I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with the concept of a “bezoar” before I encountered it in the works of Tamara Rusnak (specifically in her installation / sculpture An Ecology of Feeling). It’s a powerful mythic “object” that is presumed to have the ability to cure any manner of ills when ingested. This would require a somewhat strong constitution, as these are (mostly organic) masses formed or trapped within the gastro intestinal system, usually the stomach. Their name derives from a Persian word for “antidote”. This essential contradiction (or amusing) mixture of humour and “grossness”, with the idea of digesting and expelling and absorbtion and reforming, permeates much of Tamara Rusnak’s work. Her sculptures and drawings act as metaphors for digestion and elimination, and how we “consume” our environments, and how sometimes they are good for us, and other times lead to less healthy, less positive, outcomes.
Rusnak has an MFA from the University of Regina, and is currently teaching at the University of Saskatchewan, specifically in the area of Art Education, but has also taught at the University of Regina.
I visited her studio recently, and found the “remnants” of works I was familiar with from the documentation of some of her past exhibitions (The Wayward Symbionts, at the Art Gallery of Regina, or The Untied Knot, at Neutral Ground), in the course of being reconfigured into newer pieces. The conversation we had encompassed her work going back several years, and roamed into metaphor, but several ideas recur in her work, as though she’s trying to get her artwork as exact as possible by fashioning it, digesting it and regenerating it.
Rusnak’s work is very process base, often very sensual, but not sanitized, and not privileging sight over the other senses. Drippy wax, messy paper maché, mixed with wool, sausage casings as guides – these are “messy” processes, and the works often have a scent in conjunction with a surface or texture that invites handling. Institutional issues are something we spoke about, as there are some things galleries won’t tolerate, both in terms of immersive or experimental work, or even in terms of allowing the gallery goer to handle and interact with the pieces in a way less “formal” than a gallery guide might approve of…
There’s also an irreverence in how “no work generally survives but is re configured” into something “new”. It’s What’s On The Inside That Matters, from the Symbionts show, was described as being “skin like” or “hide like”, suggesting a former life, but also a new incarnation.
The influence of Louise Bourgeios (who herself “cannibalized her work”) or Eva Hesse is unmistakable here, and in terms of contemporary artists whom she cites as points of interest, Beth Stuart’s sculptural pieces seem akin to Rusnak’s Enteral Reasoning, Visceral Leap or Percolator. The latter is a tall piece, with unsteady, skinny “legs”, and with a missphapen organic “head” with a single hole, that could be a maw, could be an eye, or could be a space for a small animal to make a nest or home.
There is an implicit physicality to the works, as though they’re anatomical models (her drawing in Symbionts was huge, dwarfing the viewer, but turning the intestinal pathways into something large enough to “digest” the same). Tamara joked about the difficulty of pulling these things out of your head, but they look as though they may have been pulled from elsewhere, within and from the body.
Her “organic interiors”, as from the Untied Knot, are detritus of her exploration of her own experiences, sometimes touching upon ideas of depression, sometimes in how we interact with our environments both physical and psychological, and offering images and objects as potential outcomes. But I found that when I was in her studio, I wanted to touch everything, move among the pieces, handle the forms, smell all the materials and do all the things I’d never be allowed to do in a gallery space, and that pull, that corporeal appeal her works have for me, is the essential aspect of Tamara Rusnak’s work.
– Bart Gazzola