I first met Sarah through the #class project’s webby-internet tweetings and noticed she already knew the organising artists, William Powhida and many of the people involved hands on at Ed Winkleman’s in NY. Including Magda Sawon from Postmasters Gallery who did a very lively talk and discussion on running such a place from small beginnings to very independently focused well run gallery.
So I was intrigued when Sarah’s work was also posted onto the #class web-blog by William Powhida. I knew Sarah was at Sheffield Hallam Uni and was either finishing or part way through a BA or MA course. Along with the vague idea she had recently been to NY.
But nothing prepared me for the sheer energy in her response when I asked her about a post in this series.
Mostly this is Sarah’s wonderful reply - I have to say it completely blew me away! – a lot of me doesn’t want to faff around changing anything (& styling it into a me-neat little blog post).......at all!!
Take it away Sarah!.....
“so errrrrm about me?”
“I'm a working class kid from Doncaster, UK. (Souf Yorkshire) or as I like to call it - the DONXX in New YorKshire- hehe ;)”
“My story is an odd story. Basically, I grew up in a single parent family (my mom and my younger bro).
My mom gave birth to me when she was 16, and had no support so we've always lived in relative poverty really as she has no qualifications and racked up a crazy amount of debt.
And then my mom got super ill and we missed a tonne of rent payments and got kicked out of our house because it was a great excuse to then build luxury apartments in place of the place that we lived in.
So I was made homeless for about 8 months in total when I was 15, with my mom.
But we got things sorted eventually and things went back to semi normal. (I bring this up cuz its key in how/why I position myself and my practice).
I LOVE working in my studio -
feels like it gives me a sense of purpose and just really living the dream!!!
I got to university at 18 to study contemporary fine art - first 1 in my family - in 2006 - Sheffield Hallam Uni - without a foundation. I got accepted to all 6 Uni's I applied to, but SHU felt like the right decision, and I still stand by it today. After 1st year I went over and did Camp America - I worked in the craft shop at a camp and I LOVED it!!!
I hitched hiked half way across the US (as a 19 yr old on my own) and got frauded! so I had NO cash for the last 2 weeks of my trip. It was like Into the Wild for real; and I thought this was awesome!
I got back to England, started my 2nd year and realised I loved working with people on projects like I started at camp.
So I got a group of my hommies together (which extended as we put a call out for interest) and started a thing called StreetForm.
This is a non-profits arts organization which delivers contemporary arts workshops for free in schools in South Yorkshire - priority at deprived schools as a way to engage kids with different learning techniques and kinda re-inspire their ideas and interests.
This turned out really successful.
At the same time we just got this new professor called Michael Corris from NYC.;
He was one of the players in art & language NY - I was interested in how dialogue and artists groups could engage in criticality as a community.
So I started another collective group called CAAD (contemporary art as dialogue). We started as a project like - the art school in the art school.
We went by our own rules and did collaborative shows engaging in different ideas surrounding the periphery and the art world. We put on our own art festival which you can see from the website too!
I was kinda taken aback by Michael Corris and he gave me some much needed confidence in my own ability as an artist - his knowledge is awesome in my research background - which was completely lacking in my other lecturers knowledge.
I felt like if I wanted to make it in the artworld (or critique it) that I gotta experience it properly! and not just from Sheff art scene.
So I managed to name drop Michael Corris to Magda Sawon at Postmasters gallery in NYC (He's good friends with David Diao who Postmasters represent). I’m the type of kid that doesn’t get amazing opportunities like this, I don’t look good on paper - state school educated, totally very rough around the edges - veryyy hopeful - thus naive about the world surrounding me; (naivety = I still get annoyed by people getting opportunities because of whom they know, and not from experience/applications)
Lucky for me Magda is one of the most kind, thoughtful, smart, risk-taking and generous women I have ever met. And she took a risk on me and let me work for her during the summer of 2008 in NYC. I Had of course saved up all my own cash, and *it* still - despite all the other stuff I’ve done - is like THE BEST thing I’ve done - I learnt so much, made friends for life.
Turns out what I was missing was a strong smart woman role-model in the artworld/general, and Magda is just that for me. It was perfect working at Postmasters for me, because it allows my research to be a lot more even.
Postmasters allowed me not 2 be completely judgmental towards this 'elite' art world. I learnt that it’s not all bad (despite what I’d like to believe purely because of my outsider position).
That there are people who are willing to take risks and don't put shows on just for commercial success. And even though some commercial galleries are ultimately a business, they treat their artists like family.
It inspired my practice because it taught me that artists do have to be competent at what they do, relevant and risk-taking not just good at networking (although that totally helps).
Being in NYC at that time (during the boom) taught me how important criticality in an artist’s practice is. I just gotta accept that I’m not that strong of an artist yet !. That’s ok though; got another - what 9 years? (me, with interjection ...errr Sarah maybe!, just maybe a mold has been broken here with that one!!)
In my 3rd year I switched from BA to a MART course, which is half a masters- integrated course. You do an extra year doing double credits in your 3rd yr and the LEA still pays all your tuition fees.
I had my 1st real London show at re-placed. And got published in two books one of which was released at the Canadian Center of Architecture.
I was interested in the idea against the white cube space, and how collectives can have revolutionary potential. I used to make collages of buildings and fly poster them around the city in run down places.
You can see this work on my website Sarah Smizz
#class a reflection (also placed on thier web-blog by William Powhida)
We also did a project where we critiqued the biennale structure of art festivals - focusing on the Venice biennale. It’s focus (of the project) was on curation and collaboration.
We created a biennale in a book talking about the periphery! and released it at the Venice biennale 2009 (www.projectbiennale.tk)
It was a fantastic project that is still on-going!
I taught Spanish kids English over the summer of 2009 and worked in a bookies, lol, saving cash for my internship at AREA Chicago in Chicago for 3 months.
This was my research about the artist as a social double agent. Can collectivism help to make change? Is institutional critique re-invented?
Have u ever been to Chicago? I suggest you check it out if you haven’t, there is SO MUCH stuff going on. it’s this vibrant art community that doesn’t get acknowledged in the way it should!
Magda invited me to put some work in her emerging artist show in Dec 2009. And then obviously I saw the proposal call for #class which suited me perfectly with my background, my research interests and the plain rejection that I feel/felt by both academia and the art world, amongst other systems; and did that show.
I felt like after the class experience I truly needed to embrace this investigation into collectivism - to a new level.
So I took a risk and changed the look of my work. And I’m really enjoying it. I’m not sure whether the risk will pay off for my degree show grade wise.
We also just curated a talk at TATE Britain on the contingencies in curation - some of this debate was brought up at #class!
I hate degree shows. I think that they're contrived. They don’t represent a person’s practice properly, especially not one that's diverse and exists in a different format. And so everything is compromised.
As part of the MArt - the deal is that you get a MA Place - and it’s one-module-studio-work; and it only costs £800 of your own money. I’m not finishing my degree next year into a full MA because it doesn’t interest me now I’ve learnt what I needed to learn.
I'm sure I will go back and finish it when I’m stacking shelves in Asda or something but right now, the institution has grinded me down. It doesn’t really accept me because my ideas don’t fit into the 'white cube' or 'relational aesthetics' lark.
Yet out of my whole graduating year (BA and MART) I’ve been the most 'successful'/done the most thus far. So it shouldn't be the grade that matters to me, but I’ve had to overcome certain barriers to get where I have got right now.
On June 23rd I’m heading back to the USA for four months; two months in Boston working with kids and a residency. Getting paid for it all - and good pay!.
Then I’m going to Syracuse University in NY State to hopefully start a project with an amazing professor up there who has similar research ideals as myself.
Then I’ll do a lil’ travel and come back to the UK for my November Residency with international film festival DocFest - which is also paid.
After November - gosh knows what is in store for me! ha!
I need a normal job - to make ends meet and pay off my crazy over-draft. I’ll probably move back to Sheffield cuz its convenient and my network of folks from Uni lies there, just whilst I sorta relay adulthood out in my head!
I will be starting my new project though “temporary department for (kinda) academic research". A curated project, and I want to release the bi-annual publication objekt that we set also set up this year.
I have an exhibition in Canada in May in 2011 to look forward to, (moving to Canada is on the cards for the year after).
I would ultimately LOVE to teach, from high school to university level as you have the chance to help change someone else’s future. But feel like I wanna give my practice a good taste of what it means for an artist to set up projects and continue in the real world with a 9-5 soul destroying job first. I’m totally looking forward to it! (not liking the idea of paying council tax! haa) but let’s see how this optimism fades eh? :P
For me the journey of learning and experience is just as important as the practice itself cuz for me it all just seems to add up/inform the research (in the best respects). I don’t have a specifically special focus. I’m just interested in the idea of power in systems - regardless of what system. The ideas of access/ and class boundaries are always present.
Dialogue is very important for me; it’s all interesting for me, that and collectivism, I truly believe art does have the power to change the world, but more in helping, teaching, helping people to be optimistic, bringing people together etc.”.
And, if I were ever to think *what’s the point* as we artists all do at various stages for various reasons:
Sarah, I hold a torch up to you and your inspiration!!!
Back on Wednesday .......