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Sarah Goffman Interview

BACKWASH 1 Sept – 22 Oct 2023
Drill Hall Gallery

How do found materials or ‘poor materials’ facilitate the visual language within your work? 

Growing up in New York City in the seventies I saw abandoned spaces, defunct factories and huge lots filled with weeds.  Artists occupied those fringes and collected garbage which they converted into art, it intrigued me. Now I like to think of the packaging of an object as its cloak, the thought engages multiple metaphors that I am attracted to. The found objects I use in my work direct their own placement. I’m just a conduit, being instructed by the bower birds in nature.

The twentieth century prepared me to consider all materials fair game. In the film The Gods must be Crazy (1980) a coke bottle falls from the sky and when it is found becomes an object of veneration. That struck a chord with my teenage self: the vast difference between rich and poor, the waste of the rich being used by the poor. It highlights the socioeconomic disparities and inequities I witness every day.

I appreciate the materiality of our culture and am inspired by both conspicuous consumption and wanton neglect. Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter (2009) makes sense to me as I struggle to find order in chaos and navigate my own materialism. It has helped me understand that the relics of our present era are totemic, they are the social anthropology of consumerism.  

How does your practice as an artist sit in the context of a consumerist society?

It is my responsibility as an artist to question consumerist society and contemporary culture as well as questioning my own role in that structure. It is utterly prevalent in every molecule of my practice. 

When you make a work, what are the qualities you would like it to evidence?

Evidence is a key word. My work is evidence of living and time now.

Do you feel that your art questions the traditional structures of visual art?  Are there particular flashpoints in the history of visual arts that have been an inspiration to your work?

I don’t think my art questions the traditional structures of visual art. I consider a lot of what I make redundant in the grand scheme of things. Thousands of artists worldwide are making ridiculously lovely things everywhere, ugly and beautiful responses to the world around us.  It is shared and that is good.

Dada blew me away. Responses to the politics of time resound with me.

What was your earliest intimation that you were going to be an artist?

Some early memories spring to mind: 

My mother was incredibly proud of a drawing I did before I was six years old. She had it framed. When we moved it disappeared. I wish I could see it again. 

I recall lying in bed when I was even younger looking at the sun through my fingers and being astounded by the hues of pink that outlined my hands. I felt an unbounded love for what I was seeing/creating/enjoying and was proud of my ability to fill a mundane moment with beauty. 

I was given tiny dolls, Thai dancing women and a little Japanese doll set with crocheted embellishments and I’d play ornamental games with them, not knowing that my mother had designed Chinese costumes for a theatre production when she was younger.

At a very young age I started adapting my clothes and shoes, snipping bits off and changing the way things were worn, necessity being the mother of invention.

When I was about ten years old I was in love with Elton John’s double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973). I played it in my room and made up dance routines for the entire album. 

I created my own world one summer and I occupied that fantasy so vividly. It was an installation.

Was there a specific artwork, piece of writing or music, which revealed to you the power that art can have?

I remember seeing Joseph Cornell’s work at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice and I wanted to live in his shadow boxes. 

When I was about seven years old we visited an artist friend of my father’s in France. He’d made a huge sculpture, I think of stone. It felt like it took up the whole room. We had to circumnavigate the dark room, squashed against the wall. I loved that. I loved the feeling.

Staring at Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Valley Curtain images in 1972 astounding my six year old brain.

Music-wise there was everything from Popcorn to Vangelis, Jean Michel Jarre and Elton John (of course), even Mozart’s Magic Flute would entrance me. My dad believed in culture and took us to see a lot of jazz in the early seventies, and when we lived in the States he subscribed to the opera for weekly concerts. I’d be bored at times, but then parts of the music would enter me and create such big feelings that I’d cry and shiver with excitement.

As a child every piece of writing I was exposed to mattered to me. But the book which I first learnt to read, Sergi Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf (1936), its illustrations and accompanying music remains seminal to my enjoyment of all these things.

Who are the writers who have been most important in your life?

George Orwell, Roald Dahl, John Steinbeck, Doris Lessing, Somerset Maugham, Paul Auster, Olga Masters, Helen Garner, Patrick White, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Marge Piercy, Pearl S. Buck, Walter Benjamin, Ian McEwan, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolfe, Raymond Carver, P.K. Dick, Charles Dickens, Iris Murdoch, Edna O’Brien, Jean Baudrillard, Karl Marx, Hannah Arendt, David Ireland, Miles Franklin, Emily Dickinson, E.E. Cummings, Siri Hustvedt, Haruki Murakami, Franz Kafka, Heinrich Boll, Samuel Beckett, Berthold Brecht and many more.

The Drill Hall Gallery acknowledges the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, the traditional custodians of the Canberra region, and recognises their continuous connection to culture, community and Country.