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If you happen to be anywhere near the Fulcrum Gallery on Hilltop Tacoma, you might have sworn you saw tumble weeds. You did in fact see bent, formed, and dried willows - taken from riverbanks in Montana - but hidden behind the fantastic shapes was artist Kim Cheselka. The Los Angeles-based artist is setting up her installation, Instructions From the Natural World - willow constructions created without nails, glue or wire - opening Thursday, Nov. 19 at Fulcrum.
I caught up with Cheselka on the road during her journey to Tacoma.
WEEKLY VOLCANO: You construct shapes without fasteners. Can you talk a bit about why you took that route?
KIM CHESELKA: I found the willow, the willow found me. I am a fairly minimal type of person, so when we travel to Montana I don't like to cart along a ton of art making material. I had pretty much narrowed it down to water colors, pencil and paper, but then needing a more physical outlet in 2004 I began fiddling with willow branches while camping on the river. There was no great decision not to use nails, glue, wire or some other type of "fastener." It just became evident that the material, the way I wanted to use it could stabilize itself on its own - I liked that. When you use another element to hold something together it pushes the material to (possibly) do something it was not meant to do. When the willow is freshly peeled it is pliable, it dries within hours (depending on the weather) allowing a framework to play off of.
I enjoy the collaboration with the nature of the willow and the constraints it puts on the forms I make. I am able to push the material only to the point of its own nature ... then it pushes back.
VOLCANO: Have your other four shows this year been some aspect of willow shaping?
CHESELKA: The show at Rhythmix Cultural Works, Convergent Roads, in Alameda, was the first major show of the willow pieces after making them since 2004. After a full summer of gathering willow and making art I had an open studio showing of new willow pieces in Ennis, Montana. Figured it was time to show folks what I was up to with my hours besides fly fishing and building fires.
VOLCANO: What is it about Montana that draws you there?
CHESELKA: We first ventured to Montana when living in New York City. My husband, Mitch, and I wanted to learn to fly fish and a friend told us just to go out to Montana. So we did. It took us by surprise - sucked us both right in. May be it was the two extremes. I grew up in New Jersey across the bridge from New York City. In the "city" everything is vertical including its energy, compact and pulsing. In Montana, it is the other extreme - horizontal and completely open - including the people. For me it was a wonderful compliment.
When I began working with willow I began seeing its reflection everywhere in the landscape environment. While walking or floating the river - beaver dams, log jams were everywhere - seemed like all of nature was working with willow. It was inspiring.
Back in the city these days I have a hard time being away from these elements. It takes me awhile to find my paints and tools to build back in the urban studio.
VOLCANO: What do you hope audiences will gain from the Fulcrum show?
CHESELKA: When I first started doing installations in public spaces part of my desire was to get people to look at their environment in a different way, to question another way to use a material or common area - that jolt of "Hey what's going on here" that is still very important to me. We, myself included of course, run through the day forgetting to adjust our minds to see and question. If a person is in a gallery, they have already made the choice to participate in a different way, to stop and reset their mind so I see it as my responsibility to have them leave with a gift, a response.
The simplicity of the willow material and the complexity of its configuration create a good rhythm. Whether you eventually see it in a ball of dental floss, find a tangle of wire, yarn, or blackberry bushes - an association will be made and a connection will occur. What the individual does with that connection I cannot know.
VOLCANO: Did you deconstruct Slinkies when you were a kid?
CHESELKA: Who doesn't like those silvery puppies? Simple and elegant.
For those interested in following Cheselka's path of willow bending may chat with her during her reception at the Fulcrum Gallery from 6-9 p.m. during Third Thursday ArtWalk. The best word of advice she has would be to, "get there before the beavers eat all the best willow. They are connoisseurs of the stuff."
Instructions From the Natural World will show at Fulcrum through the end of the year.
[Fulcrum Gallery, Thursday, Nov. 19, 6-9 p.m., no cover, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.250.0520]
P.S. Fulcrum hosts a fundraiser for itself following the reception Thursday night featuring M.C. Alleon, Bobby Galaxy, Sax & Synth and DJ Broam until 2 a.m. Admission is $5.