At HAND/EYE Magazine we’re always looking for new artists and artisans to write about, and during our search we stumbled upon the impressive work of Kirsten Hassenfeld, a Brooklyn-based paper sculptor. Once we saw Kirsten’s beautiful work we knew we had to feature her in an upcoming issue on paper. So we wrote her, asked some questions, and much to our surprise, she wrote back and said she had switched to using recycled and found objects over a year ago! But whether it’s paper or discarded tzotchkes, we liked Kirsten’s new sculptures just as much and asked her all about the transition to this new medium and her process.
HAND/EYE: Why did you make the switch from paper to recycled and found objects?
Kirsten Hassenfeld: Every time I thought of making something in paper, I could visualize it completed and I felt I could make it look like the picture in my head. This robbed the process of the excitement. For me “can I do it?” is always what I want to be asking myself.
H/E: What appealed to you about this new medium?
KH: Using found objects brought my concern and interest in environmental issues into more direct contact with the work I make. Nature has always been a huge part of what I do, and my concern about the natural world. Now, as I make my work, I am actually improving things by taking old, unwanted bits and pieces out of circulation. It’s also exciting for me to take my studio practice out of the studio. I’m always “on the hunt” for useful materials now, so I am able to work on my sculptures wherever I am.
H/E: When did you start experimenting with found objects?
KH: It was actually a commission I had to do for a permanent work at a children’s school that prompted me to look outside of paper. At first I was puzzled by how to translate the forms I was interested in into other materials. But once I started stacking things, patterns emerged that I excited me. Also, I had been playing around with a collection of old buttons, stacking them to create small forms. I marvel at how old buttons are each like a little sculpture in their own right—so much care was given in their detailing.
H/E: How and where do you get ideas and what inspires you?
KH: Hmm…so many places. Decorative arts from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries have been huge for me, like turned ivory, ceramic figures, tableware, Faberge eggs, jewelry.
Another area is the difference between “wild” nature and “tamed” (garden) nature such as espaliered trees. This seems to speak about how humans and the natural world interact and influence one another. Also, in much of historic decorative arts, nature is jumping off place, but forms from nature are taken and made symmetrical, stylized, and repeating. This is also the kind of “taming” of nature I am fascinated by.
H/E: Would you describe your process, from sketchbook to the actual sculptures?
KH: Hardly any sketchbook work. I am very process-driven. I play with materials, seeing what they “want” to do. I look at of pictures of things that interest me—something usually emerges.
H/E: Would you discuss your first piece in this medium?
KH: For this let me talk about "black treen" because, although the school piece comes first, it probably reflects more of my direction. After "discovering" how I could create forms by stacking round and cylindrical components, I worked on small manageable units, seeing what kind of shapes I could generate. I kept everything black or dark as a change of pace for me, after years of white work. Also, using just one color really speeds the process up by eliminating a lot of variables about color. I had the idea that placing objects a on a mirror would "complete" them, or make them appear as floating.
H/E: What have been the most challenging aspects of this new work and the most rewarding?
KH: What's hard is staying in a place where I am taking nothing as a "given", to me that's the best place to be in the studio, and the hardest to maintain.
I am not very rewarded by seeing work finished, I am most excited by when I solve a difficult technical or aesthetic problem, and that can happen at multiple points along the way. Occasionally, I have the opportunity to reincorporate a "failed" piece into a new one, in a successful way. That's always a great feeling.
H/E: When you make your sculptures, do you imagine a viewer/audience? Is that true for some of works more than others?
KH: The only work where I really imagined my audience was the school piece, Pixie Mix. I really thought long and hard about what would cheer up a small child apprehensive about school. I put a lot of hidden "surprises" in the piece, a friendly ceramic owl, some Russian nesting dolls, blocks, or a teapot. Usually, because I am not so completely focused on the end-product, audience is less in my mind. I am mostly trying to get my materials to "behave."
H/E: What would your fantasy piece be, if you had unlimited resources?
KH: It would be great to have money to hire kids in who live near my studio, and have the time and space to teach them how to help me make the work. Then we could make some giant version of the treen work, and help clean up their neighborhood in the process.
H/E: What are you currently working on?
KH: I just put up a show with my husband at the College of St. Rose in Albany, NY, but I’m trying to catch up on my sleep!
To learn more about Kirsten Hassenfeld, please visit her website at http://www.kirstenhassenfeld.com For more information about her exhibit at the College of St. Rose in Albany, please visit, http://www.strose.edu/campus/massry_center_for_the_arts/esther_massry_gallery/historyofexhibitions/leeborosonkirstenhassenfeld.