Kendra McKlosky

Kendra McKlosky

By: Kali Gillette

“Superfund” and “Art” generally don’t go hand in hand, but Kendra McKlosky is changing that.

McKlosky’s permanent donation to the Bozeman Sculpture Park is as historically significant as it is beautiful. Her piece, titled “Twice Removed” is aptly named. The library sits on a restored superfund site and the tanks used in the installation were ordered by the EPA to be removed from a site in Laurel, MT. Together it is meant as a tribute to the state’s industrial mining history. The three tanks display paintings of historic buildings; the Seed Bank Building in Bozeman, the Libby asbestos mill and the old grain elevator next to the Bozeman library.

A native of Whitehall, MT, she grew up watching the effects of industrial-scale mining— how vast amounts of land were scarred, but also created beautiful landscapes.

Working on a soil sample crew in the Deer Lodge valley, McKlosky remembers digging pits and testing spoonfuls of copper, cadmium, zinc, arsenic and lead to check the concentration levels. “It struck me that I kept trying to find the right colors to represent what naturally occurs in Superfund sites when actually I could have the real thing.”

McKlosky figured out how to make her own oil paints by harvesting the often toxic minerals, drying them and then mixing with oil. She selectively uses color in her work noting, “All materials have a history. Of all the natural colors in the world, the extractive industries create colors such as copper oxide; teal that almost seem unnatural because we don’t see them very often.”

“Nature does weird things,” she says, “Things that look contaminated not always are. For example, grey is a sneaky color, the sediment is almost always toxic so you really only see it in areas that emulate concrete, whereas the brighter colors aren’t always an indication of toxic materials.”

Why represent Superfund? McKlosky explains, “Sometimes it might appear my work is political, but really it’s about social observations, an acknowledgment of our history. It’s not horrible, but it’s there and we shouldn’t forget it.”

She goes on to say, “It’s not positive or negative— human beings have shaped the earth and in turn it has shaped us, it’s a reciprocating relationship. There’s big industry in cleanup now.”

Her recent work, “Giving Up the Ghost” consists of three installations that evoke the machines and processes of Montana’s industrial landscape and history, the “ghosts” whose presence are found in the structures and altered forms of the contemporary landscape.

“Smelters in Jars” represents 20 historic smelters that no longer exist. The pieces are constructed of stark white paper nestled in a colorful bed of slag—the remaining impurities that come from refining copper, iron oxides, copper carbonate and other materials created in the refinement of heavy metals.

“Phase ONE” is a series of 20 desolate fine line ink drawings of heavy equipment found in the first phase of the superfund cleanup project in the Upper Clark Fork River drainage. Each drawing in the series is reminiscent of the Tonka Toys McKlosky played in the dirt with as a child.

“Altitude Profiles” are long delicate black lines stacked on top of one another until a landscape forms at the base of each piece of crisp white paper. These 20 landscape drawings are direct lines from the skin of the earth traced with a GPS in long arcs across the United States. Each is punctuated by small structures that evoke the industrial landmarks and materials that have left their own marks on the landscape and our lives.

The placement of “Twice Removed” is site specific. “A wild spot,” she describes, “…as wild as it can get in public place.”

The installation coincided with the merging of the Bozeman Sculpture Park and Gallatin Art Crossing, a perfect fit with the landscape.

“Once the piece was installed,” said McKlosky, “I decided it shouldn’t leave.”