Peter Krsko is a Wisconsin-based artist whose environmental public sculptures have appeared around the state the Midwest in places such as the Wormfarm Institute’s Art/Farm DTour, Chicago parks, Eaux Claires music festival, and more. Based in southeastern Wisconsin, known as the Driftless region of the state due to the hilly countryside unflattened by prehistoric glaciers, his work has developed out of a passion for science, as a trained biophysicist, and a drive to educate. Happy to share this interview with him here! More at the links below.
Can you tell me a little bit about you?
Two years ago, I moved to Driftless Area, because I was invited to participate in Art/Farm DTour produced by the Wormfarm Institute. Originally from Slovakia, I find Driftless Area very similar to the place where I grew up. First, I moved to the US in 1998 to study physics and never returned back to Europe. And the journey took me through NY, NJ, DMV, WI, TX…
I am trained biophysicist with a strong focus on microscopy and materials science. I apply physics to study biological systems. And during my studies I took a very expensive piece of equipment (electron microscope) apart and hacked it into a machine used for not observing tiny invisible things but for making little things. After getting PhD, I was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, and I studied bacterial communities living in our mouth with a microscope that is not used to look at tiny things but to touch them and feel how hard or soft they are (as if you had nano fingers).
During this journey I learned that there are many parallels between biological systems and human society. They are governed by the same rules and laws. And art has been the most effective way to communicate that.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
As far as I can remember, I was fortunate to live in creative communities. I come from the family of woodworkers. My grandfathers had a strong respect for the woods and nature and they seeded that love into me. When I was 18, I made a drastic move from rural Slovakia to New York metropolitan area and my tinkering and observing living beings in their own ecosystems slowly grew into hacking public spaces, immersing into graffiti community and using microscopy for exploring the worlds on our finger tips. Being surrounded by artists and creative people always encouraged me to be an artist and to share my knowledge after I completed my scientific training.
What do you like most about working where you do?
Good people, beautiful landscape, generous nature, no fences, easiness to breathe, quietness…
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
I hope to encourage my audience to develop stronger bond with nature, realize we are not separate from it. We have to question everything. My goal is to trick people into learning through play. Being ignorant about the real world is dangerous and makes us vulnerable to being exploited and controlled.
The murals are always community projects, during which we all learn something new about nature. For example, one of the murals depicts migratory animals to symbolize the fact that all living life is in constant motion on global scale. And that’s how we approached the sensitive issue of human migration without creating any unnecessary political arguments.
The wooden sculptures and their placement are meant to celebrate the life of fauna, to have a close look at the mechanisms how energy flows through them or to emphasize the necessity of parasitism, symbiosis or even apoptosis in nature.
Working outside of the academia and being independent of any institutions makes my communication more effective and creative.
What is your process like?
Research is very important in my work. I spend a lot of time outside, on my knees, literally using microscopes exploring the woods very slowly and thoroughly. And whatever I learn, I feel strong need to share it with others, especially with the young people who are not as fortunate as I have been in having access to the advanced instruments and mentors. Therefore, most of my projects are in some aspect interactive and participatory.
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
Tessellations, how everything is tiled together without any emptiness. From microscopic scale to global systems. There are no gaps, no vacuums. Everything is connected to everything. And this is true in our society. Every actions has huge implications and consequences in our interconnected world.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do for art?
Once I slept in an open area, being very sick, not able to move. A dust devil appeared out of nowhere and traveled through the landscape super fast towards me. It was scary. The second it traveled through me, I felt 100% ok.
Most of my work is site-specific, so working when it is 110 degrees or zero degrees, in snow, storms or mud does not appear to be so strange to me anymore.
And once I fell into large river somewhere in Southeast Asia. It was at night. Got lost and walked for miles through places I couldn’t see anything. I totally messed up and cut up my bare feet and had to suffer through a long installation process for the next week, because I was embarrassed to tell anyone about it.
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
No, but I love gardening and making maple syrup. I also spend a lot of time fixing my old vehicles. I am fortunate to live life and have no well-defined boundary between a job and a leisure time. My goal is to live as humble, connected and with as little impact as possible.
Is there any piece of advice you would offer to others?
Dedicate yourself. Do not seek comfort. The path to enlightenment travels through painful deserts.
What does it mean to you to have a “community?”
It is very important to me. It has many facets: Like having a very good dinner and fire every night to being super secure. Being a part of a community is much more effective than buying any insurance in the world. The community has been replaced with a network, which is false and dangerous.
What is your studio like?
It is an old barn. It was built in 1916. However, I usually work outside, therefore being portable is important to me. Many of my installations are created outside of my studio.
How significant has attending art school been on your practice?
I’ve never got the chance to go to an art school.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
Not being able to plan is a double-edge sword. It makes my life flexible and exciting, but at the same time it can cause insecurity and anxiety.
How would you define “success” in art?
A strong bond with one’s audience. Blurry line between the viewer and the artwork. Art should be accessible and perhaps it should require the audience in order to be complete.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far, related to your work?
Being a resident artist at Eaux Claires Festival was an amazing experience, but the most exciting has been a multidisciplinary artist residency at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Also, sharing a studio with Dan Steinhilber in DC changed my practice as an artist.
What are you working on right now?
Currently, I am studying the natural tessellations that I mentioned earlier. I’ve got an opportunity to share it with everyone in early Spring in Madison. The exhibit opens on February 16, 2019 in Olbrich Botanical Gardens.
Another exciting project is a compilation of all the lesson plans that I have been developing in the last years. They are technical lesson plans for the students of all ages. Through fun creative art projects they will learn advanced concepts from wide spectrum of physical sciences.
Find more at peterkrsko.com and on Instagram @krskocreatives!