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An interview with artist Jess Klier

Interview & writing by Eliza Graumlich;  Photos by Susan Metzger

Applications for the 2018 artist residencies at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center are open. There will be six visual art residencies (5 for Maine artists, 1 of which is reserved for an indigenous Maine artist; 1 for an out-of-state or international artist), one performing arts residency, and one writing residency. There will also be a seasonal position for a resident gardener with affinity for the arts. Apply here!

FMI or contact Denise DeSpirito, Fiore Arts Center assistant: denise@mainefarmlandtrust.org.

When I asked Jessica Klier to describe her work, she took out a small stack of cards and placed them on the floor between us, one by one, as if she were about to predict my future or perhaps invite me to play a game of Memory. Some looked as though they might be flashcards, each featuring a single word: “portals,” “hold,” and  “milkweed.” Another quoted Ecclesiastes 6:9: “Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit.” On the final card there was simply a line, about three inches long, with a filled circle at each end. “A tightrope,” Klier explained.

Not long after, she sprung up again to pick a milkweed pod from outside. (Klier’s urge to always be doing something with her hands is readily apparent.) With deftly splayed scissors, she sliced the green bulb down the middle, pried apart the halves and invited me to stroke the silky white fuzz carpeting its interior. “So, this is milkweed,” she said. “And portals,” I ventured, beginning to catch on.

Klier makes elaborate installations from recycled waste and found objects, these days gathering her materials on walks around Rolling Acres Farm. She also draws. Sketches pinned to a studio wall trace the places she likes to spend her time: the hammock, the lake, the nearby botanical garden and the yarn shop in Damariscotta. Here, she met local artist Diane Langley, who now teaches Klier how to spin wool and make paper from abaca (a fiber derived from the banana plant) in exchange for garden work.

A wild mushroom and a dirtied sheet of plastic, perhaps the remnants of a single use shopping bag, are Klier’s two favorite objects found so far during the residency. Both were incorporated into an installation depicting larger-than-life fallopian tubes. The wild mushroom is one half of a set of candleholders in the foreground of the piece and the plastic, now embedded with dried flowers, forms part of the plush uterine wall. “I’m really interested in how many hands have touched a thing,” Klier said.

Klier’s interest in hands manifests in her other major installation, as well. “This shrine over here, this is for my Nana,” Klier explained. “She died and her favorite color was yellow and this is something she used to wear in her hair and actually my great grandmother made these,” she continued, gesturing to the piece. Behind her, widths of knit material suspended midair in soft curves call to mind hammocks or, perhaps, tightropes. A pair of knitting needles embedded midway through one of the swatches suggests phantom hands taking a break from their work. “I’ve been thinking a lot about shrines lately,” Klier said. “Everything is a shrine, even the cups in your cupboard. You like those things enough to put them there. Or what’s next to your bed: a book and a pen that doesn’t work and an old cup of tea. That would be mine.”

Perhaps most revealing about Klier’s work is the way she talks about it, with a touch of anthropomorphism. Sitting at her spinning wheel, showing me how to manipulate wool into yarn, she spoke of how the fibers “all wanted space and then ended up latching on to each other.” Later, showing me the plaster mold she’d made around a tiny knit animal, she explained, “everything is compressing or ripping at each other or being like ‘Hey, I want to hang out with you.’” Weaving together the animate and inanimate, the lost and the found, Klier’s work begs its viewer to soften and enjoy in the small human pleasures of life.

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