By Anita Cazzola 

Christina Kingsbury is a multidisciplinary artist living and working in Guelph, and is one of last year’s recipients of the Jane Graham Award.  Christina’s practice explores place, labour and ecology using craft techniques applied in sculpture, installation, and performance contexts.  Her most recent works have involved the creation and installation of seed paper sculpture interventions, including a long-term project titled ReMediate.  

Christina has been surrounded by artistic and ecological influences her whole life; her mother and grandmother taught her to sew, her father is a biologist an amature naturalist, her sister (Shannon Kingsbury) a singer, songwriter and harpist and her brother (Robert Kingsbury) a dancer, choreographer and videographer.  It is no surprise that she embodies these skills and interests in her practice, embracing the idea of “art-in-life”.  Within all of these artistic influences, Christina has been able to carve out an artistic space for herself – and she is thriving.  

Christina completed her BFA in Visual Art with a minor in Environmental Studies at York University in 2005.  Just out of University, she worked predominantly with the quilting and piecing together of paper scraps (photographs, bills, receipts, etc).  She attempted to use every small bit of the scraps she would cut up, which initiated her experimentation with papermaking.  She has always been interested in the relationship between labour, pollination, land and place, and had completed a number of works involving seed paper before starting on ReMediate, such as The Rooting Project, Emergence and Sewing Seeds.  

Christina Kingsbury, Emergence, 2011, Sculpture, intervention, Guelph

ReMediate has taken over Christina’s practice for the past four years.  In her words, “things have germinated slowly” with the project, keeping her goal to maintain a social practice and an embodied practice at the forefront.  Years ago, she got the idea of sewing a quilt or blanket for a piece of land.  The idea kept morphing and developing as she worked and experimented.  She grappled with questions like, “How do we reconcile our relationship with land? What would an appropriate gesture or action be? Could I make something that could be potentially useful to the land and ecology?”  

Christina made a connection with Pollination Guelph while working on her project Sewing Seeds.  Pollination Guelph had started working on a pilot project at the decommissioned Eastview Landfill site in Guelph, and Christina joined forces with them.  The Eastview landfill became the site for ReMediate.  She also collaborated with poet Anna Bowen, who wrote a series of poems documenting the history of the landfill and the project.

ReMediate has materialized as a 2,000 square foot quilt, hand sewn and made from recycled paper and embedded with native seeds.  Over time, the quilt has disintegrated and yielded a garden which acts as a habitat for threatened indigenous pollinators like bees, wasps, and butterflies.  

Christina Kingsbury, ReMediate, 2014 – Ongoing, Installation, poetry and performance, Guelph

ReMediate has posed many challenges over time.  The landfill site has very poor quality soil, harsh weather conditions in both winter and summer, and invasive species that Christina continually weeds out to maintain the garden.  All the seeds planted are native species, but some have thrived more than others.  Christina describes them as, “Native plants, that are native to a time before climate destabilization”.  The plants have had to adapt to the conditions at the landfill site.  She says, “In some ways, it is astonishing that my garden has done as well as it has”.

She maintains a positive attitude about challenge and failure, saying, “Starting to work on ReMediate, I was standing in full awareness that it it could completely fail, and that would be ok.  For me, it would have been equally as interesting if I made this quilt and spent hours and hours sewing, and the land was like, ‘No thank you’. There is this conscious naiveté with the project, which acknowledges how disconnected we are to the land. At the same time in that acknowledgment, we still have to try.”

Through her constant labour maintaining the garden, it has thrived and accomplished what she had hoped.  “Last fall, I went out on this very sunny day in September, it had been cool and there was this really warm sunny day, and I was walking out there, and before I was even there, I could hear this incredible buzzing. I can’t even tell you, I wish I had an audio recorder or something, because there were bees everywhere, everywhere! And nowhere else! – That’s really heartening.”

Christina Kingsbury, ReMediate, 2014 – Ongoing, Installation, poetry and performance, Guelph

Christina moved to Guelph in 2006, and has found that Guelph’s community is a great place to locate her practice.  She saw Guelph as, “a city in which collaboration and cross-disciplinary dialogue is really possible and accessible.”  She has always hoped to find ways to make her art speak or work in service to larger things going on in the world, and Guelph’s strong arts and environmental science communities have helped her in doing so.  She collaborates with poets, philosophers, biologists and ecologists in Guelph, aiming to make her works relative and accessible to a diverse audience.  This collaboration helps bring a more holistic understanding to the research that she is doing, and ensuring that all aspects work cohesively.  “Collaborative work is more honest and rich, especially with the nature of my work.  It is the time for that”.

Christina is one of last year’s recipients of the Jane Graham Award, presented by the Guelph Arts Council.  The Award was created in honour of visual artist Jane Graham, who lived and worked in the Guelph area for many years before her death in 2005. Working closely with the Graham family, Guelph Arts Council established a fund with donations made in memory of the beloved and respected local artist. The fund is managed by The Guelph Community Foundation. Guelph Arts Council offers the award to support visual artists who are actively practicing in Guelph or Wellington County and wish to pursue opportunities that will contribute to their artistic growth.

Through funding from the Award, Christina has been able to take three courses at Paperhouse Studio in Toronto.  The courses cover Papermaking Foundations, Sculptural Papermaking, and Papercutting.  Christina has been making paper since 2008, but had never taken a professional papermaking course or seen a professional papermaking setup.  She developed a very DIY approach, making paper pulp with a blender and pulling sheets using a kiddie pool in her backyard.  She called it “problem solving out of necessity”.  Since exploring it more technically, she is able to see how she can push the technique and medium further to serve her work.  She says, “After going to the class, I was sort of impressed that I had developed my DIY process to the point that I did, on my own without any feedback”.  

The sculptural class has been particularly exciting for Christina, and she’s developing ideas for new outdoor sculptural works.  The course introduced new paper fibres to create three dimensional forms using sticks and twigs as the structure.  She has developed a positive relationship with the artists at the studio who she can work with in the future, and will have a space to beat more unique paper pulp for her work.  

The Arts Council is currently seeking applicants for the 2017 Jane Graham Award.  The application deadline is Friday, October 13, 2017 at 4:00 pm (paper application) or Sunday, October 15, 2017 at 11:59 pm (online application). Any visual artist residing and actively practising in Guelph or Wellington County is encouraged to apply for opportunities that will be pursued after November 15, 2017. The award(s) will be announced in late fall 2017.

Apply for the Jane Graham Memorial Award:

More information about Christina Kingsbury and her work:

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