Whitehorse mixed-media artist Lyn Fabio is showing her wares at the Haines Sheldon Museum this month and next. Her unique collection features pieces made of hog gut, and other natural material. It’s the first time she’s displayed a collection in Alaska.
When Fabio first saw parkas made of seal and walrus intestines in 1989 at the state museum in Juneau, she had a strong gut reaction.
“And I just had this incredible visceral response to the light coming through the gut,” she says. “And I think the material just speaks for itself. It’s just sort of a magical material to me.”
Back then, at that show in Juneau, she ogled the seal and walrus gut coats and knew she wanted to do something similar. But seals and walruses are not exactly an accessible commodity in the land-locked Yukon. So, about 12 years after she saw her first seal-gut parka, she found the next best thing.
“I found a course being offered in Washington State using pig intestine. And I thought ‘Well, that seems kind of similar.’ So I went and took the course and started playing with the pig gut. It’s very similar, except that it’s much thinner, so I can’t make functional clothing the way the seal and walrus gut was used, so I make art.”
Friday afternoon at the museum, Fabio is busy putting the final touches on her show Terra/Mare. It means earth and sea, and she says wandering through the boreal forests of the North, foraging for berries and mushrooms, has been a source of inspiration for her works. Her creative influence for the ocean-themed works came from right here in Haines. She says been coming here for more than three decades.
“Haines was my first experience of the ocean as an adult,” she recounts. “Over the years, I’ve just come to really love Haines. I come at least three times in the summer, and walk on the beaches and in the forests. So, there are a number of pieces here which are inspired by the sea, not necessarily direct representations of the sea, but inspired by sea forms.”
Fabio’s version of jellyfish and kelp, all made out of pig gut, catch the late-morning light in the window.
“This piece I call bull kelp ballet because to me, it’s the flow and the dance of the kelp when you see it on the beach. … It was just combining the two places that I love and putting them together in this medium.”
She gets the intestine from a processor in Vancouver, it comes packed in salt. Basically, she says, it’s sausage casing. Fabio rinses it off – it’s already been cleaned carefully before she gets it – and then cuts it up and starts creating. Sometimes the sections are more than 60 feet long, she says.
“And then store it in water and use it up as quickly as possible. It’s sort of like tofu, you’ve got to change the water regularly. It’s a protein.”
Her designs, which include the use of various fibers and techniques, have taken her around the world, including Canada’s Far North, Siberia and Korea. This is her first time showcasing her artwork in Alaska, or the U.S. for that matter. And this trip has been months in the making because of border restrictions when it comes to organic material.
“Coming into the States, there were a lot of things I couldn’t bring across, like more plant material,” she says. “I like to use a lot of seed pods, and grasses and real moss and I couldn’t bring those across.”
After months of finagling and paperwork, she was able to bring her hog-gut creations over the border
She says working with hog gut still intrigues her after all these years.
“And I’m still learning after 16 years, still learning about the qualities of the material and how to play with it. I liken it to a cross between silk and tissue paper. So, it has that crunchiness, but sometimes it has a silkiness if you get a single layer.”
She explains that solid forms in the show are made of 10 or more layers of gut. She dyes it and molds it into a wide array of shapes and likenesses. In one piece on display in Haines called Field of Dreams, Fabio used a technique called photo emulsion transferring .
“So, Polaroid images,” she explains. “You soak the Polaroid photo in a very specific warm-temperature water and eventually the emulsion slides off. The emulsion is very much like the gut, like a skin, and it bonded beautifully. So, I took images of leaves and grasses, and did Polaroid pictures and transferred it onto the gut and made those pouches.”
Museum Director Helen Alten says she hopes that Fabio’s exhibit will inspire artists in the region.
“We have so many artists that work with wonderful materials, but they may never have considered this as a material to work with,” Alten says. “It’s an incredible interesting material.”
The show starts Aug. 5 at 5 p.m. and runs until Oct. 1.