The entanglements of narrative, nature, and culture compel my work. By placing plant, animal, and fungal bodies (or parts thereof) in relation, my sculptures invite viewers to contemplate the ways in which nature has been culturally conscripted. Not all natural relationships are harmonious and aesthetically pleasing. Some are vexed, parasitic, and abject. And it’s perhaps in the temporary suspension of a morally determined narrative (assigning “good” vs. “bad or “hero” vs. “villain”) that nature-cultures create kinships which can teach us so much about ourselves–and can encourage us to see life outside of polarized opposites. In addition to examining savage symbioses, my work also employs surrealism and magical realism as narrative strategies to entice curiosity.
The surface of each of my sculptures is composed of thousands of tiny knots. Like nature, knots carry their metaphorical baggage with a certain nobility. Knots are sensible; they follow a logic; they grant security and safety if tied well; they repeat to form hypnotic, structured, geometric patterns; they tie together all loose ends; they truly can save us from a very bad day. But I prefer to subvert the seeming safety of knots in order to wrestle with their subtext. Knots are formed by tension: they’re constricted little clusters that are characteristically difficult to undo once fastened; and they are a means of hardening an otherwise soft and pliable fiber. In other words, knots express a relationship that is both felicitous and punitive.
While it’s difficult to pinpoint the moment where any given piece begins, my creative process involves a lot of drafting, eliminating, and experimenting. I draw an image with a sharpie on brown paper and try to render it proportionally to the 3D sculpture it will eventually become. Once I have a sketch in hand, I generally begin to develop designs for each of its botanical and fungal elements: the modular, knotted shapes that will be composed together in the finished creation. From there, I work with my partner (a welder and fabricator) to form a three-dimensional scaffolding for the larger components of my sculptures. This scaffolding is eventually the base around which I knot. This process is meandering and intuitive. Even though I sketch at various stages in each project, I find that where each piece ends up is always a surprise.
My home studio takes up a mezzanine floor that overlooks our living area. This allows me to be simultaneously present to my work and my family, and has made it possible for me to feel less solitary while tying knots. It’s less a room of my own that I’ve needed, and more of a workplace that is rife with quotidian conflict and stirred by the motions of a given day.
The majority of fiber I work with is both repurposed and recycled. I draw the entirety of my collection of fibre from Unfettered Co, the quirky Etsy business that my partner and I began in 2018. I’ve tried to sustain our business by the same system of value that governs my art practice, which has meant offering an expansive colour library of differently-sized recycled cotton string and rope, all of which is made from repurposed pre-consumer textile waste. Every day, I work closely with the same materials that our business markets to fellow creatives. And those materials themselves are most often formulated from what I’ve discovered I’ve needed as a fibre artist.
Janis Ledwell-Hunt is a self-taught Canadian fiber artist whose home and studio are nestled between forest, river, and ocean in the K’omoks Valley of Vancouver Island. Her work and interviews have been featured by online magazines, My Modern Met and Flapper Press. And in 2023, Janis completed her first solo exhibit at the Pacific Northwest Quilt and Fibre Arts Museum.
Guided by a sense of curiosity, Janis has always tackled diverse learning opportunities. In her 13-year career as a treeplanter, she’s planted well over a million trees while scavenging remote Canadian cut blocks for skulls, mushrooms, and various vital decompositions that present themselves in anthropocenic dystopias where natures and cultures of industry fatefully meet. This experience of labouring in an apocalyptic “wilderness” deforested for profit (yet never divested of agency) seeps into the subject matter and tone of Janis’ macrame sculptures.
In 2013, Ledwell-Hunt graduated with a PhD in English from the University of Alberta.
Her academic research examines the relationship between self-starvation, modernist literature, and feminist philosophy. Having studied extensively in the Arts and Humanities, Janis brings expertise in critical theory to bear on her macrame creations. She sometimes finds the practice of sculpting to share an affinity with writing: with drafting, performing close reading, mastering rhetorical devices, and making an argument. It’s not just the discipline of writing or applying critical theory that underscore Ledwell-Hunt’s fibre art. She also finds cause to connect her pursuit of macrame (a typically feminized and dismissed craft or hobby) with a feminist practice of celebrating women’s work.