Artists on Coping: Niki Lederer

During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.

Goldenrod, 2019, Found re-purposed plastic bottles, machine screws, hex nuts, wire, rebar armature, concrete base. Artist with sculpture currently on view at Wolfs Lane Park as part of Pelham Art Center’s Public Art Program.

Niki Lederer is a sculptor working with found materials including discarded umbrellas and post-consumer plastic. Born in London, Ontario and raised in Vancouver, she received her BFA from the University of Victoria and her MFA from Hunter College in New York City. Group exhibitions include Portal: Governors Island, 50 Years of Public Art in NYC Parks, Central Park and the Outdoor Sculpture Biennial Adelphi University, Garden City, NY. Solo exhibitions include Washington Square Windows, NYU and Preset Tense, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Niki recently collaborated with XAOC Contemporary Ballet for Norte Maar’s CounterPointe8. Currently her re-purposed plastic bottle sculpture is featured at the Pelham Art Center and Wolfs Lane Park and her discarded-umbrella based work will be included in the Wassaic Project 2020 Summer Exhibition. Niki lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

Remote Teaching Art History with Doodles for comic relief, Spring 2020

AS: How are you coping?

NL: I am trying to keep a sense of humor and optimism. Even though teaching has moved online and the format has changed my actual teaching schedule remains uninterrupted. The routine creates a sense of normalcy and the days are very busy. The intense focus of this teaching format prevents me from over-consuming news and social media. Interacting with students reminds me daily, that the future is on its way and young people are it! The sense of humility and service that comes with teaching keeps me buoyant.

Umbrella hunting in North Williamsburg, pre-pandemic

AS: Has your routine changed?

NL: As mandated by the governor, I have been “on pause” and sheltering in place. I usually source most of my sculpture material from recycling bins, trashcans and the street while walking my dog, but to be safe I haven’t picked anything up off the street since March 12th, (which was also the last day I was in Manhattan). I haven’t been venturing out much at all; instead I walk the dog very close to my apartment and feel fortunate to have a grocery store very close by. I haven’t gone beyond a 5-block radius for over 9 weeks. I am grateful to be able to work from home and remain vigilant about social distancing.

Flag of Anarcha-Feminism, 2018 , Umbrella canopies, nylon thread, nylon webbing, grommets, 28″ x 74″

AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?

NL: It feels unjust. The front page of the May 24, 2020 Late Edition of The New York Times says it all, “Incalculable loss”. The inequities of the healthcare system and the lack of a social safety net make this pandemic exceptionally cruel. If you haven’t filled out your census yet, don’t delay and if you are in New York State request an Absentee Ballot Application for a mail-in ballot as soon as you can.

Bloomies Kintsugi, 2020, Umbrella canopies, nylon thread, nylon webbing, grommets, 50″ x 41″

AS: What matters most right now?

NL: I find that staying connected is very important for a sense of well-being. I live alone and my family is far away so I have been keeping in touch with increased frequency. Friends are very kind and reach out regularly to stay connected. I am part of a daily tarot card reading group, which has been a fun diversion. I have been video chatting a little bit, but since I am on video all day teaching I have preferred talking on the phone. Those connections matter the most. Also, recognizing everything I am grateful for encourages me to help maintain a positive frame of mind.

Studio view, spring 2020

AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?

NL: Healing, mending and repair on the road ahead. Students will be processing this trauma for sometime. It will be important to help them process what they are experiencing emotionally. The same is true for friends, family and community as a whole.

I put on a mask and rode my bike to the studio yesterday. This is only the second time I’ve done so in the past 9 weeks. On the ride over I couldn’t help but notice the large amount of disposable masks and gloves littering the street, it’s very disconcerting. It’s beyond trash at this point it’s a potential bio-hazard. Since I use discarded and repurposed materials in my work I always notice what’s been tossed into the street.

Over the past year I’ve been making banners and flags from repurposed umbrella canopies, which have been somewhat somber in tone. In a shift of mood, resulting from a burst of hopefulness the most recent banner I created is vibrant and upbeat, its color scheme and composition are a real departure from the previous work. This banner will be included in the Wassaic Project 2020 Summer Exhibition.

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: