Installation Artist Spotlight: Shanell Papp

Shanell Papp is a Saskatchewan-based artist who we're thrilled to have participating in this year's installation programming. Her contribution to City of Craft, LAB #4, is a life-sized skeleton and organs made completely out of knitted yarn. Much of her textile-based work deals with the human body and physical vulnerability. Read on to find out more about her process and her other weird and wild work...not for the squeamish!


LAB is an ongoing body of work that you began in 2005. How has LAB evolved from 2005 to the present?

LAB evolved out of an earlier project, Body, that I did in 2005. I made an exact replica of myself from wood, pantyhose, spandex and plaster. Body was an important work for me (because) I was reconsidering materials and processes in my work. Before this point I was mainly a photographer. Body was my first more textile-based sculpture.

In the summer of 2005, I began making the yarn skeleton LAB, which took three months to complete. I showed the work in a student show and in 2006, I graduated from Univerity of Lethbridge with my BFA. I continued to work on LAB an made the primary organs for the skeleton (heart, brains, liver) and it was accepted into a few shows—a group show at SAAG (Southern Alberta Art Gallery), in Vancouver at Galery Gachette and in Calgary for The New Gallery. It was really overwhelming…I didn’t expect the work to travel that so much.

Every time I show LAB it is displayed differently and the work is still under construction—parts are repaired and other parts are being replaced. I think I may never finish it, which is okay. I like that the work is constantly evolving, changing and growing. I still need to make arteries, veins, muscles, skin, hair, eyes, etc.

In your statement about LAB, you refer to your interest in “the human body and textiles in combination.” How would you define the relationship between textiles and the body?

Textiles and the body share a close relationship with the clothing we wear to protect the body. Textiles are delicate and in constant need of repair and cleaning, and our bodies are in need of constant repair and cleaning, but over time, all our work will only extend the life of a material that will not last forever.

Textiles are essentially big, giant, organized knots, like the human body is a giant knot of cells that are somewhat the same, but different and bound together. And some textiles/fabrics are made from the flesh of animals, which I think is interesting.

What attracts you to slow, tactile methods of making such as knitting?

I do work slowly and with my hands, but this is part of a larger technique. I am interested in making objects out of low, familiar, everyday materials and adjusting them to be unexpected. I like to have a personal relationship with my materials, so this could explain my devotion to making handmade objects, but I think textiles are the best material to elicit an empathetic and familiar response, so I use (them) primarily to as a technique to aid the meaning of the work.

You are currently pursuing an MFA in Studio Art from the University of Saskatchewan, so I’m sure you’ve been spending a lot of time in the studio. What other projects are you working on right now?

Currently I am making several pieces-- (one is) a suit from old printing press mats called Pressure Suit and I think of it as an astronaut or deep sea diving suit that protects the wearer in harsh or unknown environments. I am also working on a series of Blood Pools (working title) that resemble blood pools made from head injuries. I was looking at a lot of crime scene photography and was thinking about how (crime seem photos don’t) seem real, (and) how (the people in the photographs look like) they are sleeping and I wanted to make the blood pools to enhance my disbelief. I also made a life size horse from carefully tailored garbage bags. I am interested in building objects about exploration, vulnerability and the 19th Century.

In the past I have made video, photography and comic book works. I plan to make an autobiographical graphic novel and/or a historical graphic novel about the Arctic…hopefully I will get around to this someday.


For more on Shanell's installation LAB, take a look at her portion of the City of Craft installations page.

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