Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Rebuilding Trees

Local artist Kirsten Furlong engages environmental themes at the Sesqui-Shop

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Standing outside the Sesqui-Shop on a bright Saturday morning, Mary Lee Dobi had a fresh appreciation for Boise after taking a gander at the shop's current exhibit, Standing Still: The Trees, by Kirsten Furlong.

"I think [Furlong] has done a good job reminding me what we love about Boise," Dobi said.

A transplant from Austin, Texas, Dobi has lived in Boise for 11 years, and she drew a few comparisons between the cities--both are state capitals and homes to universities--but stressed that, as someone "drawn to the outdoors," she sees Boise's access to nature as an advantage and one of the things that drew her to Furlong's work.

"My first thought is, 'It's kind of organic,'" Dobi said.

True enough. Standing Still comprises paper prints of tree growth rings; log rounds pressed with gold and silver foil, their cracks sutured with twine webs; hanging and suspended log rounds, one braced to the wall with metalwork by Boise artist Sue Latta; and a semicircle of branch rounds arranged in rows like amphitheater seats.

"Organic" is just one word that could be used to describe the installation, which runs through the month of August. Standing Still is Furlong's vision of the organic, influenced by her background as an artist, educator and scholar.

Casting a long shadow over the exhibit is W.S. Merwin's prose poem Unchopping a Tree, which Furlong described as "the main thing tying this work together." It's about how to put a tree back together once it has been felled. The themes of destruction and reconstitution appear where Furlong stitched cracks in log rounds with twine and where she strung together rounds cut from branches and hung them from the back wall, giving an elegant, if calculatedly disjointed, impression.

Another influence was Joseph Beuys' 7000 Oaks, a work of land art in which 7,000 oak trees were planted in Kassel, Germany, each accompanied by a basalt stone. Like Beuys, Furlong's art naturalizes its environment by bridging the organic world and the hard surfaces and rigid angles of human development through use of materials like gold and silver foil, log rounds, paper, paint, felt and string.

"It's suturing, trying to fix something," she said.

Standing Still, which is partially sponsored by the Boise City Department of Arts and History and the Boise WaterShed, is a departure from Furlong's preferred methods. She has used the Sesqui-Shop as a workspace since Aug. 1--her usual studio spaces, she says, tend to be more private--and as an artist who specializes in printmaking and pencil-and-pen work, using wood from the city of Boise forester as a medium breaks with Furlong's norm.

The medium and how she has used the Sesqui-Shop as a studio have contributed to Furlong's stylistic innovations. The semicircle of branch rounds along the shop's western wall extends along the floor almost to the middle of the room, mimicking what happens when a tree becomes horizontal in death.

"Having this space to work with, I didn't just want it on the walls," Furlong said.

Regardless of how Standing Still differs from her previous experience, Furlong's past work, aesthetic preferences and personal style echo across the Sesqui-Shop exhibit.

A different Furlong project, Standing Still and Moving Through the Wilderness, comprising works on paper she made between 2011 and 2012 slated for display later this year at the Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff, Ariz., features Furlong's distinctive line economy and geometric fascination. In a piece titled "Tree Circle," there's a pair of trees enclosed in a corona of short, outwardly projecting lines in a design reminiscent of the branch rounds radiating from the Sesqui-Shop's western wall.

Furlong acknowledged the similarities between the two exhibits but stressed that they should be considered separately.

"Even though the titles are similar, they're completely different bodies of work," she said.

Even so, Standing Still: The Trees is in the service of the Boise 150 celebration, in part because Furlong's themes and style jibe with the month of August theme set by the Sesqui-Shop: the environment.

"Her work tends to deal with environmental themes," said Rachel Reichert, Sesqui-Shop curator and manager and communications manager for the Boise City Department of Arts and History. "She was a natural fit."

A longtime member of Boise's artistic community, Furlong's abilities as an artist allowed for what amounted to a monthlong artist-in-residence position and subsequent exhibit, even though she was given only a limited set of instructions.

"I gave her a theme and a broad direction," Reichert said.

Furlong, for whom this is not the first artist residency, has adapted productively to the environment of the Sesqui-Shop. She says visitors have stopped to watch her produce the artworks that make up the exhibit, and a few have assisted her in her efforts. These visitors, many of whom are without extensive art or art history backgrounds, have given her new outlooks on her work.

"I think it's nice to talk to people who are totally unfamiliar with what I'm doing," Furlong said.

The fruits of Furlong's three weeks in the Sesqui-Shop culminate in a capstone event: a reception, Thursday, Aug. 22, from 6-8 p.m., when Furlong will present Standing Still as a finished product. Until then, she will continue to work at the shop most days doing what she has been doing since Aug. 1: "I'm taking these pieces of trees and putting them back together," she said.