Artist Janet Orselli showcases found art

Published 1:36 pm Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Janet Orselli in the studio she and her found object art took up residence in just a month ago at the Mill Spring Agricultural Center. (photo by Samantha Hurst)

Studio open house Thursday, June 9
Janet Orselli started out, as she said many artists do, painting, yet she consistently felt a yearning for something more textural.
Along the way to discovering a medium that set her creativity afire, she’d begun to collect random tattered objects at flea markets and garage sales.
“There’s an immediate association we have with things,” Orselli said. “I really like playing off those set associations and transforming them into something surprising; something people don’t expect.”
She said she began to piece together different found objects, working early on with suitcases and the idea of traveling from this world to another – from life to death. Then she picked up old metal roller skates with wheels mired by rust to which she affixed items such as turtle shells, bones and shoe forms.
“It’s really about a desire to create an experience with the viewer,” she said. “I wanted to create a dialogue about how we see the world.”
Our view of the world, Orselli said, causes people to cast many things aside once they no longer see a use for them. Orselli said it’s unfortunate how easily people dismiss items once their materials are faded or edges are frayed.
“We have such set ideas of what a crutch is, what a chair is used for,” Orselli said.
Creating art from these items allows her to challenge those set ideals, for example, by placing a shovelhead at the end of a crutch, by filling a chair seat with a dried hornet’s nest or by giving a turtle’s shell wheels.
“I see [my art] as a statement about how we find a way to work with what is given to us, even though it might be difficult,” she said. “It’s talking a lot about what we value… how we decide what is valuable. I’m afraid we don’t value things that are old; don’t see the care and attention that was put into making these things.”
Orselli, who worked in psychology for 15 years before embracing art and returning to Clemson to obtain a MFA, said in using the frayed objects she’s seeking to start a conversation about how people treat each other as well – how easily people can be cast aside.
She said in her work as a psychologist she saw many people treated in that way. Getting to know them, and eventually even creating art with them through art therapy sessions, enhanced her view of a person’s worth.
In an effort to prevent her imagery from becoming overly melancholy, she often mixes in quirky objects to arouse a smile. A portion of a fishing pole, for example, is used in one piece as the handle of a miniature wheelchair.
Orselli’s Heartsoles collection plays with the contrast between worn materials and a romanticized image. Orselli strips the soles, gritty and weathered, out of old shoes, pairing them with rich crimson fabrics to create hearts.
There’s a connection, she said, between the shoe soles and a person’s soul, so typically worn itself in one way or another. She finds it to be healing to realize, she said, that just like those shoe soles a person’s soul is still of value even when it’s been trudged through the mud or is old and weary.
When Orselli is feeling ambitious she takes her art a step further, bringing in a performance aspect – showing the pieces in motion.
Her last performance art piece involved men donning tails and top hats pushing rickety baby carriages down West Main Street in Spartanburg, S.C., from the gallery district toward the Spartanburg museum.
“By intent, I was saying, ‘this is art. This is valuable,’” Orselli said.
Orselli was the featured artist of a large-scale installation at the Gibbes Museum in Charleston back in 2005. She’s also been the focus of two shows at OK Harris in New York.
Her next show will be held in September at USC Upstate. Orselli plans to lead an installation and performance art course at Converse College next spring.
Orselli’s art will be available for viewing during an open house Thursday, June 9 from 6 – 8 p.m. in her studio at the Mill Spring Agricultural Center. To learn more about her work, visit

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