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The 40th bloom on Kristin’s rose

Island artist Kristin Tollefson marks a milestone with a new series.

By LINDSAY LATIMORE

Staff Writer

For 40 days, an island artist known for public art is taking her art public in a new way.

“I’m always trying to find some common ground between things that don’t necessarily fit together,” Kristin Tollefson said. “It’s a little bit of an exercise in that.”

On Nov. 14, 40 days before her 40th birthday, Tollefson began posting daily journal entries and images of her work onto a blog.

Described simply, “40blooms” constitutes a virtual installation; through it, Tollefson will present 40 snapshots of past, present and future work.

On hearing of the project, one friend told Tollefson she thought the project “was better than an Advent calendar.” And certainly, the blog gives those interested in the artist’s oeuvre an entry point into what she’s been up to of late, in a surprising and seasonally apt “what will she post today?” fashion.

But more than a catalog, the project offers up a meditation on transition, an exploration of what it means to be an artist during a phase of life that is, invariably, full of not always comfortable flexing and change:

“How do individual objects, put in a series or into a context which relates them, generate a journal? Can such a series assembled in a completely subjective circumstance inspire associations which resonate on a universal level? Explore condensed and exploded memory of time and place.”

Tollefson says this journal entry, originally written on Nov. 16, 1992 and posted this past Nov. 16, poses many of the same questions she’s still asking herself today. It’s also representative of, and in many ways embodies, the questions she may – or may not – be trying to answer with the completed series.

Blogging, as a form of expression, is arguably still finding its footing. For the number of writers, professionals, students and so on who get a heady rush out of the readily available opportunity to take their self- and other-directed examinations public, an equal number find the form self-indulgent, and don’t make a habit of reading the stuff.

Regardless of where a reader falls on the blog continuum, it’s clear that Tollefson’s brief musings amount to the farthest thing from grandstanding.

Rather, using the same plant imagery that informs her sculptures, public installations and smaller works, she muses sparely, using a medium that she appreciates for its variety, its modernity and its minimal environmental footprint.

“I love the idea that you can publish something but not use up any resources,” she said.

Tollefson, who grew up on the island in an old house built from scrap lumber, feels an intrinsic connection to re-claimed objects, from the hair-fine filaments of lathe trimmings from bathroom fixtures to discarded electrical wire to the remaindered baubles from a costume jewelry outfit.

“I gravitate toward using things that are both industrial and have the capacity to take on organic forms,” she said.

She transforms and incorporates these used-up materials into both natural sculpture forms, like the giant wire sphere called “Pollen” that she’s fabricating for Redmond Elementary School, and earthly installations like her contribution to the “Collocation” exhibit at Pritchard Park in 2005.

The artist, who also works as a professional landscaper, said that at this time last year the gardening work was ending for the season, she had no commissions on the horizon and she really didn’t have a clue as to what she’d be doing for work during the winter.

In contrast, this past week has proved “weirdly productive.” She said she regularly applies for public art commissions and as regularly, faces rejection letters.

But two projects have just begun to see fruition, the first being to fabricate a madrona branch sculpture for the Magnolia branch of the Seattle Public Library, the second to create a bench for the Hiawatha loft project, a south Seattle community housing complex for moderate- to low-income working artists.

Tollefson jokes that a voice coming from her Lutheran upbringing sometimes tells her that art isn’t a real form of industry, and that she should be doing something more worthwhile with her working days.

But commissions like the Hiawatha bench help dispel her doubt that she’s a real artist and bolster her fundamental belief in the power of “making special” – a recent idea in art theory purporting that through the creation and sharing of their work, artists can help make an ordinary world extraordinary.

In her artist statement about a series of sculptural bike racks she designed for the Florera Building in Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood, Tollefson noted that the racks were “designed to line up in sequence to form a full bloom, or to stand individually as floral gestures.”

The same could be said of 40blooms.

On Dec. 23, Tollefson’s 40th birthday, she’ll post her final entry, and while she hopes to reach an epiphany through the exercise, it’s possible that the collection will simply be what it is.

“I think it’s more about the process than what will come of it,” she said. “But I hope that what I find is that there’s some consistency and growth over the life of it.”

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A life in bloom

View Kristin Tollefson’s 40blooms project at www.40blooms.blogspot.com.

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