Emily Chudnovsky

Emily Chudnovsky. Leftover. Recycled paper pulp, (cotton grass, wood-shavings, and sawdust), piping, car parts, electrical wire. Dimensions variable. Photo by Alex Hakinson. 2020.

Emily Chudnovsky. Leftover. 2020. View from the tailing pond.
Photos by Devin Berquist

Emily Chudnovsky. Leftover. 2020.
Photo by Annie Kierans

BIOMASS: This project Leftover, what ideas, people or materials led to the artwork?

Emily Chudnovsky: In a way I see Leftover more as a research function than a finished artwork. When I was doing a residency in northern Scotland at the Glasgow School of Art’s Highlands and Islands campus, I visited an eco village nearby which was established in the 70’s, called Findhorn. What interested me there were these floating plant hubs which they use to turn their waste into grey water. So they have a series of tanks which contain plants, trees, snails, algae and other microorganisms, and the hubs float inside of these tanks which are modeled on the idea of creating little ecosystems. 

B: Like a natural water treatment centre alongside the community?

EC: Yeah exactly. So these floating islands provide a happy hub for bacteria. I found the islands very intriguing and wanted to experiment with an artwork that played with floating plant matter and what might be considered sites of ‘waste.’ And considering the possible aesthetic of these islands was also a draw for me.

B: How did you translate these ideas about sustainable communities and environments? Who or what was involved in that process?

EC: I am always thinking about bringing objects into the world and whether this is still valuable or if it is harmful. That is why using places like the dump and the free store up here for material is so useful for artists, and for everyone really. Even though a lot gets thrown away, so much gets an opportunity for new life. I try to use materials that have been discarded or there may be an excess of saw dust, cotton grass, raw wool and scrap metal. The pulp mill, the dump and the recycling depot up here were all integral to making Leftover. For the arts fest [Yukon Riverside Artist Festival] I showed this piece in a tailing pond, which is a remnant of the mining industry. We have tailing ponds all along the highway up here - they are kind of ‘typical’ to our landscape but were very bizarre to me when I first saw them. They look a bit like craters filled with water.

Pulp process. 2020. Photos by Annie Kierans

B: Some of the formal aesthetic qualities in your work translate some of these more complex ideas which I think is quite impressive. What role has formal training played in your art practice?

EC: I have a strange trajectory maybe because I have a critical theory background, though I have always made artwork. After I did my undergrad I felt really exhausted by academic language... then I went into the art world for my MFA (laughs).!  so I mainly used the MFA as an opportunity to hone in on my technical capabilities, accessing the textile studios, the metal and wood shops, and of course making use of the studio space. I am always teaching myself, and so I see my training as ongoing.

B: When would you say you feel most satisfied with your work and also when do you feel like it is done?

EC: I’m never fully satisfied with my work, but I think that just means I want to keep making. Especially because my practice is a lot of teaching myself things, that really makes me feel like I've never reached a finished product. But I think it’s also because a lot of things I make can be undone or unlinked, can decompose, or can be reimagined in another form.

B: When people encounter your work, what do you get out of that experience?

EC: I'm always seeking that kind of alchemy of the idea I see in my mind, the material, where it's going to exist, and the person encountering it. People have different associations depending on their everyday life, they might see more abstract shapes, or they may focus on the material, or the way in which the sculpture is installed. I notice that a lot of the time people want to identify what the materials are that I’ve used, or interact with them in some way,  and since the materials are so often meaningful to me I find this to be a satisfying response to the work.

Leftover. Detail. Photos by Devin Berquist. 2020.

B: Would you say new work begins with found material?

EC: Most of the ideas I have begin with material. Usually, my initial task or challenge is to get a hold of it. The majority of the pulp mixture for this sculpture is made from sawdust. I went to the pulp mill near here and they were just like ‘Yup, help yourself’; so that was great. This summer I got tons of raw fleece, the farmer picked me up in his boat and took me to his farm down the Yukon river, and we filled the boat with wool. So people have been very generous with me, and that interaction is a wonderful part of it. I think it adds to the magic of the process when the material has already had a strange life of its own and then it provides different challenges and possibilities.

B: Your work has many temporal qualities, like decomposable material, how long to do you hold onto it?

EC: This work is right now living outdoors partially to test its durability … and mostly because I don’t have storage for it (laughter). I’m gonna leave it outside and see what happens. At the moment it’s covered with snow. At some point the paper pulp will disintegrate, without being harmful, and what’s left will be a tire tube and some metal that I got at the freestore which may well return there one day for someone else to make use of.

Emily Chudnovsky's practice consists of collecting organic remnants and synthetic decay in order to draw out new iterations, connections and regenerations through sculpture-based installations. Chudnovsky holds an MFA from the Glasgow School of Art and is currently living and making work in Dawson City, Yukon.

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