q&a: artist sarah field on ‘centre of my sinful earth’
Sarah Field’s Centre of my Sinful Earth is a provocative installation that both fascinates and repulses. Intrigued, I spoke with Field about the work, which will soon be exhibited at the MARS Gallery, Port Melbourne.
Can you tell us a little about Centre of my sinful earth?
Centre of my Sinful Earth is a large installation using handmade porcelain, blown glass, hair and found objects. It’s a conceptually based work, which looks at bodily seduction and disgust with a surrealist edge.
How did the installation evolve?
That is a very good question. I started by creating a series of plumbing pipes, s bends, taps and faucets all constructed of porcelain. Pipes, by function, are waste portals and, as objects, they became a metaphor for the body’s internal plumbing, the corporeal body and the body as a producer of waste products. I then started to consider the relationship between the corporal body and aesthetics. As a result the work started to reference the external body as well as the internal body, which manifested in the addition of toothbrushes, face washer, undergarments and mirrors.
How long have you been making art?
I graduated from a BVA with Honours in Glass Blowing in my early twenties and I have been making art ever since so around 10 years.
Are there any artists who have inspired you?
Absolutely. Louise Bourgeois, Julie Rrap, Hans Bellmer, Frida Kahlo, Nan Goldin, Francesca Woodman, Ghada Amer, Tracey Moffatt, Meret Oppenheim, Man Ray, Nicola Costantino,
How does this installation connect with/ differ from your previous work?
I’ve been exploring Seduction and Disgust though installation for a while. I usually approach the concepts in a way that allows me to make comments of sexuality and gender. For example my last exhibition Visions of Excess which opened at the Michael Reid Gallery in Sydney consisted of a 5-meter long banquet table covered in cakes, tarts, slices, puddings, cupcakes and muffins all made of human hair. The work was a comment on sexuality as a commodity and the over or excessive consumption of female sexuality in visual culture. What makes Centre of my Sinful Earth different from other works is that I am being more introspective. The result being that I have created a self-portrait.
What is your working process?
My process is research driven. I usually spend a lot of time reading different texts before and during the construction of the work.
I tend to pick a medium that is relevant to the concept. For example I decided to use porcelain for this work because it has a history with the body, literally being imbedded within it. Its been used to recreate bones, joints and teeth. I also chose to use a technique called ‘slip casting’ to create the work. The process involves pouring liquid porcelain into a mould, letting it form a skin, pouring out the excess and then firing the porcelain skin. I liked the process of making a skin because it is conceptually in line with the work.
My process is organic, meaning I often start making subconsciously. Its not until I finish and stand back from a piece that I can see where the idea that generated the work originated.
I tend to have strong creative responses to found objects, specifically antiques. There’s something very eerie about a well-used object that works in nicely with my practice.
You cite Julia Kristeva as an influence on your work. Can you expand a little on this?
What I really enjoy about Kristeva is her writing/essay on Abjection (Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection). She describes in great length the process of disgust and horror experienced during Abjection, which is a kind of psychological ‘crisis’ where culturally constructed boundaries between the ‘self’ and ‘other’ are challenged or disturbed. I think her theories are really interesting and have the potential to tell “us” a lot about ourselves. For example the reaction of disgust to something or someone can actually tell us a little bit about our own morels and boundaries. This is something I am very conscious of when I make. I try to push the boundaries and limits of seduction and disgust in order to provide an opportunity to prompt questions like ‘what is normal’ or ‘natural’ or ‘beautiful’.
Your work seems to address ideas of beauty and the abject. What are your thoughts on the way in which beauty is privileged in our society and, conversely, how the abject is, by definition, rejected?
It’s a bit of a nightmare. Yes, beauty is privileged and as a result the implications for the individual and society can be really overwhelming. The emphasis on aesthetics in our society seems to far outweigh good nature, talent or genius.
The title Centre of my Sinful Earth: An installation based investigation into Seduction and Disgust is intriguing. How did you come up with this title?
The title comes from William Shakespeare’s Sonnet #146. The Sonnet begins with a metaphor: ‘Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth.’ The word ‘earth’ is used as a metaphor for the body as an instrument or bearer of sin. Specifically he is speaking about carnal pleasures.
The work has been described as somewhat of a self-portrait. How is this so?
Centre of my Sinful Earth is an exploration into my own experiences with seduction and disgust. It wasn’t my original intention but on reflection the work is definitely in some ways an expression of my sexuality, my experiences of being in a same sex attracted relationship and the ongoing homophobic attitudes I experience. With this work I decided to incorporate and cast a number of objects from my home. For example, I cast my bathroom soap and made a porcelain replica of it. I did the same with my toothbrush. I also dipped my face washes, underwear and petticoats on porcelain. These were then fired in a kiln. The original fabric burnt out and left a porcelain skeleton or shell of the object behind. Finally, I collecting hair that had accumulated in my drains and I have used this throughout the work.
What can audiences expect from the installation?
They can expect to be seduced, fascinated, disgusted and repulsed.
What are you hoping to achieve from the exhibition?
Above all, I am hoping to challenge and affect the viewer. Whether the reaction is positive or negative isn’t a concern. I am more interested in the potential for the work to stimulate a reaction and hopefully conversation. I can’t think of anything more disappointing than a work that simply pleases or pacifies.
‘Centre of my Sinful Earth’ will be showing at the MARS Gallery, Port Melbourne from 9 October – 3 November 2013. Sarah Field will be delivering an artist talk on Saturday 12 October at 3pm.