WELCOME TO DELVE INTERVIEWS, A LOOK INTO THE UNIQUE PATHS OF ARTISTIC AND CREATIVE INDIVIDUALS. This year, we are focusing our Interviews and Gatherings on the theme Creating Change.
Quiet or loud, social practice to solo studio painting, emerging to established, an artist’s voice is crucial to highlighting and synthesizing our human experience. We are interested in the critical eye and what it reveals, whether it’s a subtle visual pun or a loud, public proclamation. Art that comes from personal experience or a sense of civil responsibility resonates strongly, and has the power to activate society and potentially reimagine its structure.
Get your ticket here for our first event of 2018 in New York City at CUE Art Foundation on June 26, 2018.
We are happy to share our interview with artist and curator, Sarah G. Sharp. Sarah holds an MFA and an MA in Modern and Contemporary Art, Criticism and Theory from Purchase College, SUNY. She is the recipient of a Getty Library Research Grant, a BRIC Arts Media Fellowship, residency awards at Cortijada Los Gázquez in Almeria, Spain, The Vermont Studio Center, and The Kimmel Harding Nelson Center. Exhibitions include The Aldrich Museum, Real Art Ways, Hampden Gallery at UMass Amherst, Frederieke Taylor Gallery and Stephan Stoyanov Gallery, NY. Her oral history interview with Elaine Reichek was published by the Smithsonian Institute’s Archives of American Art in 2009. She is co-founder of COHORT artist’s collective, Assistant Professor in the Visual Art Department at University of Maryland, Baltimore County in Baltimore and faculty in the Art Practice MFA Program at SVA in New York. Sarah lives and works in Brooklyn and Baltimore.
Describe your current work/practice/project and how it fits into the theme, Creating Change.
My recent work addresses themes of identity, technology and communalism through craft and media artifacts from various American social movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s. I often combine traditional “analog” forms (collage, hand-embroidery, macramé, press-based print media) with contemporary forms (video, digital photography and image manipulation, and digital printing.) One of my recent sources, the Whole Earth Catalog, was published by Stewart Brand between 1969 and 1972. It emphasized “access to tools” and presented information about things like sustainable farming, alternative economies, sexuality, technology and spirituality. It was also an assemblage of political and poetic speech; the Black Panthers guest edited one issue, the beat poet Anne Waldman published poems in another. It was circulated widely outside of mainstream media channels. In response to this material I produced a series of collages and hand-embroidered textiles, titled “Whole Earth Systems,” that use symbols from the Whole Earth Catalog. I have also mined imagery from NASA’s 1975 Viking Mars Lander project and notes from the formation of separatist “wimmin’s” land in Oregon for a video, “Finding Our Place in Space,” which looks at the ways technology and concepts of land ownership within the “back to the land” movement intersected with and resisted the search for life on Mars.
After the 2016 election, I started the Tool Book Project, a conceptual “catalog” and direct action fundraiser for vulnerable non-profits that provides a way for artists and writers to use their practice as a way to connect and make a difference. The first volume, a printed book published in August 2017, was sourced from an open call that asked for images and writing that “edify, inspire, support and radicalize us in this time of deep uncertainty and resistance” and was a fundraiser for Black Lives Matter, Callen-Lorde, Sylvia Rivera Law Project and Sane Energy Project.
In summer 2017, while I was an Artist in Residence at SoHo20 Gallery in Brooklyn, I held a series of public events connected to Tool Book, including a free library with listening stations that had themed playlists of radical songs sourced from friends on social media, a reading series and a panel discussion; Tool Share Roundtable: Art and Activism, where politically engaged artists, academics and activists shared “tools” regarding art production, political action and sustaining communities.
This Spring I co-curated, a show called “Comfort Level” at Field Projects Gallery with artist Alissa Polan, It included artists from around the country that have been impacted by climate change. We debuted the newest iteration of the Tool Book Project, Tool Box, an edition of 10 custom designed, handmade boxes that contain a set of limited edition artworks from five artists. Tool Box is a fundraiser for AgitArte, an organization of working class artists and cultural organizers, who provide material and cultural aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria to the people of Puerto Rico.
Does this work come from personal experience or a sense of civil responsibility, or both?
The Tool Book Project was a response to the 2016 election. I wasn’t newly made into an activist, I have always been concerned with and active in working for social and environmental justice, but after the election I feared the loss of all of the small bits of “progress” that had been so hard won over the recent decades. I felt kind of hopeless. I was lucky enough to travel a bit that winter and visit with friends, mostly artists, who were feeling the same way. It helped to gather together and remember that we weren’t alone, and it helped me to remember that these communities exist nationally and globally. I wanted to find a way to allow creative people to keep doing what they are doing, connect with each other and make some money for non-profits that already have structures for change in place.
Do current events inform or guide your artistic decisions and processes? If so, how?
Yes and no. I think a lot about current events in historical context; especially how forms of technology and media guide the way ideas are conveyed and absorbed. So, it’s not that my core interests or processes change, but the present always shapes and informs our understanding of the past. This includes formal concerns, what it means to use certain materials or even colors, as much as it informs content.
What is the artist’s role in creating change?
I think different artists have different roles. Artists translate experience into forms that provide new ways of making connections, seeing and understanding the world, so we all reflect some kind of truth about the moment we live in. Artists are uniquely poised to make change because we are trained to look, think critically and be sensitive to how what we put into the world is received. At the same time, we can have extreme demands on our time and often navigate uncertain employment, housing, studio space and basic resources. So much of what we achieve is connected to the real-world resources we have access to, which varies widely. I think we should each use whatever power, privilege and agency we have for good.
How do you find balance with living your life and making this work?
This is something I am still learning about (and I don’t know if I do it very well.) My biggest struggle is figuring out how to divide time between projects that are more social and involve supporting many different people and components, like curating and publishing Tool Book, versus the more solitary components of studio practice. It is so important to make time to just think and experiment. I am also a professor. Being with students is very generative and hopeful, but also requires setting boundaries and carving out time for my own work.