Sarah Sitkin Sees the Body as a Fascinating Dilemma
Sarah Sitkin is an artist fascinated with the human form. Hailing from Hollywood California, Sitkin has a background in special effects and model making. Sitkin has founded her career on experimenting with the body’s construction – or more often destruction, to create unsettling work that challenges our own physicality from the inside, out. Sitkin’s visceral approach to sculpture is key to her artistic practice and demonstrates a palpable sense of mortal vulnerability.
A version of this exclusive interview first appeared in the pages of the 15th issue of ODDA Magazine.
Firstly, can you tell me how you started out as an artist who deals with the body in such a lifelike, sculptural way?
I started making molds of my body in my bedroom when I was a kid around 9 or 10 I think. My family owns a hobby shop in North Hollywood, and I’d inherit damaged merchandise – like alginate and clay – and I’d just play around with whatever my dad brought home for me. Using my own body to make molds from was a natural choice since I didn’t have access to a lot of other resources at the time. It was an essential part of my self-discovery.
I believe you have no formal art-training, do you think that has helped ‘free up’ the approach you have to creating artwork?
Yes, I definitely think not having any formal art training has permitted me a lot of freedom. Seeing other friends go through art school and feel stuck within institutional boundaries around what art can and cannot be has made me feel lucky for not having attended. I think the result of loyalty to institutional decree produces a lot of pretentious art, and figures into a system of maintaining certain artists’ place in art history as canonical to the end of retaining the monied value of their art for those who own it. I do feel distant from the art world as a result of not having gone to school, but ultimately I’m making the work I want to make and I’m still able to feed myself. I’m happy where I’m at.
Your work has often been described as macabre – even grotesque, could you describe your art in your own words?
I hate being labeled a horror artist. I’m aware of this reception of my work. I’m hit up for horror gigs all the time, but I do not consider my work to be within that vein at all.
“MY WORK IS A PRODUCT OF MY OWN INNER DIALOGUE. I AVOID CONSUMING OTHER ARTISTS’ WORK WHILE CREATING MY OWN”
You deal primarily with the human body, could you tell me why this is your main artistic reference?
I see the body as a fascinating dilemma – for something to have to manage, it is constantly in flux, you have to contend with all the politicized reality and discourses about the particular kind of body you have according to race, sex, gender, etc. There is the constant threat of disease, the unavoidable promises of aging – the body is just always facing an army of threats from all directions, even from within itself. I’m not committed to the body as my only subject as an artist, it’s just where I am at the moment. Also habit in part. I have spent so much of my adult life working on a skillset that deals with rendering the human body, it steeped its way into the fundamental process of conceiving an idea.
In your exhibition BODYSUITS, guests are invited to try on and handle the artworks. Why is that an important part of how people experience your work?
I personally loathe most “art”. That is tepid home decor objects masquerading as art. Just wasted opportunities. Just wasted resources. It matters to me to keep the spirit of potential alive. In the case of people trying on the bodysuits, some people found it to be a really funny, joyous experience; others were tearful, almost everybody wanted to share a story with me. It seemed like a discovery for many people who were drawn to the experience out of curiosity. It was at times very intense, and it took everything to be emotionally present for the many hours of back to back 15-minute fitting appointments.
Why was it important to line the bodysuits with clothing?
The bodysuits aren’t all lined with clothing, most are lined with fabric tailored to fit the interiors, more in the spirit of upholstery. Fabric moves with the skin, its soft to the touch but still functions as a barrier, which supports the concept that the body and the self are so often experienced as divided. I do see clothing as a divide from between one’s physical vulnerability and the outside world, so it made sense to include that as a boundary.
The bodies you represent are so true to life and show the toll that life can take on the body; is displaying accuracy and reality a defining characteristic of your work?
They are never perfect replicas of the models, but they are close. Creating something as realistic as possible is critical for the accomplishment of the illusion of real flesh. This can be very difficult to accomplish for a lot of reasons, namely because the molding process can be a lot for a model to endure. To maintain stillness during the cure time of the molding agents involved, in addition to supporting the weight of the mold – the bodysuits’ molds can weigh up to 40 pounds, as well as contending with any claustrophobia or feelings about restriction can be a lot for someone to endure. I’d say managing my models’ emotional experiences is a really big aspect of the work I do.
Do you think your art is representative of ‘American’ or of the world? How has being based in LA impacted your work?
I’d definitely say I am an LA artist; I was born and raised here under the influence of the entertainment industry. The industry has had a profound impact on every facet of life in Los Angeles. The materials I use were developed for making movie magic come to life, everyone is an aspiring actor, so the standards for physique and beauty are impossibly high. There is a sense of illusion, or permanent artifice in LA, and this dynamic is definitely present in my work. I’m always trying to bring the conversation to a vulnerable level. There are ways to do that, by using provocative and compelling imagery. In chaos, our minds will naturally seek to find order and meaning. But it takes a jolt to wake from our comfortable mind state to open a person. The places where discourses exist that have value I think center around vulnerability.
There is an awful lot of vulnerability present in your work; how does vulnerability help us understand your approach to art?
My work is mostly a product of my own inner dialogue. I also purposefully avoid consuming other artists’ work while I’m creating my own in an effort to maintain my own sense of direction and the integrity of the piece. In between projects I love to read. I get lost for days chasing information on a subject until it leads me somewhere new. I don’t so much love going to museums and galleries, I really love to pursue factual information and fit that into my larger understanding. I would say I am influenced by empirical knowledge, guided my emotional intuition and fueled by obsession.
You are very keen to remix, reshape and take apart the natural structure of the body; do you see the body as a medium in itself?
Totally. We haven’t even begun tapping into our potential to change, alter our vessels. To radically alter our own physiology is definitely a possibility with emerging technologies (CRISPR, gene editing) and the advancement of polymers and injectables. There is going to be a real dilemma that arises about where exactly the Self, or the Soul is seated, and if we could, or should move it.
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