Artist Lab Report:
A Mess, a Blessing, a Giant Screen, and a lot of Sticks

by Kassha Lisinksi

What a mess and a blessing, to be back on the lake, expected to present a studio full of made objects for the benefit of expanding the students’ horizons. I am examining my anxiety levels with interest and frantically pasting tissue paper to sticks. I’ve become known for being a person who carries sticks around on campus, with a purposeful look in their eyes (that’s me pretending that no one will make note that I am the person carrying sticks around campus). I made a pink one. I was planning on a whole rainbow of gay sticks in celebration of pride month, because that’s what I feel like: a gay stick. However, when I got to the red, I enjoyed the look of it— like a chunk of bark dipped in wax, or blood, and continued on in just that hue. I found a whole deer skeleton minus the head. I took only a singed shoulder bone. I said, I feel you, singed shoulder bone, I am you.

I was scouting for spots for an ambitious installation. I’m going to mount windows from dead trees at exact angles to catch the light, then focus it on a giant suspended screen. Problem: the birds will run into it. Problem: potential for broken glass. Problem: where are the good dead trees? They’re lying in a heap. The groundskeeper says there is potential for a Carbon Release Party next week. Oh please, yes. My artwork is talking people into allowing ridiculous and fiery things happen. That’s what I feel like, a ridiculous fiery thing.

I carried some very large sticks into my studio. I wove myself in an out of the branches with a spool of string to mark the directions I’ve taken. I’ve done this before, but in a larger-than-3×3-foot-space sort of situation. Everything falls down several times. There are broken twigs everywhere. I feel like a— well, you know by now.

I’m looking at diatoms under a microscope, I see them eat things. I learn the basics of LARPing and get smacked in the hip a couple times with a foam bat. I help teach kids in Spirit Lake about animal homes. I’m lying on my back outside the studio at 10 pm watching bats. I take a low quality video with my iPad and solarize and warp it until it looks sufficiently altered. It’s shining over the bound trees now. It pulls things together and focuses them on paper cast bones and a mask of leaves and twigs bound to a mess of pasted leaves, pasted with eggs. Guess who that is? I have my tweener, the little dulcimer. At least one person finds it soothing. It’s between me and talking to people, over explaining my work, trying to justify its existence. I really have no excuse for this. I tell someone I’m trying to make uplifting, restorative work, but all that comes out is a grief-filled keening for the things that are already gone.

I wrote another sad poem yesterday. I swam in the lake yesterday. I sat around the fire yesterday night and of course the subjects of native displacement, white-passing multiracial identity, my cat, and communism came up. I miss my cat.

I’m only slightly more uncomfortable than usual. The art makes it better. I’m so grateful to be here on this 97 degree day.

“Artists and scientists are both asking questions about the world, they’re just doing it in different ways”
Alex Braidwood
Director, Iowa Lakeside Lab Artists-in-Residence Program
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