How to Gain Serious Momentum on Flat Tires

Fischer’s work ranges from installations to statement jewelry and headpieces.

The rubber hit the road when former anthropology professor Dr. Alysia Fischer began experimenting with discarded inner tubes. Veering from academia to the full-time creative life, Fischer started making intricate wall hangings, large installation pieces, and rubber wearables including skirts, headpieces, necklaces, bracelets, belts, gauntlets, earrings, purses, and bespoke costumes. Her work has been exhibited in Ohio (including a show at Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati), Kentucky, Indiana, Virginia, and at Artspace in Raleigh.

The doctor is way in: Academic Alysia Fischer changed location from the classroom to the art studio. Portrait by Rachel Pressley.

You have an extensive academic background, don’t you?

I have an MFA in Studio Art, an MA in Near Eastern Studies, and a PhD in Anthropology with a focus in archeology and cultural anthropology. I only left academia three years ago, at age 45. 

What prompted that change?

I had been teaching at Miami University in Ohio for 15 years and quit to move to Asheville, to be near my family. But that meant I got to focus more on my artwork, and now it’s my full-time pursuit. 

When did you start working with inner tubes?

About 10 years ago. I didn’t want to spend money on art supplies or be locked away in a separate room. I can work with the rubber with it just sitting in my lap, and I wanted a sustainable art practice I could do with my family around. 

Because you had young children at home?

At the time, I had a toddler and a middle schooler. I was also a full-time faculty member, full-time student, and ran for City Council in a competitive race. Then I was on the City Council [in Oxford, Ohio] and the planning commission.

How on earth did you manage all that?

I don’t think I slept a lot. But when I have a lot going on, it helps me focus.

Clockwise from left: Cascade, Cobbled Squares and Blossoming Orbit.

Is there an overlap between your art and your archeology?

I’m interested in waste, because as archeologists we basically look at people’s trash. I was walking past a bike shop and they would discard their inner tubes in the alley, so I started messing around with them. 

Do you ever work with inner tubes from really huge tires?

One piece I made was about four feet by nine feet, and it came from a single inner tube.

What kind of tools do you use?

All different kinds of kitchen and office scissors. My current favorite scissors are Joyce Chen kitchen scissors and a generic pair from Ingles. My other piece of equipment is an industrial sewing machine for the wearables.

You recently incorporated blown glass in some pieces.

I used to be a glassblower, and an assistant to Stephen Rolfe Powell at Centre College in Danvillle KY. He passed away last year, and it brought all of his former assistants back together. I worked at Flame Run Glass studio in Louisville for almost two weeks in January, using glass objects produced by the Flame Run team and marrying them with my rubber techniques.  

What gave you the idea to do that?

I had tried previously to work with glass and rubber, but always felt one or the other had been dominant. I feel I found the right balance this time, and they’re both equal players. So in a sense it’s a return to glass, but bringing along everything I’ve learned in the interim. 

Do you sketch your pieces beforehand? 

I do. But it’s hard to fully understand what a flat sketch will look like in the end, since I’m working with a donut-shaped inner tube. I have to constantly think about that because the sketch is flat but the material is curved.

As you remove rubber to create negative space in a piece, does that generate scraps you use in other wearables or art?

Yep. The process is very economical and sustainable, and I’m diverting rubber from the local landfill. 

Alysia Fischer, Weaverville. To learn more, visit the artist’s website (www.alysiafischer.com) or Instagram page (@alysiafshop), or contact her via e-mail (alysiafshop@gmail.com). Fischer’s sculptural and installation work will be featured in the exhibit Emergence at Momentum Gallery (24 North Lexington Ave., momentumgallery.com) running through Saturday, July 25. Fischer’s apparel is currently available online via her website and at Flame Run Gallery in Louisville, Kentucky (flamerun.com).

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