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Nemeth Art Center opens with Kate Casanova’s poetic sculptures

Minneapolis-based artist Kate Casanova prepares “crystal-like grow chambers” for her exhibit at the Nemeth Art Center. White oyster mushrooms will sprout from colorful thrift store clothing. (Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)1 / 2
Casanova’s “Mushroom Series” originally used chairs from different periods of time.2 / 2

The Nemeth Art Center celebrates its 39th season this summer.

The grand gallery opens with artwork by Kate Casanova and Cameron Gainer.

Originally from International Falls, Casanova is an interdisciplinary artist who has exhibited nationally and internationally.

She received a master’s of fine arts from the University of Minnesota in 2013 and a bachelor’s from the Minneapolis College of Art & Design in 2008.

Her "Mushroom Series" pairs artifacts of human culture with living organisms.

Previously, she reupholstered a series of antique chairs, filling them with mushroom spores and transforming the stylish objects into habitats for beautiful living things.

For the Nemeth exhibit, she purchased 100 pounds of thrift store clothing.  Three sets of sweaters are stuffed with straw inoculated with mushroom spores and pasteurized so no other bacteria may grow.

Three chambers house the fungi-infused clothing. Casanova welded steel armatures into geometric shapes and covered them with vinyl to protect the mushroom-laden landscapes. Humidifiers keep the fungi moist.

Over the course of the 10-week exhibit, Pleurotus ostreatus – the white oyster mushroom – will sprout, release spores, then decay.

The oyster mushroom is a popular, edible species. Its name is derived from the white, shell-like appearance of its fruiting body, not from the taste.

"The mushrooms will come up in two or three ‘flashes,’ usually a week or two apart, assuming everything goes according to plan," Casanova said.

The fungi require 95 percent humidity and air flow, she explained.

She chose the white oyster mushroom because it’s found in Minnesota, it’s easy to grow and it’s white coloring contrasts nicely with the fabric sculpture.

The exhibit’s color scheme of dark, royal colors was "a fairly intuitive choice," Casanova said.

"There was a desire to make this show feel fun, to embrace whimsy," she said.

Her most recent exhibit, "Aftereffects," was on view at Kolman and Pryor. It was much more serious and formal, she said.

Bundles of multicolored clothes stretch across floor, snake-like, and dappled with TVs.

"The form itself is kind of arbitrary. It’s an attempt to create a singular form out of individual forms," she said.

Each fabric cluster is filled with packing peanuts, so it’s lightweight and moveable. A repetitive loop of film plays on the TVs.

"With the clothing and found digital images, I’m thinking about the never-ending stream of physical and digital material," explained Casanova. "I wanted them to still retain moments that came from clothing and the human body, but wanted them to have their own biomorphic forms."

A 12-foot video projection will also play on the wall.

A "rock" constructed with melted foam, yarn, purple polyfill and fabric over a chicken-wire armature forms "a material bridge," Casanova said.

The purple fuzz "looks like a troll doll head, which I think is fun," she mused.

"My hope is everything is abstract enough that it can’t be attributed to one thing, yet it’s familiar, too."

Casanova said she enjoys creating sculptures, collages and videos that challenge conventional dualisms, such as human versus nature.

"I love the way humans see themselves in everything," she said, noting, for instance, audiences tend to see a human face or form in abstract art.

"I’m so interested in the relationship of humans and non-humans we call nature, but isn’t really separate from us."

Casanova said she hopes to create moments that reveal, confront and revel in our shared experience of a more-than-human world.

"Moments can be beautiful or grotesque at the same time. What we consider grotesque is a cultural construct," she said.

Casanova’s exhibition is on display at the Nemeth through Saturday, July 16.

An opening reception for will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, June 25.

Nemeth Art Center exhibitions are free to the public. The gallery is open Thursday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The art center is located at 301 Court Ave. in the old courthouse. For more information, visit

Editor’s Note: The Park Rapids Enterprise will feature Cameron Gainer’s work, which is also on display at the Nemeth, in an upcoming issue.