Terroir (pronounced tear•war for non-connoisseurs in the crowd) isn’t a nuance normally associated with the visual arts; it’s that often pricy bouquet of specific vintages of wine, infused into the grapes by the earth they were grown in.
But for Christi York, whose Wildworks show will be featured at Rainforest Arts August and September, her art is very much about the Vancouver Island soil and habitats where she ‘harvests’ her materials.
“The idea of having a terroir for the art that you’re making really appeals to me,” she said.
She points out that 90 percent of the materials used in her pieces come from local plants – everything from maple leaves, to blackberry bark, to willow canes. It’s art shaped, tinted and, in a sense, crafted by our environment.
“To me it comes down to the connection to the materials,” she explained. Plants gleaned from forests, fields, ditches, her own back yard, are used in her studio, so “the materials become fundamental in making the work.”
Before moving to Vancouver Island York was known for the jewellery she made out of reclaimed pieces. “I would go hunting in thrift stores and antique stores, and I would collect things, reassemble them and sell them at markets and at retail,” she said.
“That transformation from trash to treasure has been a theme in my life.”
But just as her interest in jewellery was waning, she encountered Sharon Kallis and friends of the EartHand Gleaners, a collective that uses Vancouver Parks Board cuttings to make ‘non-traditional’ basketry. “I stumbled upon those guys, and the seed was planted, quite literally,” York recalled.
“I’m just obsessed with basketry. I just sort of live in my own natural-materials bubble.”
Now, when she’s walking through a forest, York is usually on the lookout for materials that can be harvested. It’s a habit that has enriched her appreciation of nature. “It’s wonderful. It’s like having new eyeballs,” she said. “I’ve learned more about native plants, about plants in general, in the last four years than I’ve know my entire life.”
The works are elegant, harmonious, intriguing. They’re also ‘random weave’, ‘unstructured’, and ‘non-functional’… which is to say, it’s a unique show, you won’t want to miss. Rainforest Arts is located at 9781 Willow Street in Chemainus. Hours are Wednesday to Saturday, 11 AM to 4 PM. More at RainforestArts.ca.