Out of obscurity

Saranac Lake artist uses found materials to create assemblages

Assemblage artist Anastasia Osolin poses in her home in Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

SARANAC LAKE — Anastasia Osolin has dozens of little plastic drawers in her workshop. They’re labeled with tags like “piano parts,” “gears” and “animal bones.”

Next to the drawers is a box of what some would consider junk that she hasn’t sorted through yet. A toy Navy airplane on top stood out — it was the only thing that didn’t appear rusty.

Osolin creates found-object “assemblage” art.

“That entails taking just a lot of literally found objects and miscellaneous bits of old stuff and making constructions out of them,” she said. “Most of them are in boxes but not all of them. I use a lot of old wooden boxes and rusty metal.”

The “old stuff” Osolin mentioned is a variety of objects: clocks, porcelain baby doll heads, cookie cutters, sea shells, chess boards, door knobs — the list is extensive. She brings them all together into pieces that almost look like scenes from avant-garde silent films from the turn of last century. Imagine a screenshot from “Metropolis” or a George Melies movie.

Anastasia Osolin’s “Dr. Batty’s For Your Health” is an assemblage piece made of bed springs and medical images. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

Osolin, originally from Washington D.C., has created art for nearly 25 years. She studied in Manhattan at the School of Visual Arts, moved to Postdam in 2001 and has lived in the Adirondacks since 2009.

Though assemblage is her main form of artistic expression now, Osolin initially studied a more traditional medium.

“I actually originally went to art school to study painting,” she said, “but I’ve always just had a real love and fascination of old stuff.”

She developed an appreciation for Joseph Cornell, a pioneer in assemblage art.

“Eventually, I started to feel like I needed to do something,” Osolin said, “or else I can’t really justify having so much miscellaneous junk lying around my house.”

“One World (International)” by Anastasia Osolin features a globe the observer can spin. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

It’s not hard for Osolin to find the materials that make her pieces. Antique stores, yard sales, thrift shops and even just the ground are prime locations of where she collects her materials. One time she found a mattress in the woods and scavenged its rusty bed springs.

The springs went toward a piece called “Dr. Batty’s For Your Health,” a three-cabinet box with diagrams of the human brain, muscular and nervous systems as if it were a display used by a fast-talking snake oil salesperson.

When she begins a piece, Osolin said she often doesn’t have an idea of what the finished product will look like. She scatters an assortment of materials on the floor and just takes it from there.

“It’s a lot of trial and error and experimentation,” she said. “You know, sometimes I’ll put things together and then I’ll decide I don’t like it and take it apart. I’ve taken apart finished pieces to reuse the parts for other projects.”

The time she spends on a piece can vary drastically.

A toy Navy plane sits on top of a pile of milk crate and rusty metal frames. They will soon go toward Anastasia Osolin’s assemblage art. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

“I might complete one in a few days while another takes years,” she said.

When she’s not making assemblage pieces, Osolin works in book restoration, which pairs nicely with her attitude toward recycling and preserving.

“Sometimes it’s as simple and quick as cleaning up the leather,” she said, “and other times I’ll have to sew an entirely new binding.”

Currently, Osolin is repairing volumes of the American Art Review.

Along with the “Dr. Batty,” Osolin’s living room is decked out with other assemblages. One is called “For the Quick Relief of Sleep Disorders & Nightmares.” It looks like a squid mixed with a sleep apnea machine.

Though she mainly creates assemblage art these days, Osolin originally went to school to be a painter. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

“Sometimes the pieces tell stories,” Osolin said. “Other times it’s just serendipity and where the materials fall. I don’t really like to have a specific meaning behind everything. You know, that’s up to the observer to decide.”

A particular piece, “One World (International),” stands out because it calls for the observer to touch the art. A wooden clock houses a small globe, which you can spin.

“I really want to make an entire collection with movable parts,” she said. “In a lot of museums and galleries, touching the art is considered the worst thing in the world, but I think there should be a more engaging way for people to interact with art.”

Sometimes, Osolin doesn’t even need to go out to find her materials. They come to her.

“People give me things a lot, too,” she said. “I’ve gotten to the point where sometimes I’ll come home and just find a rusty bike frame sitting on my back porch or a box of junk in my mailbox. I think a lot of people have these collections of random things that they recognize as interesting but have no real practical value or use. They tend to accumulate in drawers, or barns or boxes. People will come to me and say, ‘Hey, I cleaned out my barn this weekend, and I’ve got a bunch of junk for you.'”

People tend to try to preserve things like books, photos, comics and movies, but everyday items are often thrown out as soon as the latest version hits stores. Osolin thinks people’s relationship to material items has changed.

“I love old things so much,” she said. “Most of the materials I use have lost their main function, so I think, in a way, when I turn the old stuff into art, I help save them from obscurity.”

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