by Victoria Lord, Rasmuson Foundation Program Associate

On June 5, Rasmuson Foundation Program Officer Helen Howarth and I went on our customary First Friday stroll. These monthly art events are primarily an opportunity to socialize in an environment that provides, amongst the gathering of many people, glimpses of new work with intermittent occasions to chat with artists. One usually needs to return for another visit to actually spend time considering the art.

Helen and I stopped by Out North to meet Liz Collins, a textile and clothing designer and recipient of a 2006 United States Artist (USA) Fellowship.  Collins is the latest participant in the Alaska Artist-in-Residence program (Alaska AIR),a unique collaboration between USA and Rasmuson Foundation that brings artists to our state. Upon entering the Out North gallery space, I had already zoomed in on two fabulous gowns on display when we were each handed a strobe flashlight. The addition of light transformed the work into colorful effervescent party dresses that I Imagine would be fairly amazing to wear.

Collins is recognized internationally for her use of manually operated knitting machines to create innovative clothing, textiles, and installations. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, she spent several years managing her own clothing label before returning to Rhode Island to teach. Her experimental use of materials and methods has led her to develop unique techniques. I found the work creative, witty, full of energy, and somewhat reminiscent of Rodarte couture. I just wanted to touch everything, the soft, yet, sometimes tense, waves of fabric and piled on textures, meticulously detailed and connected by intricately hand stitched knitted lines.

Helen managed to break my clothing reverie and we headed over to the International Gallery of Contemporary Art for the opening of EXPANDED STUDIO: PRODUCT, an exhibition centered on products and product design. Open through June, the main gallery spaces are full of artist-made products: usable objects ranging from decorative to wearable as well as some unique furniture pieces. In addition to the terrific creative work of many fine Alaskan artists, we smiled at seeing a wonderful felted piece, Forest Roll, by Tanya Aguiniga, Los Angeles based furniture designer, USA Fellow and a 2007 Alaska AIR artist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Native Arts Center. A wool lace necklace and a variety of her signature felt birds are also on display as is more of Collins’ work including scarves and “altered” T-shirts.

Seeing the work of these visiting artists is a reminder of the opportunities that are afforded through these exchanges. Alaska AIR is a wonderful experience for artists from the lower 48 to be in residence with Alaska cultural organizations. In turn, it is wonderful for Alaska. The main purpose of these residencies is for visiting artists to have time, space, and facilities for the creation of their work. However, because of the unique nature of our state, guest artists have become very involved with the communities they are part of during their residency. Inspired conversations, creativity, and new work are visible effects of the friendships that have developed between Alaska AIR artists and Alaskan artists.

When we met Collins, she had that look of awe and excitement that is frequently seen in first-time visitors (the look that reminds Alaskans to appreciate what is often taken for granted) and a sign that she will most likely immerse herself in her new surroundings. During her month in Alaska, she will be working in a studio space at the International Gallery of Contemporary Art, giving public lectures, visiting with textile artists and traditional weavers, as well as taking advantage of the Alaskan summer light to travel.

On Sunday, June 28, you are invited to Out North for a lecture, Knitting Nation, with Liz Collins and art historian/critic Julia Bryan-Wilson for a discussion of Collins’ work in relation to the resurgence of traditional domestic crafts, feminist art, the politics of handmaking, and queer identity. (I’ll be there sporting my new Liz Collins Tee.) Daniel Martinez is the next Alaska AIR artist. This August, he will be working at the International Gallery of Contemporary Art and also traveling to the Valdez Museum and Prudhoe Bay. I understand Martinez is a provocateur, great artist, very funny and smart so stay tuned. There is more Alaska AIR to come!