BY TARA McCARTHY

According to her artist statement, what Shiela Alexandrovich sets out to do, rarely coincides with what actually happens.

Thus her current exhibition at the Yukon Arts Centre Community Gallery demonstrates the artist’s unpredictable creations.

“This exhibit up there right now is about exploration, so I was looking to play with vessel and play with felt as the form. So I experimented, I did all kinds of things,” she explains.

“I did some where I filled them with sand and dropped them from a chair to see what kind of shape would happen. Others were molded around things, other are a combination of pieces that were then needle felted together.”

Just over a dozen pieces are featured in Alexandrovich’s exhibit, titled Explorations in Felt, Words and Wool, combining text with tactile constructions.

Four pieces of poetry line a wall in the gallery, each scribed in delicate charcoal. And while Alexandrovich’s writing questions nature, her wool creations showcase her natural medium.

“Felt can be soft, it can be strong, it’s very tactile and it’s got all these qualities that are different. I mean, willow baskets are hard. That’s it,” she explains, holding up a basket creation in progress.

“It doesn’t have a softness to it. Whereas with felt I find you can get a way bigger variation on what you’re doing.”

The exhibition shows that variation, from round pot-like vessels immaculately detailed with tiny tradebeads, to tall cylindrical shapes perched on curved sheep bones and strikingly detailed figures.

“They’re quite a bit more solemn than I thought,” she says of the three Danish-inspired figure pieces in the show.

“It’s something to do with the old spirits, that I don’t think the Earth is really happy with us right now and it’s kind of growing out of that somehow. Trying to get this across that we need to be careful and we need to watch what we’re doing.”

One of the figures, titled Tree Man, brilliantly illustrates Alexandrovich’s intricacy with wool. The textured material is crafted into bumps to note the curvature of the face, while a cascade of green leaves trickles down the back of the form.

Beyond the versatility of the medium, Alexandrovich says she connects with the physicality and accessibility of felting.

Taking the wool straight off her own sheep and llamas, Alexandrovich layers it in all directions, repeatedly treating it with soap, water and agitation. Using a washboard she pushes the tiny fibre barbs together to develop her material.

“It’s hand work, right, so in a sense it’s active. You’re pushing and pulling and I like the feel of it. I like the fact that I can just go harvest it myself, I don’t have to ship it south to be dealt with and then ship it back.”

Alexandrovich says it wasn’t until the end of her creation process that she discovered the tall vessels. Now she feels she only scratched the surface on what can be done with the medium.

“There’s another whole run of stuff that I learned off of this that will be coming out at some point…when I find the time,” she says with a laugh.

Explorations in Felt, Words and Wool is on display until June 22 at the Yukon Arts Centre Community Gallery. Alexandrovich also displays her felt creations, basketry and beadwork at the Fireweed Market each Thursday in Whitehorse.

PHOTO: RICK MASSIE [email protected]