Slideshow: Artist Clarissa Callesen Creates Art From Junk at Surel's Place 

At first look, the inside of Surel's Place seems to be exploding—or evolving. Bins and boxes bursting with fabric cover the floor, ropes of cloth hang tangled from the ceiling and tables holding a jumble of objects including rocks, a plastic duck decoy wrapped in wire and huge knots of black electrical cord fill the rest of the space.

In the middle of it all stands sculptor, installation artist and current Surel's Place artist in residence Clarissa Callesen, beaming at the piles of junk that will soon become art.

"This was just a sheer curtain that was tossed in the trash pile..." says Callesen, pointing to what looks like a heap of mesh intestines stuffed with a slew of tiny items. "Then I just picked up junk off of the ground. Old Christmas lights, tinsel—that's where the sparkle is coming from. And then there are screws, nuts, all kinds of things in there."

click to enlarge This work in progress is made from curtains, Christmas light, tinsel, screws, nuts and more picked up in Garden City. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • This work in progress is made from curtains, Christmas light, tinsel, screws, nuts and more picked up in Garden City.

Callesen will show the works she made during her residency in Fertile Remnants, an exhibit that runs Friday, March 23, through Sunday, March 25, at Surel's Place.

Much of the refuse Callesen collected is homegrown. During her residency, Callesen gathered garbage from around Surel's Place, where more than a dozen houses were recently demolished, leaving plenty of fodder behind. Mixed in with the expected construction trash were a few things that were once beautiful: scraps from a wedding dress and a tarnished pair of silver earrings among them. Callesen is currently busy combining the good, bad and ugly into two installations, one inside Surel's Place and another outside in a battered green container discovered during the demolition and thought to be a WWII-era mobile office.

"The fact that [Callesen's] residency timed with the demolition of our neighborhood is really amazing," said Jodi Eichelberger, program coordinator for Surel's Place. "...I went to Clarissa and just said, 'Your theme is happening on a larger scale right now. Not only are clothes and textiles being thrown out, but entire homes are being thrown out.'"

Though the pair initially considered using a trailer house as an installation site, the mobile office was too intriguing to forgo. Inside, it's dusty and dim. The ivy covering the exterior creeps in through cracked glass windows, and a cluster of abandoned wasps' nests covers the back wall. Thanks to Callesen, cocoons of twisted fabric hang from the ceiling, white ropes of cloth spill from a broken window and duct tape used to patch holes in the walls has been covered with gold leaf.

click to enlarge Callesen's two installations—including one in this green box—will make up the largest installation project to date at Surel's Place. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • Callesen's two installations—including one in this green box—will make up the largest installation project to date at Surel's Place.

"Conceptually, I'm really interested in the idea of compost, and how nature recycles itself and creates fertility," Callesen said. "You know, there are the droppings in the forest, and they decay, and they feed the new growth. [I'm] using that symbolically to think about our lives and how things change, and how do we value those discards, or how do we not value them?"

Before she started working with found objects, Callesen was a tattoo artist, teacher and "functional potter." She was also a collector, and the junk she picked up eventually became her medium. Largely self-taught, Callesen arrived at her techniques by trial and error, often incorporating natural processes. To add a unique touch to found fabrics, she uses eco dyeing, which involves bundling pieces of cloth with flowers and leaves, then steaming them until the color from the organic material stains the fabric.

"The plants imprint their tannins, they imprint colors and leaf patterns and things like that," Callesen said. "...It's very much a natural process. When you see leaf prints on the concrete, that's eco dyeing."

Callesen said when Fertile Remnants closes, its parts will be recycled for new art pieces, continuing the process of urban composting.

After leaving Surel's Place, Callesen will work on an installation at the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner, Washington. She plans to collaborate with local scientists to look at the impact of pine beetles on Rocky Mountain forests, using embroidered cloth and forest fire remnants to recreate a beetle-killed grove. Callesen said she has the exhibit mapped out in her mind, but it will surely "evolve and do its own thing," which, like all of her work, gives it life amid decay.


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