River Ian Kerstetter, is a queer, indigenous print and fibers artist who just graduated with their MFA from Columbia College’s Book + Paper program. Their understanding of the terms object, item and material go as follows:
- Object: A tired artworld ‘thing’; a readymade because the idea of making objects is out
- Item: No strong feelings for the word; more of a normal understanding
- Material: A strong connection to the word. Printing causes the questions: What am I using? What is the history of this? What type of material and why?
Growing up in a semi-rural area of New Mexico, River saw artistic creation through familial ties. Their grandmother was a potter, and their mother a painter. River went to New Mexico University and studied in the art + ecology program, an interdisciplinary program that that allows students to develop conceptual art practices with an emphasis on land and literacy construction. Within this program, River did not focus in a specific practice, but instead flowed through multiple media, and near the end of their studies, found themself focusing on printmaking. River was drawn to letterpress printing, a technology that is descended from the printing press (invented in the Western world by Johannes Gutenberg), and the process is most often texted based. The letter press allowed River to work with both of their interests: text and printmaking.
Alter/native Headlines installation
After entering graduate school, River began to work with fabrics. It was here that they started to make soft sculptures. Through working with fabric, River began to explore the nature of the medium. Fabric began to embody their queer identity. Fabric, in its own right, is a queer material: it is moveable and suggests transformation just from its very nature. This use of fabric as a queer material can be seen in River’s soft sculpture of Boy Scout Pocket Knife. Long associated with straight masculinity, the Boy Scouts have encouraged young boys to live within the constraints of a hetero/cis view of the world. In using fabric and making a tool and symbol of the Boy Scouts into something soft and malleable, River has queered the tool, pointing to a reconstructed narrative of gender and childhood.
From working with soft sculptures, River began to work with quilting. Quilting, for River, began with a question: Who am I borrowing this from? River has indigenous roots; their family comes from the Oneida Nation, which originates in upstate New York and was displaced to Wisconsin in the 1830s. While quilting may have a specific cultural origin, which varies from culture to culture, it has also moved across cultural and geographic borders to become a global craft. Quilts are a way of displaying stories, such as Harriet Powers’s quilts of biblical stories, of showing the talent of the person making the quilt, or a communal process of creation. Through quilting, River began to explore their native and queer identity. Typically, they would encounter a barrier between race and queerness. In their practice, River wanted to bridge that gap. By combining quilting and printmaking, they began to create a dialog between race and queerness. In their piece “From Earth”, the title of the piece is printed on a quilt over and over again, suggesting queer and indigenous peoples’ shared diversity and origins on planet Earth. This speaks to how queer and indigenous peoples are from the same planet and using the quilt speaks to a universality found in existing as a marginalized body.
Blanket for Home
Thinking of fabric as a queer item, quilting as a means of connecting identities, and the power of text, River’s practice has caused me to take a step back and think of the potency of materials and objects. River combines text with fabric, weaving together a story with the actual words they are printing to the use of a specific fabric and the history that surrounds that. Object / item / material / me is about focusing on the objects that constitute meaning for someone; about exploring how artists discuss identities through the things they use in their practice. River’s practice makes me take a step back and to think about all of the materials that are used: how each has a history on its own and how together they speak of a new history.
Boy Scout Pocket Knife
Next up // August 1st: Artist Spotlight - Jenn Sova