Kathryn Spence

Untitled (Great Horned Owl) - pants, coats, shirts, beanie babies + stuffed animal fur, string, wire - Kathryn Spence - 2006

Untitled (Two Burrowing Owls) - newspaper, stuffed animals, fabric, towel, wire + thread - Kathryn Spence - 2006

For the creation of sculptures shown above and throughout, artist Kathryn Spence used found and gathered materials to create seemingly shabby sculptures of life-size pigeons and owls, that upon stepping back, resolve themselves into convincing presences in the room. These figures observe us from the corners of the room or the floor, watching (and perhaps judging?) us.

Untitled (Northern Pygmy Owl) - pants, coats, towel, beanie babies, thread + wire - Kathryn Spence - 2006

Spence created the Pigeons series in 1997, and in an interview with Lisa Owens Viani, has this to say about the genesis of the project :

" The city's so dirty, you just don't have access to nature. So I was happy to even see pigeons on the concrete. I started trying to figure out what to make them out of. I'd see newspapers run over by cars and think that they looked like dead pigeons. So I started gathering up the newspapers and street garbage to make the pigeons."

Pigeons - street trash, wire, string, rubber bands + glue - Kathryn Spence - 1997

She created the Owls series over 9 years later, though birds ran through her work in many ways during the intervening years. Like the pigeons made from street trash, the owls too are made from post-consumer materials. Spence sourced all the fabric scraps from her own wardrobe and from clothing and stuffed animals from thrift stores. (Some of the owls are made from shredded Beanie Babies, which is the only good use I have ever heard of for these "collectible" toys.) Her commitment to use recycled materials stand along side her obvious passion for animals and the natural world. From the same interview as above, she has this to say about her consistent use of recycled materials:

"A lot of the clothes were my clothes—coats or pants. I liked the ones that looked sort of natural—like herringbone for the back of the great horned owls. I started ripping up some of my clothes, whatever seemed like an owl to me. There is so much stuff; there's no reason to use new stuff. I feel like I'm helping in some kind of absurd way."

Untitled (Short Eared Owl) - stuffed animals, towel, coat, wire + thread - Kathryn Spence - 2006

Untitled (Barn Owl) - stuffed animals, coats, towels, wire, string + thread - Kathryn Spence - 2006

Spence observed all but one of the owl species depicted in the wild, and then used taxidermy models to assist in their sculptural recreation in the studio. The owls hang interestingly inside of illusion --- both being easily visually deconstructed into their component materials, but simultaneously seemingly possessed of strong animus (not in the Jungian sense, but as in 'vital spirit').

Spence's sculptures are simply a pleasure to look at. They are beautifully and surprisingly crafted, transcending their ordinary materials. With bodies made from the leftover goods of a consumer society in overdrive, Spence's owls cannot help but make us think that our current crisis of 'unlimited goods vs the Environment' may present us with a choice --- Owls or Beanie Babies? I know what I'd choose.

Untitled (Snowy Owl) - stuffed animals, plastic bag, curtains, wire + thread - Kathryn Spence - 2006


Hungry Hyaena said...

These are nice works..simple, but very effective and evocative. I'll have to add Spence to my ever expanding "artist list," that resource for curatorial and creative inspiration.

Molly Schafer said...

I thought Spence's work was nearly the only inspiring art at Art Chicago 2007. The other was Tom Uttech. Jenny and I stared at his paintings together for a long time. I had first heard of Uttech on hungry Hyaena. Just another And So On...style art world connection.

Jenny Kendler said...

Ha ha, you're right Molly...the world of environmental artists is really an oroboros. Everyone should check out Hungry Hyaena's great post on Tom Uttech for sure. The painting of his that we saw at Art Chicago was so beautiful. I feel really lucky that we got to see his work in person. We did stand there for a hilariously long time staring at it!