The Art of Not Knowing: Battle Lake Artist Creates Exhibits Inspired by Ambiguity

Kristi Kuder sits in her studio, surrounded by her works. (Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus)

Kuder, whose preferred medium is fiber, has been drawn to creation from a young age. Although she didn’t always know she would be an artist, her mother taught her to knit from a young age. For this reason, fiber and fabric are linked to many of her personal and happy memories. This “personal” aspect is an important part of his method of creation.

“(The fiber) is so tied to the house and to humans,” Kuder said. “We are swaddled in fabric after we are born. We are swaddled in fabric when we die. We wear clothes every day. The fabric is next to our body. So it communicates things in such a personal way.”

This personal aspect inspires every step of Kuder’s creative process. In a way, this is his vocation.

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After studying teaching and graphic design at Moorhead College, she worked for many years as a graphic designer. While she still worked with fibers in her spare time – knitting, papermaking, and macrame – she mainly used these skills to create gifts or spruce up her home.

However, in 2007 something changed. Kuder was about to work on an art quilt one day and had all the materials laid out in front of her, from fabric to paint. She was listening to the radio when a news bulletin on a massacre was broadcast, mentioning the deaths of about 30 people.

“As this news came, it affected me,” Kuder said. “I found out that I was working differently. I was tearing the fabric as I heard this horrible news come in. I was spreading paint on the gauze and doing everything differently than before.”

After her play was finished, it was unlike anything she had done before. She could see his thoughts, memories and feelings there; it is more attached to it than to anything else before.

That’s when she knew concept art was what she needed to do. From prints of natural plants to organic images bleached blue by the sun and wire mesh forming complex, translucent shapes, his concepts began to take shape.

“I needed to have something to say and to say it through my art, more than just creating it for people or homes,” Kuder said. “It’s precious of course, but the idea of ​​creating what you feel has become my mission.”

Kuder dyed this fabric blue using the cyanotype method, where the color was created with chemicals sensitive to light and sunlight.  (Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus)

Kuder dyed this fabric blue using the cyanotype method, where the color was created with chemicals sensitive to light and sunlight. (Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus)

From there, his art changed. She started to wonder what she wanted to say and share with the world. This process took her a while, but she finally realized how fascinated she had always been with ambiguity.

“What you don’t know is so much more fascinating,” Kuder said. “When you don’t know something your mind expands and you think of all the possibilities of what something could be.”

One example she gave is that when you receive a surprise package, you have no idea what’s inside. You start to fantasize about what it could be, walking through all types of creative avenues.

Kuder also finds ambiguity in all of nature. With snow, you can’t always see the horizon line. When does a fallen leaf turn to earth? She began to wonder about this unknown space between two frozen concepts.

When she creates imprints of nature, this ambiguity – frozen in time and space – takes shape. Plants produce different colors at different times of the year. Water too. If one year is drought and the next is not, that same plant will look different at those times. With these impressions, Kuder creates something concrete out of something difficult to conceptualize.

“It’s that transition where one thing can be two different things,” she said. “As humans, (ambiguity is) something that we have to deal with and are uncomfortable with. We want to get out our phone and find the answer and move on. It’s necessary. to find a place where you can agree not to know. “

Kuder examines the stacks of fibers she's worked on, from printing to dyeing.  (Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus)

Kuder examines the stacks of fibers she’s worked on, from printing to dyeing. (Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus)

With the pervasive COVID-19 pandemic, almost everyone faces ambiguity every day. Kuder certainly has been for years.

Some time ago her son was diagnosed with schizophrenia. As a result, this person that she and her husband raised and watched grow up developed into someone a little different. It was difficult for Kuder to conceptualize. Her son was there in front of her. He hadn’t gone anywhere. Yet mentally he was different.

Then she learned of the ambiguous loss. When a loved one goes missing, they are in mourning but have no answers. When someone has dementia, their loved ones mourn them despite their physical presence.

When someone is dealing with ambiguous loss, something grieving may be physically present but cognitively absent – or physically absent but cognitively present. Just learning this phrase helped Kuder conceptualize his feelings. Like any other ambiguity, it has also inspired his art.

A piece she created, made of stainless steel wire mesh, shows a form that is structurally solid but appears to be crumbling, almost translucent. He seems to be both present and gone. Another piece, created with cyanotype – a chemical that changes color when exposed to sunlight – shows a flowing human form on a transparent piece of fabric. The shape is visible but soft. Again it is present but seems to be fading.

Kuder shows one of his pieces in cyanotype, which features the shape of a human body.  (Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus)

Kuder shows one of his pieces in cyanotype, which features the shape of a human body. (Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus)

Kuder shares her art with others in galleries, and these experiences leave a lasting impression on her. A woman once approached her and told her that she herself was facing some type of ambiguous loss.

When Kuder asked her if she wanted to share her story, the woman said she felt it herself; she suffered from dementia. While she was physically present herself, she could feel cognitively fading away.

This conversation is significant for Kuder to this day. In fact, connections like this are another of the many personal inspirations for his art.

“Art allows us to be human and to relate to each other,” Kuder said. “This connection was very special to me. It keeps me doing what I do.”

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