For this interview series, we sat down with the artists of “Intrinsic” – an exhibition on view at The Yard, Williamsburg Bridge in 2020 – to gain insights into their practice and learn more about what inspires them and the background informing the artworks they had on view in the exhibit (visible on the “Intrinsic” exhibition page on Antecedent Projects.) We spoke with artist Sarah G. Sharp on the concepts that feed into her practice, the projects she is embarking on and some new considerations that are pushing her work forward.
ANTE. For “Intrinsic” at The Yard, Williamsburg Bridge, you exhibited works that feature a range of different camouflage printed fabrics juxtaposed against boldly colored embroidery depicting sacred geometry. Can you explain the genesis of this body of work and its evolution?
Sarah G. Sharp. The work in “Intrinsic” is from my series Kinship. When I’m working outside of NYC, at artist residencies in rural areas, or while traveling, I end up going to commercial fabric stores for studio materials. During hunting season these stores, despite usually being located in suburban strip malls, often have displays of camouflage textiles and hunter’s shirting. There is usually a huge range of camouflages, including “real tree” which is a sort of trompe l’oeil pattern of oak leaves and tree bark, and multi-distance or multi-scale camo, which looks like a pixelated version of traditional camo, but is made to disrupt the figure for digital video cameras used in contemporary surveillance and war zones.
When I was developing this series, I was reading Donna Haraway’s Staying With The Trouble. Her writing about kinships combined with my research into early feminist publications framed my thinking about the kinship between knowledge bases represented in these fabric stores; who was selling and buying these “camoflage” textiles, who was sewing them, then who was using the sewn product and how does this intersect with gender roles, domesticity vs. public persona and our ideas about wildness and nature.
The Kinship Chevrons use various camo and hunters fabrics along with metallic fringe and original machine embroideries with designs based on sacred geometry as a way to evoke the complexities of these relationships to the land, animals and plants. I want to diffuse and complicate the meaning of these fabrics made for hunting and war by combining them with formal languages and materials that are craft-based, celebratory and propose a new futuristic use for these textiles.
ANTE mag. Can you tell us about your work on other projects as part of your extended practice, such as the Toolbook Project?
Sarah G. Sharp. One of my persistent studio interests over the past few years has been print media from last century, especially underground and radical presses. In 2017, I decided to make my own publication, “The Tool Book Project” (https://www.toolbookproject.org/). The Tool Book Project is a three volume set of publications, and a platform through which I organize related gallery exhibitions, readings, panel discussions and other public events where artists and community members address relevant social issues together while highlighting and supporting organizations that are doing meaningful social justice work.
The Tool Book project was, initially, a response to a crisis I saw many artist and writers facing after the 2016 election, both in very real terms regarding how their lives and the lives of the people they love would be affected by the budget cuts and fear mongering policies of the new Administration and in terms of a crisis within the studio, questioning the value of practices that may not obviously intersect with social justice or activism. I wanted to find a way for artists to use their practices to support organizations that were already doing meaningful social justice and community organizing work, and make a way for artists to connect with each other around these issues. I put out an open call and compiled over 40 responses into the first Tool Book, which was also a fundraiser for Black Lives Matter, [the] Callen Lorde [Community Health Center], the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and Sane Energy Project.
During the production of the first volume of Tool Book, I was an artist in residence at SOHO20 Gallery in Brooklyn where I held a series of events. For one of the events, Tool Share Roundtable: Art and Activism, I invited four artists and writers who are also longtime community activists to publicly discuss how their political engagement intersected with or ran parallel to their studio and writing practices. The most recent volume, The Tool Book Project Volume III: Work Book, focused on Art and Labor, reprinting Art Workers documents alongside contemporary artwork and essays in a risograph magazine. Last November, as an artist in residence at the Textile Arts Center, I was able to combine my studio practice with Tool Book. I invited the original members of Tool Share Roundtable: Art and Activism from the first volume of The Tool Book project to convene with members of the Textile Arts Center community to revisit our conversation from 2017, and consider where we are now, in the lead up to the next election. We worked on a community quilt and discussed self-care, impeachment, election anxiety and reflected on how our lives and practices have changed in the past few years.
ANTE mag. What aspects of your practice have you been deepening during lockdown and quarantine in recent times? Have you embarked on new projects, series or processes?
Sarah G. Sharp. I have found that this crisis has made me question some of my normal ways of working. I have been much more focused on the parts of my studio practice that are generative, for me, rather than making work for public consumption over the past few months. So, a lot of drawing and playing with materials. I’ve been thinking about how to adapt the parts of my studio practice and inspiration that is based on being out in the world and seeing and touching materials.
When the lockdown started, I was preparing for two Spring solo shows that were postponed (one of them will be at NARS in Brooklyn in May 2021.) My vision and the work for those shows has developed and shifted during quarantine, so they will be quite different from what I had initially planned.
ANTE mag. What upcoming projects can you share with us that are in the pipeline?
Sarah G. Sharp. I have been developing textile and wallpaper patterns based on my research into feminist publications from the early 1970’s, at the height of the fight for the ERA and leading up to Roe v. Wade. In my research, I was interested to see smaller, regional communities having conversations about issues we are still navigating today, like reproductive rights, fair pay for women, recognition for domestic labor and unchecked white privilege. I found a lot of dialogue around women using new media technologies of the era, like video and cable TV, but also radio and other art forms. There were also reminders about global resistance movements working in solidarity with each other and that armed struggle was seen as a viable option in the name of revolution.
The patterns I am developing, tentatively titled “Burn Witch, Burn,” are based on articles about witchcraft, the power of cable television, radical socialism and women in the art world. I am also developing an Augmented Reality component to this project. I hope to debut this work at NARS in Spring 2021.