Sarah Nance | Issue Eight Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your work

I’m an interdisciplinary artist working mostly in fiber and installation, though I’ve recently incorporated photography and performance into my practice as well. I grew up in the Driftless Area of U.S., which is a geologically dynamic region in the Midwest with many caves, limestone bluffs, and disappearing streams. I worked as a tour guide in a couple caves in the area, and I think having access to geology beneath the surface of the earth had a strong impact on me artistically. My current work deals primarily with the intersection of geology, exogeology, and the Anthropocene (human geologic impact).

What potential do you feel artists have to help bring about change?

I think every artist has a different idea about what type of change they’re interested in, and how their practice can contribute to that. One of the main focuses of my practice is the act of perception. How people see, interpret, and categorize the world has enormously far-reaching effects on everything from daily lived experiences, to governmental policy, to climate change. As an artist, I consider how I can offer a new perspective or way of seeing that facilitates a reconsideration of what holds value. As an example in my own work, I aim to shift from representing an anthropocentric perception to embodying a geocentric one. I believe this has substantial potential to affect how humans interact with nonhuman environments and processes.

Tell us about the themes you pursue in your work

I often place human and geologic time scales in conversation with one another, and am interested in highlighting the ways they convene as well as diverge. My recent works use beading and weaving, both time-intensive processes that build a surface from the accumulation of one thread or bead at a time. This way of working has strong parallels with many geologic processes, and the resulting sculptures (such as to reinforce a glacier, or (emergency) (space) blanket for the moon) are often installed with found stones to draw out this connection. Personally, it’s important to me to try and a reach a perspective not based solely in my own time scale or reality—to attempt to move beyond the limitations of my own experience and consider the primacy of other objects and experiences.

What art do you most identify with?

As an interdisciplinary artist and educator, I identify with many different types of art practices, mediums, and techniques. However, I have a longstanding affinity for fiber-based practices because they foreground the meaning(s) inherent in material. I also grew up learning a wide variety of fiber techniques and love the process of working with a continuous line (thread, etc.) that can be manipulated to become a surface, form, mesh, or spatial drawing.

Is there something you couldn't live without in your studio? what is your most essential tool?

My most essential tool is constantly changing, as I move through different techniques or ways of approaching media. One tool that I continually have to do without is a piano—I’ve started doing vocal and piano performance as part of my practice, and it’s a constant negotiation to figure out how to get access to the necessary resources. But I find that there’s always room to pivot in a new direction when some tool or resource is unavailable, and explore another area of my practice that’s more accessible at the moment.

What place do you think artists have in the political sphere?

I think artists occupy all sorts of political roles, and it differs greatly from person to person depending on how much they want to foreground it in their practice. My research into the Anthropocene, climate change, and perception is highly political on one hand; I also incorporate that research in a very poetic way in my work. Amitav Ghosh, an author who writes novels dealing with climate change says that “we have to be able to open up those parts of our minds that can accommodate different ways of thinking about the world.” I believe art can do this in a way that scientific fact and political debate often fail to do.

What do you feel the role of artists and photographers is in society?

A main thing I value about art and artists is the ability to ask critical questions and to combine sets of knowledge that haven’t been considered together before. In a results- and answer-driven capitalist society, artists who resist that way of operating make room for speculative approaches. I value this openness.

Are there any upcoming exhibitions or projects in the works?

In my current research project, shroud for an ancient sea, I’m examining archived landscapes—environments, such as former inland seas, that are observable only through fossil records, artifacts or recorded data. In response to these environments I’m creating shrouds, which vary from expansive textiles to experimental vocal performances, acting as momentary surface layers that point to the complex records of deep time within each site. I recently debuted one of the works in this series, marseille tidal gauge aria, which sonifies 130 years of tidal gauge data into an operatic piece that I perform. I’m planning to write a few more vocal works this year in a similar vein, based on exposed fossil reefs in Texas and Florida.

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