Common Threads, An Eco-Art Book by Sharon Kallis

Sharon Kallis Common Threads

I recently received a copy of Sharon Kallis’ Common Threads (New Society Publishers*), a new book on creating community-based eco art installations. Focusing on empowering readers to rethink landscape art and its purpose, this book is a study in how we have traditionally used park land and green spaces, and provides suggestion for new ways to think about  ‘greening’ the landscape.

Sharon Kallis Mothers Dresses
Sharon Kallis’ Mothers Dresses. Final Resting Place of Kells, Kilkenny Ireland. Magnolia left skeletons, organza. Image from Sharon Kallis’ website.

Common Threads uses Kallis’ projects as an eco-artist as a starting point. It details her collaborative projects with urban residents throughout city parks, many of them here in Vancouver. In these eco-works, Kallis reuses what we traditionally consider waste – hair clippings, animal fur, organic debris, and fallen waste.

One of my favourite parts of the book is how she details her work with invasive species such as yellow iris or blackberries, which are typically ripped from the landscape, which she has braided together into artwork which will eventually break down, turning into mulch for other plants.

Sharon Kallis Ivy Boat
Sharon Kallis Ivy Boat

Full of interviews with artists, landscape designers, basket bombers, urban flax growers, graveyard celebrations, and community activists – there is a lot of inspiration here. Detailing how one might build their team with eco-interventionists of researchers, artists, connectors , and municipal champions, Common Threads also contains a whole section that outlines the basic techniques a burgeoning eco-warrior might need, such as simple weaving and braiding. And, there are also health cautions for working with poisonous plants, and suggestions for dealing different types of weeds. It is smartly put together.

While most of the book is in black and white, I’m glad that the publisher did include one section of coloured photographs of the works, as these are the images that truly do the artwork justice. If I could make one criticism, it would be that I wish that the entire book could have been printed in colour because the projects are truly beautiful and the book is photo-heavy.

Sharon Kallis, with community. Ephemeral Mosaic.
Ephemeral Mosaic. Made of salvaged flowers post day of the dead festival made by community members (year unknown)

Common Threads is a good primer to eco-art and the inherently political nature of making art with the land with our current environment. With an eye to impermanence in art as a way to dissolve barriers among people and make a statement, Kallis asks in her introduction, “How do we produce, consume and relate to the things we use in our daily lives? How can we be enriched both personally and as a community when we shift our thinking to allow the time for, once again, making for ourselves?

This book provides many compelling reasons as to why we should make collaborative art in an era of excess. I’d highly recommend curling up with it on your next quiet Saturday afternoon.

*Full disclosure: Sharon’s publicist sent this book to me free of charge but I was not paid for this review. 

2 Comments

  1. Sharon Kallis November 18, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    Thanks for a wonderful and thoughtful review Leanne! I know what you mean about the images and colour options- it was a tough one… it would be great to have full colour print but the environmental footprint of the book needed to hold to the principles the book promotes- the e-book is full colour- so that was our compromise! I look forward to someday having our paths cross in person. with best regards, Sharon

    1. Leanne - Site Author November 18, 2014 at 9:32 pm

      Hi Sharon,
      Thanks for dropping me a line. It is a wonderful book.

      I fully understand the limitations with printing due to sustainability – and I thought that might be the case (I spent a lot of time on eco-audits in the years I was employed as a print designer). Glad to hear that the e-book is in full colour for those who find that important. I do hope that we get to meet some time.