April 13, 2016
Assemblage: A work of art made by grouping found or unrelated objects.
By themselves, those objects are just discarded human possessions. They turn up along railroad tracks, deep in the wilderness, and behind construction sites. Moss-covered, half-buried, and forgotten, they've been left to rot and rust and decay in the Adirondack soil. They're everywhere, and most people don't want them.
But artist Anastasia Osolin isn't most people. In her hands, the artifacts become something different, something that probably wasn't intended by whoever manufactured them. The finished pieces are intrinsically Adirondack — the ingredients were found here, after all — but their presence is conspicuous in a scene that's rife with nature paintings.
"Adirondack art makes it all look like a very idyllic and pristine wilderness," Anastasia said. "I've come across a few old dumps in the woods, out in the Paul Smiths area, where people probably used to dump their household trash 100 years ago. Things like old antique glass bottles, metal cans, buckets and that kind of thing. I've found no less than three rusted out mattresses in the Adirondacks. I now have a big collection of rusty mattress springs."
Anastasia's assemblages marry seemingly unrelated parts — things like gaskets, doll heads, and watch gears — into three-dimensional expressions of curiosity, astronomy, fantasy, and reflections on human nature.
In one piece, the phrase "An Unreliable Machine" appears beneath a textbook-style depiction of a profile of a man's head. Inside the cranium are gears — not drawings of gears, but real gears — that can properly function together or cause problems for the entire machine if bent out of shape.
That's the beauty of the assemblages. They inspire imagination, they demand conversation, and there's probably no absolutely correct way to interpret them. The text that appears on most of her work, which comes from places like 19th century fashion magazines and science textbooks, seems to simultaneously clarify and further add to the mystery of the piece.
Anastasia has been creating these curiosities for 20 years. They're a departure from her artistic roots doing illustrations, or perhaps they're an evolution of that pursuit. As a painter, she was drawn to surrealist and Dadaist works, and to assemblage artist Joseph Cornell.
"I've always been interested in collecting odd, miscellaneous things and images," Anastasia said. "I love going to flea markets and yard sales, and what I call low-end antique stores. I just started putting all of these things together."
Inside her home studio there are shelves littered with an assortment of other oddities and unfinished pieces, some of which have been there for years. A life-sized baby's arm that used to belong to a doll protrudes from a basket; there's a pair of disc brakes on the floor.
Anastasia explains that a set of labeled drawers is an attempt to organize the various objects she's collected. The labels say things like flat things, round things, more round things, and bones, feathers, mica, shells.
The drawers open, the shelves clear, and the miscellaneous objects slowly find each other, like eclectic magnets. Parts are added and subtracted to a piece until it feels right.
"Sometimes I have a pretty clear idea of what I want to make and the kinds of things I need to fill it out, but usually I start shuffling things around," Anastasia said. "Occasionally it's serendipity. My studio, when I'm working, gets to be a real mess. There's stuff everywhere, and I'm just throwing stuff around, and on occasion something will land on something else and I'll think, 'Hey, those things look cool together.'"
On the worktable there's a serious-looking doll's head mounted atop a body wearing a tiny, pressed dress. The doll is framed by a substance that looks white and fluffy, but probably isn't. She resides in a wooden box, her legs crossed as if waiting for something to enter.
Anastasia fiddled with a gear from a watch while she contemplated where to position the item. There seems to be a strange yet profound balance inherent in this process — many of the components must be forced from whatever object they're a part of, but their final placement isn't forced. Rather, they must wander the earth like milkweed fluff, coming to rest where the wind delivers them. In this way the assemblages will all come together eventually, in their own time, in their own way.
"I feel like the more of these things I have, the more I feel like I have to finish these things before I die," Anastasia said with a laugh. "If not, what's anybody going to do with them?"
Anastasia's work will be on display at the Adirondack Artists' Guild in Saranac Lake starting in May. She also has a show at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts next January and at The View in Old Forge next April.