Of all the bands that will play Total Fest this weekend, the ones taking the stage at Zoo City Apparel might have the most Missoula-esque experience.

They’ll be playing among artist Amanda Browder’s large-scale fabric installation.

The Missoula native, who now lives and works as an artist in Brooklyn, N.Y., was commissioned by Total Fest organizers to create a piece of visual art for the festival.

Browder decided to create “Spelunca,” a “rock” cave installation using roughly 100 rock-themed T-shirts, many of which were donated by Missoulians. Others are from a collection Browder brought from Brooklyn.

Pieces of the old rock T-shirts have been stitched together to form large backdrops that make the cave walls surrounding the stage inside Zoo City Apparel. Stalactites and stalagmites, made of pieces of T-shirts sewn into cones stuffed with old newspapers, hang from the ceiling and grow from the floor.

“T-shirts are close to your heart if you’re in a band; they are hard to give up,” Browder said. “But at least (this installation) is something that will go toward contemporary art and be appreciated.”

Among the T-shirts are two of Browder’s old favorites that she wore while playing in bands in Missoula. One is emblazoned with the Chicks with Chainsaws band name, the other with Grilled Cheese Sandwiches.

This is the first year Total Fest has commissioned an artist to be a part of its festivities, although art has been part of the festival in the past.

“It’s the first time we’ve taken it to the next level, really originating a big thing ourselves,” Total Fest treasurer Erin Sipe said.

Browder’s connection to Missoula and to Total Fest made her a good fit, Sipe said. Plus, Browder’s work seamlessly connects with the fest’s mission.

“Total Fest is a free all-community event, all-volunteer run. With her art, she does a similar thing – she gathers materials from the local community where she’s making her pieces,” Sipe said.

Total Fest XI, a festival of 45 bands from around the country, runs through Saturday, at multiple venues in Missoula.

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Browder grew up in Missoula and spent years performing in the local music scene, playing with bands and listening to them at the former Jay’s Upstairs bar.

“I have a real connection to the rock scene here, I’ve had a connection to it for a long time,” Browder said. “I have some serious love for Missoula and for the rock scene.”

Browder prides herself in bringing the community into action for her art installations. About 15 people showed up at a community sew day last week at Selvedge Studio on Higgins Avenue to help prepare the donated T-shirts to become rocks and cave walls.

For a project in the Greenpointe neighborhood in Brooklyn, Browder covered three stories of an apartment building with her “Future Phenomena” piece. It was a hand-sewn, community-built piece that was made of all recycled materials.

“The point is, we can all get together to make something huge, bigger than we are,” Browder said. “I like that people can point to a piece and say, ‘I donated that,’ or, ‘My mom gave me that fabric.’ ”

With “Spelunca” (the latin word for cave), Browder wanted to created a piece of art that was “fully charged” only when bands stepped on stage to play there.

“I like it because it changes the space,” Browder said.

Browder’s parents, Dolly and David, were part of the crew that helped install “Spelunca” at Zoo City on Thursday. Dolly has helped Browder with pieces in other parts of the world, but was happy to see some of her daughter’s work in Missoula.

“It feels to good to be a part of it,” Dolly said. “It’s usually in New York, Berlin, Barcelona, Tokyo. She’s been all over doing these art installations.”

Browder tries to make it back to Missoula several times a year. She says there aren’t many places that host anything like Total Fest, even in the big cities where she often installs her art.

“Total Fest is one in a million,” she said. “They keep it small, but bring in great bands. ... It’s kind of distilled down to the people who really want to be here.”

Reporter Jenna Cederberg can be reached at 523-5241 or at jenna.cederberg@missoulian.com.

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