Vanessa Paschakarnis loves sculpture because it gives people an experience.
Her newest sculptures in Shadows for Bells at Studio 21 are definitely an experience. They are bronze bells that look vaguely like arms and torsos and hang from ropes inside black metal doorways.
"I would like for people to really touch the bells and ring them," says Paschakarnis, who lives in both Texas and LaHave.
As much as the bells with their tactile, heavily marked surfaces are a physical encounter, they are also potent with intellectual ideas and poetic metaphors.
One thinks of both a journey of the soul and of the physicality of the human body. Patinated in a reddish brown, the bells are the colour of leather and one thinks of a skin.
Hanging as they do by rough ropes "like the rope in an old bell tower," says Paschakarnis, one can’t help but also think of carcasses in a butcher’s freezer or a person being hung or just the idea of suspension in time or a suspension between states of being.
"I’d like you to be reminded of a number of things but not have it defined as one thing. They refer to body parts as well as to hanging and to bells.
"I like that ambiguity. They are beautiful but they are pretty gross at the same time," she says with a laugh. "I think they are more provocative than some of the pieces I did before and I like that. They are almost like blood and flesh but not really."
Paschakarnis, a dual German and Canadian citizen who has lived in Canada for the last eight years, has a master’s degree in sculpture from Germany and a master’s degree in fine and media art from NSCAD University in Halifax. She has been working with the idea of shadows since 1997 when she did the piece Five Shadows for her graduating show in Berlin.
A shadow is "the most direct way of realizing that we are. It confirms our existence," says Paschakarnis, who is assistant professor of sculpture, Meadows School of the Arts, SMU, in Dallas.
"As soon as we encounter light there is a shadow. Really there is this obscure mass behind us. If you’re standing during daylight and someone passes in behind you that person walks through the darkness of your body. It is a three-dimensional thing. It’s defined through the air and the particles. It’s that other element of the body."
Metaphorically, says Paschakarnis, a shadow is seen as "the dark side."
"I think art is the shadow of society in some way too, stepping outside and trying to make sense of the world around us."
To make the bells, Paschakarnis worked with wax sheets imprinted with tool marks from "the skin" of an earlier scored and textured work. She shaped the wax sheets using heat to bend them, then had them cast in bronze using the lost wax process.
Paschakarnis doesn’t want smooth, shiny surfaces; she wants the surface of her sculptures to look weathered and the object to look hand-made. "That’s the same ambiguity. They look so natural but at the same time they are made forms."
Paschakarnis gets her idea then chooses her sculptural medium. She has also worked extensively in stone and helped organize the Atlantic Stone Carving Symposium in 2005 in Inverness with Kathy Hannigan at the Inverness County Centre for the Arts.
The piece she created during the symposium, the red marble Cape Breton Shield, will be exhibited along with her 1,200 pound bronze, Black Shield, for which she received a provincial grant to have it cast at the Lunenburg Foundry, at the Frederick Myers Sculpture Garden in Michigan in the spring of 2007.
As an artist Paschakarnis has always been drawn to sculpture which she thinks is more experiential than two-dimensional art which gives a viewer information instead of a physical encounter.
"For me, sculpture works on the level of experience and I find that is richer than just information."
Coming from Germany to study at NSCAD University influenced her work. "It was interesting that in Germany I thought people always wanted to look at my work and rationalize it before they experienced it and I found in Canada people understood very much the reverse approach where you first got struck by the physicality and then started to analyze it.
"It’s a different way of approaching the work that is important to me."
Shadows for Bells is on exhibit at Studio 21 through Wednesday.