Artist, Investigator, Method Maker
Walking into Sara's apartment was like entering an urban jungle; plants and more plants, surrounded by remarkable objects that she and her husband brought with them from Australia. Functioning as home as well as Sara's studio, the place is an archive that captures Sara's taste and personality. While I admired everything my eyes could have seen, Sara made us a coffee, and then walked me through her projects.
I feel like our home pivots around two large wooden tables made from old bowling lanes. We bought them from a guy in Gowanus who had salvaged the timber from a bowling alley that had closed in Upstate New York and we constructed the legs from steel pipework ourselves. In total, we have about 12 feet of a bowling lane, a concept that I happily reflect on from time to time. The two tables make for a very multi-purpose living / work space. I write from home, work from home and on occasion, we can have pretty awesome dinner parties with a very long table! I can’t imagine our lives without them now – they are our forever tables. I feel like they are going to dictate not only the way we live but also the spaces we live in (in the best possible way!). We will always want to accommodate these large communal tables that we can utilize in various ways.
The yellow tape that you can see on my work-bench started out as a joke. I am in the final phase of my Ph.D. and am currently completing my written thesis. I haven’t been looking forward to this part and consequently, am quite restless and lacking focus – I’m desperately trying to establish a routine and to try and plough through it. I had been talking to my husband about an internet craze where people had been making circles for their cats to sit in. He suggested that I should make one for myself to see if I would become more diligent at sitting down and working in one place. So I thought, why not? Of course, I had to go a little further and make one with a place for my cup and my pen too... [laughs] and surprisingly, it has actually worked very well! I find myself returning to it every day. It has given my routine a bit more stability and is a constant reminder that at this point I need to focus on writing rather than my studio practice!
I worked at Dinosaur Designs for a number of years when we lived in Sydney, so I have rather a large collection! When we moved here they were some of the only things we brought with us. It was nice to bring something uniquely Australian but it was also nice to have something that provided some vibrancy to our new home. When you move overseas you start off with next to no furniture and the starkness of your living space can really amplify your newfound isolation. You need things that can make your home feel like home and the colours quickly bring a space to life! What makes them so great is that they are practical as well. All of the bowls and platters around the house are routinely pulled down and used. It’s lovely to have beautiful objects that also have a function, that can serve a daily purpose.
This is a bowl I bought in Turkey, that broke on the way back to Australia. After carrying around the broken pieces for a long time I eventually tried a Kintsugi kit to repair it. Realistically I did a fairly terrible job [laughs] but at the same time, I fell in love with both its imperfections (and I guess by extension, my own imperfect way of doing things) so, in the end, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Our plants are a huge part of our Brooklyn life – I like to think of the apartment as one giant terrarium. We have a lot of natural light and I’ve tried to take advantage of it by having as many plants as possible – but I’m always looking for more! They are in varying states of health at the moment - the winter has been pretty hard on them (and me!). I’m looking forward to spring so I can give them some TLC and help them bounce back… they will flourish again over the summer! Back in Australia, I killed almost every plant I touched, so it’s somewhat amazing I’ve been transformed into an indoor gardener here. I think I’m a lot more attentive in New York because greenspace is far more valuable – an indoor garden is a sanctuary from the city. Everyone who visits the house always comments on the plants and I think they make it a really calming place to live and work.
As Australians living abroad, we knew coffee was something we were going to miss. When we first arrived in New York the café culture was a bit of a shock. Apart from missing our usual Flat White, the atmosphere in a lot of cafés is quite different as well. They often function as communal workspaces – which isn’t a bad thing – but it made me miss the social rituals of coffee drinking in Australia where cafés are generally more relaxed social spaces. Things have changed since we first arrived. There seem to be a lot of new cafés – many owned by Australians – and they are bringing with them some of those sensibilities we had missed (along with the Flat White!). Still, when we moved we decided to just buy ourselves an espresso machine so we can make our own and it has certainly filled that gap! It is really nice to be able to have a relaxed coffee and brunch without having to leave the house!
As an artist, I am interested in the intersections of art and science – specifically the relationship between scientific methodology (and with it, the history and philosophy of science) and conceptual art practice. In my own work, I am constantly asking myself ‘How can you apply the mechanisms of the scientific method to the actions and processes of art?’ This question has lead to a variety of works, including (i) a 37-day performance during which I lived according to time as experienced on Mars and, (ii) a project devoted to the documentation of the introduction of leap seconds . At the moment, I am trying to stay focused on writing my thesis, and am attempting to keep my projects small and playful – things that won’t be too distracting but will also keep me from going insane!
My Lottery Series is another ongoing work in which I create a geometric representation of lottery numbers that occurred on specific dates in history. I tend to choose dates when small, seemingly insignificant events have occurred that ended up having larger, unforeseen consequences – where the weight of the event was not obvious at the time. For example, I found the lottery numbers drawn on the day the volcano erupted in Iceland. That eruption led to a cloud of volcanic ash grounding planes across Europe and causing all kinds of chaos around the world. Another represents the number drawn on the day Facebook launched, starting an era of social media that has changed our lives in a multitude of ways. The events I choose are both serious and irreverent, their consequences both good and bad. Amongst these random events I wanted to find another arbitrary system that also had unknowable consequences – lottery numbers were a perfect fit. In that sequence of numbers there is the potential for monumental change – whether this would prove for better or worse, it is hard to be certain.
On my desk are two things I am working on at the moment:
The first is a growing collection of mistakes: I’m attempting to document all my errors. Every time I write a note and make a mistake, I vigorously scribble it out and rather than throwing it away, I catalogue as evidence of my daily failures. It is just an investigation at this stage – I’m not quite sure what it’s going to be – maybe nothing. But like any good experiment, you have to collect data before you know. I have about two months worth of errors thus far… we shall just have to see where it goes.
The second thing I am working on involves using the second hands from wrist watches. Time is a form of standardisation we rarely consider, and as such, it’s become something of a re-occurring theme in my work. Here, I am using individual second hands to map out what time looks like. To ‘make a minute’ I, of course, need 60 seconds hands, and it’s a funny thing - you really don’t ‘see’ time until it’s in front of you. The working title of this series is a Minute of My Time, but that in itself is an illusion – each work takes at least an hour to complete. I like playing with these notions of time and how we can consider time in these changeable ways.
I have banned myself from taking on any larger projects until my thesis is finished. So little actions like my mistakes and the seconds are nice compact ideas that can provide me with a break from writing without overwhelming me – they are fairly straightforward to produce. Any larger ideas I have that could distract me are getting written down and sealed in envelopes that I’m not allowed to open until after I’ve submitted. I think the envelope you photographed has about four ideas for new work in it… I don’t remember exactly what’s in there actually and that’s kind of the point. If you can write it down and forget about it, it’s the best possible thing that could happen. The idea is safely stored but I’m not getting distracted and thinking about the specifics of it.
Broken Wedding Shoelace
The shoelace came from the brogues I wore to our City Hall wedding. Just after we were married, I realised one of my shoelaces had broken, so we made a quick stop at a cobbler nearby. As we walked in, a banker was getting his shoes shined and he overheard me asking my husband which pair of shoelaces I should choose. Noting my dress and our proximity to City Hall, he hollered over to us: “ So you two just got married huh? and this is it? THIS is your first decision as a married couple... so what’s it going to be?” The way he said it made us all laugh – It was a perfect moment. I had to keep the broken shoelace to always remind us of our first ‘very important’ decision.
This is another object bought whilst travelling. I found it in a market stall in Berlin. They were selling a whole series of miniature paintings which were the perfect mementos for someone (trying) to travel light. Amongst the picturesque landscapes, this one stood out - it was essentially a painting of nothing, a landscape in absentia, and that was a notion that really appealed to me. I like how, even now, I am caught between the comic reality of someone taking the time to paint a scene of nothing in particular and the fact that it depicts a real world of everyday banalities… Not everything is picturesque – there is a lot of nothingness in between and that too, should be acknowledged. In this little painting, no bigger than a postage stamp, I see the complexities of absence but also the humour – really what more could you ask for?
Along with the homewares, I also have a lot of Dinosaur Designs jewellery. When you work there, you end up acquiring quite a collection (way more than any one person reasonably needs!) but they are beautiful and they each have their own stories!
This necklace was made by a dear friend of mine Catherine Buman. She made this necklace as a birthday gift several years ago and it is easily my most treasured piece of jewellery. I really admire her work, she is an incredibly talented designer. I love the marriage of industrial aesthetics with simplicity and delicacy. It’s both timeless and exceptionally clever – the locking mechanism for the necklace is just the pendant itself – the simple act of wearing the piece is what actually holds everything together. It’s such an elegant design solution - yet also so beautiful.
It doesn’t look like much, but this blanket is something I really treasure. I’m not sure where it originally came from, or who made it, but it came into my possession in the southern highlands of Papua New Guinea, where I spent some time after finishing my undergraduate degree. I first saw it for sale strung up between two trees along the roadside and it immediately caught my eye. I can’t say why – maybe it was just an unlikely object in this strange place, or possibly it was the wonderful blend of colours, literally patchworked together – but either way, I recognised it as something special. PNG is an amazing but complicated place, and you have to be cautious in certain areas – I went past it several times before stopping. Eventually, I worked out a way to pull over and thankfully it was still there, waiting for me. The seller was a little bemused, I’m not sure many expats stopped to buy blankets, but it was sold to me for the bargain price of 10 Kina (which is the equivalent of 5 Australian dollars). When I took it home to wash it I realised that the price (that was written on the fabric of the blanket itself) was actually half of what I’d paid. It was one of those rare instances that made me love it all the more – truly a bargain at twice the price! It has now travelled with me around the world and is a constant reminder of that incredible adventure and that things of value often come from the most unexpected of places.
That closet was already installed but the shelving we built ourselves. We relied on the architecture of the building and tried to continue the aesthetics of the space.
We found the door abandoned in our neighbourhood and picked it up. We just thought it was too beautiful to throw away…. the same with the ladder. I love vintage and industrial objects – things that are salvaged and given new purpose… I’m always trying to look for the potential in things – to embrace imperfections and lived history. I usually end up loving these things far more than anything I paid money for – I become really sentimental about their story and the way in which we were brought together.
Collection of Objects
We bought the old laundry tub when we first arrived. I dream of the day when I can fill it with soil and make it into an indoor garden bed, but for the moment, it is a sideboard with storage. On top, I have a range things I’ve collected… mostly from Australia; rocks from walks, Banksia pods and dried Australian native flowers. Again, they are all small sentimental things that represent moments and memories.
Over the years I have kept a series of handwritten notes… usually made on napkins, on the back of envelopes or coasters… I try to document snippets of conversation sans context. I love them because they transport me to conversations and moments in time. They are just scraps of paper, but to me they are valuable. When we arrived in New York I thought I had lost them and I was devastated. I cried for a good hour, assuming they had accidentally been thrown away in the process of packing. So, trying to make sense of it, I wrote ‘LOST FOREVER’ on a piece of packing material… believing I would have to start the whole collection again. Amusingly, around a year later, I found all of them. They had been stored in an envelope marked ‘VERY IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS’ that I had assumed contained our birth certificates and university degrees but instead contained these notes… When I think about it, that probably says everything you need to know about me.
The drawings I have framed on the walls are part of my Quanta series that began as a response to the work of my husband, Darren, who is a computational mathematician. Each Quanta drawing is based on a simple ‘algorithm’ – a repeated set of simple elements (a line, or circle, etc) imprinted to fill a space. Each drawing is named after the specific number of elements contained within the drawing that I count as I go along. The largest one I have completed had 350,337 elements and took several months to complete.
Many thanks to Sara! Visit Sara's website to find more about her projects and upcoming shows in Sydney and Melbourne this May.
Text: Andrea & Sara