The Things We Make: Julie Kesti

I wanted to hear about the things you make– what drives you to paint, write books, and make dances in the first place; what you discovered through the process of bringing your thing to life.  I’m interested in the personal stuff that probably won’t make it into your grant proposal.  Maybe it’s in this personal stuff that creative magic really resides.  I couldn’t think of a better way to start this series out than with this writing by Julie Kesti, a Minnesotan artist and bodyworker currently living in China.  Here, she so eloquently shares her experience of using her art as a way to process through the loss of a family member.  

I made a series of drawings in somewhat of a collaboration with my sweet nephew, Matthew.  I say “somewhat” because I made these in the three years following his death, at nine years old.

The loss of Matthew is impossible to bear, but somehow I must bear it, his parents must bear it, his little brother must bear it.  My entire family and everyone who knew him must.  I think I made these drawings in part, if not completely, as a way to spend some more time with Matthew.  He was always writing stories, making lists, and drawing maps of his world as he saw it at the time.  For example, after having an “accident” at kindergarten, he made several drawings of a building in which there was nearly one bathroom for every person who might enter it, so that it wouldn’t happen to someone else.

In a similar attempt to diminish or blunt my pain, I took several of his notebooks to Kinko’s and made oversized and regular sized copies of his drawings and notes.  I brought them home, and looked at them for awhile.

It was not an easy process to begin.  Though it was a chance to spend time with him, there was no way to spend this time without also delving into the immense feelings of loss.  The first major progress I made on these drawings was during a two-day retreat I took in a domed dwelling at Clare’s Well.  I took breaks to eat lunch or supper with the nuns, marvelling at the singular and solitary lives they live.  Then I’d walk back across a path muddied early spring to my dome where the drawings and scraps of Matthew’s creations spread across the floor.

Over the next three years I worked on these images on and off.  I found rhythms with the different types of drawings at different times.  One is a really large piece, made up of a recreation of one of his maps that I blew up with a projector and redrew.  Around the edges is Matthew’s handwritten list of hundreds of Box Car Children titles.  I don’t know what possessed him to list out all these titles, and I don’t know exactly what his map signifies, but I did my best to bring to each drawing the zeal and joy and love he brought to me.

Other drawings are smaller collages of his works, and some are simply enlargements of individual drawings he made, to which I added my own color and interpretation.

December of 2011 marked three years since Matthew’s departure.  He now has a new baby brother.  All is not rosy and easy in terms of this loss, I don’t think it ever will be, and I won’t imply that sort of ending here.  But in December I’d finally assembled all the drawings into a show at Chakra Khan in Minneapolis.  It was amazing, heartbreaking, and frightening to see all the images on the walls.  I wanted to be sure his mom, dad, and brothers saw the show–yet I also had no idea how it might affect them.  I attempted to capture his spirit in these works, but at the same time I also was taking apart what he made, re-creating it, and so making something that is not him, not his original.  That still makes me sad.  It makes me sad but I also know it is what we will spend the rest of our lives doing, attempting to bring him along with us.

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