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Carissa Carman

A hothouse of ideas
Fibres student weaves interactive components into her multi-faceted work

Carissa Carman l Photo: Christie Vuong Carissa Carman l Photo: Christie Vuong

Carissa Carman is building a portable sauna on the 8th floor of Concordia's EV Building.

The story begins when Carman, a third-year student in the MFA in Studio Arts program, bought an 18th century, made-in-Quebec woodstove. It continues with her attraction to Montreal's parking-lot attendant booths, which remind her of the street-vendor kiosks she saw everywhere when she lived in New York City.

Drawn to odd jobs as a means of collecting different skills and interacting with people, Carman tried to imagine working as a parking-lot attendant. It could only happen, she realized, if she made the environment more appealing. That's where her woodstove comes back in: she would build a sauna.

Carman, whose concentration is Fibres, would also make a couple of handwoven chairs and a marquee sign, to invite attention and interaction. Because it's not just about the sauna structure; Carman intends to take her project to different places, set it up, and see what passersby make of the opportunity to investigate.

"It's the idea of wanting to play off the structure of an established system," explains Carman, a native of California. "The goal is to create unpredictable stories and experiences from a source that feels familiar."

And that, in a nutshell, is Carman's master's thesis.

Cultivating an art practice

Describing herself as someone who responds to experiences around her, Carman inherited her strong sense of playfulness and service. Her mother is a seamstress who encouraged Carman's adventurous spirit and her father, a parks and recreation employee, drove the FUNMOBILE, a big van that opened up to offer games to neighbourhood kids.

"We grew up with parachutes and gunny sacks and giant earth balls," she recalls. They were also raised to appreciate the functional: "My parents are resourceful people. They figure out what needs to be done and do it."

Carissa Carman, Sauna in progress, 2012. Click to enlarge. Carissa Carman, Sauna in progress, 2012. Click to enlarge.

Perhaps that's why Carman likes it when art overlaps practical skills. She's certainly picked up a wide variety of those from the jobs she's held. Among other things, she's prepared tutus for a ballet company, chauffered a family across the country, worked in an airport hangar and worked in the natural science department of a children's museum.

 Carman continued to explore after moving to Montreal in 2009. She dove into everything at Concordia: "I tried a lot of processes. It's like a candy store for artists -- so much access to tools, techniques and resources."

An artist with many collaborations in her portfolio, she also co-founded The Color Collective with two fellow Fibres grad students. Their unique project was to grow colours literally from the ground up. Teaming up with the Concordia Greenhouse and with funding from the university's Sustainability Action Fund, the trio did everything from selecting the plants (nearly 800 of them) to cultivating them to producing natural dyes from them.
"It was about skill-sharing, the performative process, and building collaboration while cultivating our own colours," she says.

Now those are practical skills overlapping art that Carman can appreciate.

Story by Liz Crompton. Posted on Mar. 14, 2012

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