Smashing Success: Robi Walters & Leanne Wright

When Robi Walters and Leanne Wright met in 1997 in London, they began a rich and varied collaboration. They designed record and cd covers for the music industry; they developed and printed a line of T-shirts that were sold in department stores in London and Japan under the name “Wadada” (an Ethiopian word meaning love); they travelled to Paris; and they worked as deejays in the London club scene. But nothing exceeds like success. “The benefits of a big city weren’t so important to us anymore,” says Leanne, “and having our son in 2003 clinched it.” (They now have two children.) A year later they moved to rural Ontario where Leanne had been raised. They brought with them a desire for a more measured life and an extensive collection of vinyl records, both of which have become central to their lives.

They literally pieced together a new identity. They continue their collaboration, but their focus shifted from being designers to becoming artists. The first work involved a literal act of smashing the past to re-constitute the present. They began “Shattered Dream: The Vinyl Reckoning Series,” a set of elegant collages made from the broken pieces of their favourite records. The process wasn’t easy for Walters. “I was holding my only copy of Marvin Gaye’s* What’s Going On*, and I thought, ‘I love this album, what am I doing?’ I held it for 10 minutes, going through inner turmoil, before I was able to smash it.”

The collages that resulted from his break with the past are mesmerizing. They could be the gorgeous exfoliation of a flower or, just as easily, the explosion of a star. The works operate in this rich terrain, moving from the organic to the cosmological. “One of the qualities we love about working with vinyl,” says Wright, “is the way it reflects the light. It makes me think of jewels.”

In the “Kaleidocycle Series,” they have taken on the world of advertising. They collect “anything that comes in a cardboard box, from Tampax to toothpaste,” which they scissor-cut by hand into the thousand-petal lotus shape, a form of sacred geometry. The collages, which can be as large as 8 by 4 feet, are an extension of the daily meditation they have been practicing for the last decade. While the making may be calming, the provocation is not. “Something has to rock us, almost to our core, and then we develop a piece around that subject,” says Robi.* Kaydance and Santana (Butterfly Kiss)* is named after two Aboriginal children who froze to death on a Saskatchewan reserve, while Cry of the Snow Lion was a response to a documentary Walters was watching on China’s persecution of the Tibetan monks. “We have both gone through our lives questioning things, trying to get to the bottom of everything, whether it’s on a spiritual level or a day-to-day level. We always want to determine that what we’ve been presented with is the truth, or whether it’s some kind of constructed façade or illusion,” says Wright. “I guess that’s what we’re doing with our art, exploring the illusions and perceptions and ambiguities of the world we live in.”

Volume 29, Number 1: Performance

This article originally appeared in Border Crossings #113, published March 2010.

Border Crossings looks at contemporary art with interest, passion and thoroughness. Subscribe to Border Crossings today for as little as $24/year.