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Letting go

Jennifer Leutzinger marks the final days of The Brink Gallery with i was here

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Like so many people who have encountered Marie Kondo's bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Jennifer Leutzinger read it and felt inspired to get rid of a bunch of stuff. Recently, the artist and owner of The Brink Gallery went through the process, as Kondo demands, of picking through clothing, books and papers and deciding which items truly bring joy and which ones amount to physical and emotional clutter. It was a process made easier in some ways, Leutzinger says, because she'd just spent three months in Spain with her family, with almost nothing in her possession.

"I lived out of one suitcase and then I come back here and it's like, I love my house, but look at all these books and boxes and boxes of paper and photos," she says.

The purge was exhilarating, but the artist in Leutzinger didn't feel satisfied wasting all that potential material—she wanted to give it new life. She piled together papers she wrote and notes she took in college. She sorted through childhood drawings and poems she'd photocopied as keepsakes, newspaper articles about The Brink, random middle-school tests and assignments from art school she'd saved. She stacked up all the gallery phone bills and old handwritten artist statements. She made 102 collages out of all these pieces from her past—and then she stuck packing tape to the front of them, ripped it off and let the collages become tattered ruins.

Leutzinger's upcoming show, an installation called i was here, shows the final stage of the process. It's also an apt exhibit because it serves as The Brink's final show; Leutzinger has decided to close up shop for good. Over the past six years, since its debut in March 2010, the gallery has provided a space for some of Missoula's most experimental shows. Among the strangest was iClaw, for which artists Caroline Peters and Ben Bloch, of the Goatsilk collective, filled the room with Apple iPads, laser lights and popular kids toys. Another, last year's Dreamcatching Show, involved artist Nathan McTague living inside The Brink for a month making art, hosting readings and giving life coach advice to patrons. With the help of gallery assistants Heather Sundheim and Marlo Crossifisso, Leutzinger has hosted notable solo and group shows, including The Montana Skatepark Association's annual On Deck, where locally and nationally renowned artists make art out of skateboards.

It's a harsh reality for the majority of Missoula's art galleries that the most action they see is on First Friday gallery nights. It's a wildly fruitful event, but it's also a mere one night every month. The rest of the days can seem quiet.

"It's frustrating because you think, 'Why am I doing this just for this one night?'" Leutzinger says, "but I also do know why I was doing it. It was so great to give artists the space to express themselves."

Last year, Leutzinger was sitting in The Brink, alone, surrounded by a freshly hung collection of work, when her husband, Glenn Kreisel, showed up. They talked for a while and, as he was headed out the door, Leutzinger recalls saying, "Thanks for coming in, honey, you're my first customer of the day."

Jennifer Leutzinger started The Brink Gallery in March 2010 and plans to close its doors at the end of this month. - PHOTO BY AMY DONOVAN
  • photo by Amy Donovan
  • Jennifer Leutzinger started The Brink Gallery in March 2010 and plans to close its doors at the end of this month.

"It had been three hours or more of no one coming in," she says. "And so after I said that, he—offhand, with no huge meaning behind it—said, 'Well, you can unload the gallery if you want.' Before that point it had become my duty; Missoula needs galleries and people do love it here. But when he said that it made me stop. Later, one of my employees said, 'How did you feel when he said that?' And I told her I felt instantly relieved. And she said, 'Well, there's your answer.'"

Leutzinger says she's ready for a change, but she doesn't plan on letting The Brink go completely. She's hoping to create projects under The Brink name, and maybe try working with a pop-up gallery.

"When you have a gallery space there are certain expectations and I think this might help me break out of that cycle of only First Friday events," she says.

The process of making i was here has also given Leutzinger a lightbulb moment about herself and her own art. While gluing the collages together she realized that so much of what she'd saved was stuff made by other people: quotes, poems, articles—even the artwork she found, though created by her, had been assigned in class by teachers.

"It was so weird to realize that," she says. "It was kind of disturbing. What have I done that's me?"

Leutzinger kept a few special things, of course, like letters from grandmas, photographs and her daughters' school artwork. What she did put in the collages represent everything from the mundane—accounting sheets from The Brink, for instance—to the emotionally burdensome, like middle-school journals.

"I feel good about it," she says. "I'm giving these things respect by paying attention to them again. And I learned a lot by doing this. Some of it, like journal entries from the hardest part of my life—I don't need to keep those. It was important to me at the time but to go back and read it is too painful. And why should I? Life is so much better now. But it is hard to throw stuff away."

i was here is a statement about impermanence—a sometimes difficult lesson in Missoula as beloved businesses come and go. But the exhibit feels like a celebration. The walls of The Brink are covered in the shredded collages, the floors littered in tape. The mishmash of school assignments and old drawings gives the space texture, like confetti exploding across the walls or years of wallpaper scraped back to reveal more layers of wallpaper. It's messy, light and bright. And if you look closely, you can make out these details from Leutzinger's life, which have been given one more moment of existence before finally being thrown away.

"I hope people are interested in investigating the clues that are left on the collages, to see why I kept them in the first place," Leutzinger says. "And why it was I had to let it go."

Jennifer Leutzinger's i was here, the final exhibit at The Brink Gallery, opens Fri., May 6, with a reception from 5 to 8 PM.

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