About two years ago, Twin Cities artist Kendra Nessen came up with an idea for a new endeavor while eating pistachios.
“I’ve always been really obsessed with faces and the universal language of facial expression,” Nessen says. “I was eating pistachios one day, and I thought, ‘This is the perfect little face shape.’”
Using the shell as her canvas, Nessen began creating tiny faces. An avid traveler, she brings her diverse collection, which features an assortment of expressions and identities, on her trips, where she photographs the faces in front of landmarks and beautiful backdrops.
Inspired by geocaching, a movement where people use GPS systems to hide treasures or discovery logs around the world, Nessen decided to create her own tag for her little faces: @pisface.
“They are in 20 countries right now,” she says. That includes places she’s been to as well as countries where she has sent Pisfaces to friends and internet connections to photograph. “It’s kind of a global project,” says Nessen. “It’s like a treasure hunt. I like the concept of people finding it.”
When people discover one of the faces, there’s also information, including the hashtag for them to get more info. One middle school teacher who discovered a Pisface reached out to her to say she thought it was a neat idea and has incorporated it into her curriculum; an artist in Japan has started a slight variation on the project, using both sides of the pistachio.
“It’s definitely bred out of my desire to make art more social and more interactive with the public,” says Nessen. Before the Pisface project, Nessen would sometimes spend 12 hours a day in her basement working on a painting. “I ended up feeling like it’s not reaching anybody,” she says. “Even if a person buys the painting, it’s captive on their walls.”
Pisface, by contrast, is more social, and Nessen loves the way it makes people smile.
“It puts some humor into art, which I think is really important. There is so much heaviness right now,” she says. “It’s nice to know you’ve brought something fun into someone’s life, or surprised them in some way.”
A few times, while hanging out in a spot where she’s dropped off her Pisface, Nessen has watched someone find them. “I’m happy to see them laugh,” she says. “It’s not a bummer for sure.”
Nessen continues to do traditional painting as well, and recently has been getting into making Russian nesting dolls and puzzle collages. She has entered the realm of political expression with sticker art and a special edition “Dump Trump” Pisface sticker, and has also done collaborations with @mows510, another Twin Cities’ public miniature art artist.
If you’re curious about the adventures of Pisface, you can check out Nessen’s work on her Instagram, @pisface, or keep an eye out at the Minnesota State Fair, where Nessen will be installing some of her Pisfaces during the festival.
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