Virginia Fleck was born in New York City in 1960. She studied at the Portland School of Art in Portland, Maine and at The School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1990 Fleck moved to Austin, Texas where she continues her work as a visual artist.
Fleck’s work has been exhibited in the United States and Europe. In 2012 her work was included in Manifesta 9 Parallel Events, in Belgium. Her work has been featured at international art fairs including: Art Forum Berlin, Pulse Miami and New York, and also Arte Fiera and Artissima, in Italy. Her work appears in many prestigious collections including the Casa Museo Golinelli in Bologna, Italy .
Fleck began working with plastic bags in 2002, after being awarded a fellowship for travel and exhibition in Cuba. At that time, travel to Cuba was legal, but shipping art into the country was not: an inflatable, she reasoned, could be transported inside her suitcase undetected. After much trial and error she determined that plastic bags were ideal for creating an inflatable, they are colorful, light weight, and plentiful. Once she had cut and flattened dozens of them, She began to notice a tone to the “chatter” printed on the bags, which ranged from amusing to disturbing. The bags seemed to tell the story of our times in visual sound-bites delivered by the logos and slogans. For ten years she has been making mandalas from plastic bags and has accumulated an extensive collection from all over the world. Each bag, whether from a poverty-stricken region or a thriving economy, reflects a purchase. Cutting and recombining these bags democratize their disparate pedigrees ,whether they originated in a dollar store or a posh boutique.
The mandala is a universal, non-religious tool for meditation, typically composed of highly decorative, symmetrical patterns. The carefully chosen symbols and imagery of a traditional mandala instills it with a meaningfulness that provides guidance on one’s path to enlightenment. Conversely, ad imagery on a plastic shopping bag is carefully chosen to cause an instant association with worldly acquisitions. Fleck’s choice of medium, plastic shopping bags covered in familiar logos and slogans, imbues her mandalas with a contemporary narrative that allows her to analyze the activity of consumerism as a spiritual encounter.
The logos, slogans and promises printed on plastic shopping bags are the result of exhaustive market research by advertisers. With an exacto knife she takes aim at these graphics and through the slow deliberate action of cutting, Fleck extracts, alters and subverts those corporate messages. As an artwork takes shape she purposely employs the familiar tropes of graphic design so that the mandalas will have the eye-catching “bones” of a logo. Indulging her inherent playful nature, she takes consumerism and wrestles it through the sieve of formal beauty. The resulting mandalas are intricately crafted works that reference painting, but are created by collaging pieces of detritus from a consumerist society in a way that reveals the beauty ofdisposable items that continually pass through our hands. These ebullient mandalas are pantone paragons of consumerist excess that contain and brand our passions while attesting to our belief in the American Dream.