Land Art – Sharon Kallis

Every year, for the past 7 years, the city of Mount Saint Hilaire has collaborated with a local orchard, Pavillon de la pomme, and curator Jérémie Boudreault, the end result of which is an acreage scattered with of stunning enviro works of art, Land Art.

I had the pleasure of meeting one of 18 artists, Sharon Kallis, who came in from Vancouver to contribute. She actually stayed in the apartment upstairs from me for a few days before heading off to the sticks. We even shared Thanksgiving dinner together and I met her husband, David Gowman, also an artist (who hand crafts amazing wind instruments from wood and is a musician and illustrator – a whole other blog post).

Over dinner, we agreed that her host, Performance Artist Victoria Stanton,  and I (along with my kids) would come to the orchard later that week to check it all out.  We ended up out there on Thursday, mid-project. 

The only time I had ever before been to Mount Saint Hilaire was in 2006, and as it turned out, it was to the very same orchard – a vast plot of land at the foot of Mount Saint Hilaire.  During the autumn, it’s nothing short of breathtaking. Truly.  
Sharon has been focused on environmental practices in her art for some time, in both domestic and international settings. Recently on a Stanley Park slope (Vancouver), she, and volunteers from the community, installed bio-netting woven from English Ivy in order to help control erosion. 
Last autumn, she landed in Mexico, where she explored her vision along with other artists, including the aforementioned Victoria Stanton, which is where they first met, and why she stayed with Victoria last weekend, and how I met her (I love the varying degrees through which people become connected).  It’s in Mexico where she started working with weaving using pine needles.

Pine needles in Mexico.  Photo: Sharon Kallis

She commented on this to Victoria when we arrived in Mount Saint Hilaire.  Apparently, she hadn’t used pine needles since Mexico, a year ago. Using them once again, which she decided to do after her arrival to the site, she constructed woven apples for her installation in a dying apple tree, which she had woven willow branches around. One of the stipulations of the overall project is that the installations have to last at least three months where they are placed on the farm. 

Her process feels very organic, her decision making influenced largely by the environment in which she finds herself. She describes it this way:
“Working in several parallel areas; indoor-studio based, outdoor-site specific response as well as in a community engaged installation practice, my focus shifts with what is seasonally at hand. …
Installation ideas spring forth through conversation, idea sharing, identifying what materials are suitable for harvest and the consideration of the inherent physical properties of both place and material used.”
While we were there she decided to fill her woven apples with the leftover pulp from the farm’s apple cider making process, leaving an opening in each apple for wasps to wander in and out of. 
Poetic, I think. A dying apple tree receives prosthetic woven apples filled with remnants of the real thing. The woven apples, made of pine needles, stinging nettle stems and willow bark, still house the essence of an apple. They will ferment and decay and die slowly with the tree, while hopefully entertaining wasps (who seem to like a good fermented fruit – woo! Party time). 
Sharon works on a woven pine needle apple. She breaks the nettle stem in order to separate it from the outer skin, which she uses to bind the pine needles together. 
Witnessing Sharon work, along with her circle of volunteers from the local community, was as heartwarming as it was informative. She showed us how to separate the bark from the willow branch, demonstrated how she uses her drop spindle to spin flax fiber, and how to break open stinging nettle stems to reveal the fibers. She told us intriguing stories about the history of stinging nettle use in military uniforms and fishing nets. We heard tales of how – since stinging nettle loves nitrogen rich soil, and therefore grows rampantly over unkempt graveyards – it lead to unfortunate witchcraft accusations in the middle ages.  Maybe they weren’t witches. Maybe they were just lurking in the graveyards searching for stinging nettle for practical  and/or creative applications. Tough go. 
Demonstrating how to separate the bark from the willow branch.

The ever portable drop spindle. 
View of the work site.

It was a wonderful afternoon at the orchard. We participated with some gathering of materials and my daughter helped separate some bark. It was all I could do to not jump in and start weaving nettle around those long pine needles and try my hand at apple making.  Somehow I knew, though, that if I did, I would never leave. I find Sharon’s whole art practice so very delicious.  Be sure to check out her other projects on her website and be inspired. 

UPDATE:

Sharon has posted her thoughts, the finished work, and images of her process on her site.  It’s so wonderful. I love the use of the apple peelings.  Stunning.

More about Julie Prescesky

Julie spends much of her time paying attention to what's happening around her. At Design Inkarnation, she's head designer, illustrator, writer and creative problem solver.

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