to Claes Oldenburg-scale, a blown-up vintage California orange grove postcard and a video of the Apple Crown harvest ritual in the artist’s hometown of Merano, Italy. Rendered at such an exaggerated size, the metal measuring device appears as a comical prop. While seemingly antiquated in the age of Monsanto, gadgets like this nevertheless determine and regulate the size and quality of the fruit consumed in the EU and in the US. Leaning against the reprinted postcard, the ring-shaped tool resembles a magnifying glass or lens through which to observe the landscape of lush orange grove behind it. Here, the apparatus is not used to measure, but to frame – in this instance, a verdant tableau where men on ladders gather the region’s plentiful crop. Most conspicuous is the mythos of the ‘golden state’, a marketing tactic of California boosterism whose reverberations are still felt today.
Leimer’s video, in contrast, dwells closely on her roots. She explains in subtitles: ‘I grew up on an apple farm in northern Italy in a region that is considered to be the “apple garden” of Europe.’ This area belonged to Austria before World War I, and the artist draws attention to her diverse cultural identity while also describing regional and apple-industry changes when Italy joined the EU. In close-up shots of gesturing hands, men carefully drill holes and nail apples to a giant traditional wooden crown that they will march through Merano to honour the harvest. While these farmers use Pink Lady apples only upon the artist’s request, it is clear from Leimer’s musings that this fruit is already embedded into regional diets, psyches and rituals.
Leimer zooms out from Merano and into outer space in her video Above the Crocodiles, part of the installation Iwanowo (2015). Using blurry found footage of the Earth shot from the ISS space station, she explores the way state borders and scientific observation can produce reductive systems of classification. This idea applies both to geographic territories and the individuals that inhabit them, and to fruit and those who consume it. The shaky camera jerks from the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah to the Salt Lakes in Utah, covering a wide swath of earth as two Russian cosmonauts discuss the landscape. The artist seamlessly inserts a third perspective onto this original conversation, whose faintly subversive questions challenge their staid observations.
When the cosmonauts discuss a sighting of the Red Sea, this character responds: ‘I don’t see anything’. As they differentiate regions from above the clouds, she asks and then answers her own question: ‘Is there a border here? I see no border.’ Peering down at the macrocosm, these cosmonauts are compelled to map, translate and classify the world in modes that Leimer deems both absurd and reductive. From up high, of course, everything is hazy. At this distance, even a Granny Smith resembles a Pink Lady.
Main image: Sonia Leimer, Encounters, 2017, installation view, Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles. Courtesy: the artist and Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles; photograph: Ruben Diaz