Sharon Kallis will be presenting at our Community Arts Dialogue on Nov. 5 with Rachael Campbell-Palmer.
Recently Sharon was our Eco-Arts Salon presenter on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.
With a “one mile diet” approach to sourcing art materials, Sharon Kallis works to discover the inherent material potential in a local landscape. By involving community in connecting traditional hand techniques with invasive species and garden waste she creates site-specific installations that become ecological interventions. At home in Vancouver, Sharon works with Vancouver Parks Board, Stanley Park Ecology Society, Artstarts, Evergreen Society, Community Arts Council of Vancouver and Environmental Youth Alliance. Sharon has exhibited and engaged communities with her practice in Ireland, Spain and throughout the United States.
At the October eco-salon Sharon will talk about the current BranchWeave project with Science World and Vancouver Park Board, and introduce an upcoming project, The Urban Weaver, where in collaboration with Debra Sparrow and Todd DeVries, the three artists will be investigating how the invasive plants of Stanley Park can be up-purposed as urban replacements for traditional First Nations weaving materials such as cedar and spruce. Working with Stanley Park Ecology Society; Sharon, Todd and Debra will be researching methods through the fall and winter, and facilitating workshops in the community throughout 2012.
Interview with Sharon Kallis
Creating Community and Environmental Art in the Downtown Eastside
by Anna Wilkinson (published: 2010)
What do the arts mean to you?
“That’s a tough one. For me, producing art is like breathing. I take it for granted like breathing. It’s integral in everyday and everything that I do.”
How can the arts help create community?
There are so many entry points in the arts and there’s room for everyone. The arts provide opportunities to meet and connect with people from different backgrounds and walks of life. Those kinds of meetings become possible.
Sharon Kallis with Greg Ferguson of Stanley Park Ecology Society at CRAB Park
Sharon Kallis is giving CRAB Park a makeover. And you’re invited to participate.
For the past few months, Kallis has been organizing public workshops at CRAB Park at the foot of Main Street (and other locations in the DTES) where people can learn how to make simple woven sculptures out of organic materials. The finished pieces are then placed in and around the park’s marsh pond.
The forms not only look beautiful, they also serve as perches and protective nesting areas for local birds. By using materials such as the invasive Flag Iris plant and the fast-growing, native Red Osier Dogwood that constantly needs trimming, Kallis is encouraging participants in her NEST project to learn about their local environment while helping to maintain this small ecosystem.
But Kallis is not just engaging with the natural environment at CRAB Park, she is also connecting people to social issues through this collaborative project. For example, on August 18 with the help of the Downtown Eastside Arts Centre she will be weaving a protective barrier around the Missing Women’s Memorial Stone in the park. As Kallis explained, the memorial to the women who have gone missing in the DTES, many of whom are Aboriginal, is in an area where off-leash dogs often disturb the plants growing around it.
As an artist and long-time resident of the DTES, this is the first time that Kallis is producing a community project in the area. But as she explained, it’s been a long time coming.
“My studio was at Dynamo Arts on Hastings St from 1996 to 2001, and I have lived in the neighbourhood since 1999, so this is certainly my community. I have lived here longer then anywhere else in my adult life. I began doing community projects in 2007 in various Vancouver neighbourhoods. But this is my home, and CRAB Park is where I start every day. I have worked with the materials from the gardener scrap pile there for 10 years now, developing a relationship with the gardeners in the process-and learning a lot about the plants.
Being able to integrate the materials I use regularly into a community project happening right in the park just feels like a natural progression-and sort of like a completion of the circle.”
Kallis has always been interested in sculpture. But over the years she has moved away from a traditional ceramics-based practice towards using materials such as branches, leaves, and hair. It was after graduating from the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in 1996 that this shift really began for her.
More specifically, it happened on the day that she came across a pile of red witch hazel leaves at Deer Lake Park in Burnaby. She remembers the stunning colour of the leaves and their leathery texture. She gathered up the leaves and sewed them together into a simple dress. She then hung the dress in the same tree that had shed the leaves.
“It was revolutionary for me. I was suddenly free to feed my compulsion to create without having to fill up my own studio. The idea of ephemeral pieces became very important to me-it really made sense.”
She has refined her practice to include working with “unwanted” materials like invasive species of plants that need to be removed in order to maintain healthy local ecosystems. Because of the importance of land stewardship to Kallis’ practice it was only natural for her to start engaging and collaborating with local communities.
“Connecting the arts, community, and the natural environment is really the perfect scenario. There is an empowerment of communities to act as stewards to their own environment and simultaneously building connections through it. And people are not just doing “grunt” work; they can be involved in a very creative and celebratory way.”
For Kallis, developing collaborative art projects also means that she gets to be involved in an ongoing learning process.
“By nature I’m an extrovert and I end up externalizing my artistic practice a lot. I love working with other people-it’s more challenging but it’s also more rewarding. There is a fantastic knowledge exchange. I can learn so much from collaborating with gardeners and bird watchers for example.”
But it’s not just Kallis’ love of informal learning or stewardship that lends her artwork to this collaborative process. It also has to do with the qualities of the materials that she uses. As a community artist in residence in Vancouver’s Coal Harbour neighbourhood, Kallis installed a sprawling installation of end of season materials collected from nearby garden beds in a local park. She did this with the help of community members, many of whom were families that included small children.
“As a public programmer at Burnaby Art Gallery I have seen situations where parents want to take over from their children when they’re drawing or making cards together. It can be a very delicate process when you’re dealing with different skill levels. I find that working with natural materials sort of evens out the playing field in terms of skills and also gets rid of adult expectations and a focus on the “final product.”
“With projects like the one I did in Coal Harbour, it’s not as defined where one person’s mark starts and another’s ends. It sort of goes beyond property lines. And that’s very exciting.
“People with children got so excited because there was something to do outside together. There was no cost and it was multi-generational so it really linked families. I think there’s a deep desire to connect with nature and fewer opportunities to do so in contemporary urban spaces.”
Through the Community Arts Council of Vancouver’s NEST project at CRAB Park, Kallis has been fostering diverse connections between different groups of people, between people and their environment, and between people and the arts. Participants included community members, birdwatchers, gardeners, families, and artists.
Visit Sharon’s blog for this project for more information on the project and upcoming events and workshops and see photos at her photostream site.
Anna Wilkinson is a member of the Community Arts Council of Vancouver’s Communications Committee. She is an emerging museum professional and is interested in the ways that diverse communities can interact within gallery spaces and through public art. This is the first in a series of interviews Anna will be conducting with community and environmental artists in Vancouver. Contact Anna.