S A R A H   S C H U S T E R

Artist Statements for Projects:

Migrations   |   Figurative Work   |   Disaster Series   |   For Now I Know In Part   |   Gulf Oil Spill   |   Arousal of the Ordinary   |   Replicants and Cultivants   |   Wringing My Hands in Webs"   |   Liminal Dreams

Artist Statement: Migration
   The “Phosphorescent Migrations” series was inspired by images of bioluminescent organisms called phytoplankton or dinoflagellates who live on the ocean or lake floor and migrate each night to the surface of the water flaunting their own light and creating an eerie and magical effect in the dark night water. These phosphorescent organisms are as immaterial as matter gets and their lack of substance or body make them ideal subjects for painting since their appearance and the light they emit is equivalent to a stroke of paint making it possible for the paint to stand for what it represents without the need for rendering. A single stroke can sum up the algae and many intentional strokes show the patterns of movement as they make their daily pilgrimage from the bottom of the lake or sea to the surface. The dinoflagellates’ diurnal journey to light the dark is a metaphor of mythic proportions and parallels the painter’s effort to bring light to the surface of the painting. There is a symbiotic connection between creative and destructive forces evident throughout nature and reflected in the process of making paintings. The tension between these two forces is an underlying theme in Schuster’s work and these bioluminescent plankton and their daily migration from dark to light reflects these forces and their dogged determination to make the journey reflects the determination required to make a painting
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Artist Statement: Figurative Work
   Sarah Schuster’s rigorous formal training in figure painting has allowed her to move fluidly in and out of her figurative work, but it always plays an underlying and central role in her creative process. The figures in her paintings languish in invented worlds depicting the realm of the imagination: memory, ecstasy, dreams and desire. She uses the figure to articulate permeable boundaries between people and nature, and material and immaterial experiences as she celebrates qualities, such as, sentimentality, intimacy, vulnerability, and domesticity, attributes often relegated to the feminine and thus denigrated and aligned with instability rather then power. The form of her paintings reference religious icons and ancient fertility images in an effort to heighten the significance of their content.
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Artist Statement: Disaster Series
   Newscasts of manmade and natural disasters permeate our lives and shape our view of the world. Under the guise of connecting us to the rest of the world, these Images of trauma and displacement make the real abstract while creating a general atmosphere of fear and helplessness. In an effort to make these events real Schuster downloads images of natural disasters and war from the internet and outputs them as black and white or color Xeroxes. The Xeroxed images are then traced or glued onto wood panels or heavy drawing paper and drawn or painted into in very physical way. She works and reworks them, touching them in an effort to slow down the viewing and to allow herself and the viewer to contemplate and absorb the significance and impact of the actual events.
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Artist Statement: For Now I Know in Part
   Spanning two gallery walls, ‘…for now I know in part…’, makes a subtle allusion to the days of the year. Three hundred and sixty-five eight-inch panels provide a running record of the ‘present-lost’ while forming a connective tissue between the fleeting perceptions of every day life and ordinary routine, events of world consequence, and moments when we are unable to distinguish anything in time and space. The expanse of panels offers an imposing space between the viewer and the wall, and provides a ‘macro-view’ of time. Few images distinguish themselves from the blue-gray panels as you move along the walls of the piece, but occasionally natural and utilitarian objects, or everyday spaces, emerge in snatches, quickly receding into the shadowy color where nothing articulate interrupts the blank field. At erratic intervals the uneventful experience is punctuated by images of natural or manmade disasters taken from the news…the Haiti earthquake, the tsunami in Japan, the town of San Bruno in flames, the Iceland volcano, the Gulf oil spill… The panels and the wall shifts from object to space and the viewer is asked to contemplate and question their own place in the world. In time, what emerges becomes invisible again, what is empty becomes full, and images move from shadow, to form, to flat. The fragments suggest a whole, as one perception dislodges and surrenders to the next.
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Artist Statement: Industry and Oil
   The work based on natural and manmade disasters evolved into a series of paintings that depicted the Gulf Oil Spill, which took place at a depth where human intervention in nature was limited. Trespassing where humans rarely tread created a disaster of superhuman proportions. In 1977 scientists discovered an entire ecosystem that centered around hydrothermal vents in the ocean floor. These vents emit scalding hot water containing gases that would be toxic to life on the ocean’s surface but provide nourishment for deep sea organisms living beyond the reaches of sunlight. Under conditions of extreme pressure, in the absence of sunlight, and with temperature changes fluctuating from boiling to frigid, these organisms developed a mechanism to turn the mineral laden waters into energy thus explaining how life began where photosynthesis was impossible. The process is called chemosynthesis and it changed the way scientists understood the origin of life on the planet. Thirty years later when B.P. decided to drill into the ocean floor they drilled deeper then where we believe life originated. On the surface, gas and oil are necessary for our survival but at these depths the gas became toxic to an entire ecosystem. Many of the gases present in hydrothermal vents, or methane seeps, are essential to the sustenance of our ecosystem but released on the surface would be toxic to us. It is only after this disaster that the impact of the growing practices of oil and gas extraction, seabed mining and bottom trawling on this fragile and vital ecosystem were revealed. There have been few disasters that have so starkly exposed the impact of human pride and greed on creation itself, demanding that human beings find a way to live in accordance with the laws of nature. Schuster’s work grasped and addressed this dilemma between progress and destruction. These paintings depict the effects of industrial manufacturing and oil and its effects on the ocean floor and the surface.
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Artist Statement: Arousal of the Ordinary
Collaboration between Sarah Schuster & Nanette Yannuzzi Macias
   Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, Schuster investigated how the destructive and constructive human forces of the international sphere impact the private sphere. Schuster is and was particularly intrigued by the concept of safety based in part on the cultivation of an illusion, and so central to our quality of life in the United States. She was drawn to images where natural and manmade disasters turned safe havens: suburbs, homes and icons of everyday life into rubble revealing the limits of human technology. ‘…for now I know in part…” and “Wringing My Hands in Webs” and the “Disaster Series” grew out of this long investigation.
   The family is a microcosm of human relations. The inequalities, insularity, and boundary disputes that govern our international relationships are folded into the social architecture of our homes. Without much digging we find the basic tenets of human relations running unmonitored through the drone of our everyday lives. As we eat, wake, sleep, clean and work, we involve ourselves in a mesmerizing ritual that connects us to the larger human condition. The unpaid labor of the home opensa space for creativity much as the unpaid labor of the artist does.
   In this exhibition Schuster and Yannuzzi-Macias utilize the white space of the gallery to foil the constant flow of information we experience between our internal and external environment. We begin with the graying activities of domesticity: monotonous, flat, routine and soothing. Within the space, the power and sensuality of these routines gradually becomes evident. Lamps, wires and electricity charge and illuminate the work, metaphorically exposing the imbalance of our inner lives. What do the machinations and desires of our home life look like if seen through the kaleidoscope of our desire, our frustrations or our dreams? Within the grayed space of the gallery participants will encounter the accumulation of history, tools, and memories, as something that is both oppressive, when the home is treated as a container to fill, and hypnotic, in the sense of the beauty inherent in knowing the rhythms that become the patterns of our lives. Close attention will be paid to notions of labor, as it relates to tasks, and the range of work that occupies us from the paid to the unpaid.We’re examining these issues by asking, as expressed through the materiality of the art object, what kind of work is valued and why? How do we arouse ourselves from our mesmerizing routines with a sense of value for the space they occupy in our lives. Can these mundane activities hold something more for us? What happens when we collect the detritus of daily life and find value in this process? There is a temptation to minimize the vitality, creativity and erotic energy of everyday life as we attempt to defuse the chaos and power struggles that co-habitation involves but in doing so we erase our capacity for invention.
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Artist Statement: ‘Replicants’ and ‘Cultivants’
    ‘Replicants’ and ‘Cultivants’ are two bodies of work done in tandem. The images of roses represent a triumph over nature and the deep sea fish the collective memory of our untamed origin. ‘Cultivants’ is based on illustrations of roses done in the first half of the 1800s by artist and naturalist Redouté. I began by Xeroxing a set of postcards of the original paintings that I found at the Metropolitan Museum. I traced the image of each species onto four identical panels. I left the tracing in the first panel untouched. In the second panel I painted over the lines of the tracing. In the third panel I developed an underpainting, exaggerating the space and form of the drawing with the introduction of white paint, and in the fourth I did the same and added colored glazes to bring the image to life. The four paintings illustrate the development of an image. The framed Xeroxes and used tracing paper are installed like stems leading up to the four painted panels of the roses to equate the growing or cultivating of an image to the process of cultivating a seed or species. The illustrations I worked from were many generations removed from the original plants and from the original work of art and yet they appear to be realistic, raising questions about the construction of nature in works of art.
    The images of the Deep Sea fish that I use in ‘Replicants’ are taken from a book of images by the celebrated marine illustrator, Richard Ellis. The images of the deep sea creatures awaken instincts imprinted deep in our unconscious. The wood blocks are layered with graphite oil paint and buffed until they look like they are made of lead or stone, more substantial then the ghost-like images. The blocks appear to be lead or stone and the tracings seem etched into the surface like fossilized relatives reminding us of our original nature. Both sets of images wrap around the wooden panels defying the illusionistic window space that representational art typically relies on and creating another dichotomy between the particularity of the image and the presence of the object.
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Artist Statement: ‘Wringing My Hands in Webs’
    When Navajo girls are born, spider webs are rubbed into the palms of their hands in the hopes that they will become good weavers like the spider. Spider Woman is the creator of the universe. She brings light to darkness and heralds the end of time. Wringing My Hands in Webs combines the image of the spider with images of manmade and natural disasters selected from the internet. The images I gravitated towards juxtapose the familiar homes, buildings and neighborhoods where we dwell against the unpredictable acts of nature and politics. Daily routines create a semblance of order and safety until a catastrophic event shatters the illusion that individuals can separate themselves from the rest of existence. Catastrophes are great levelers, wiping away human illusions of power, distinction and control. We are struck by nature’s indifference in the wake of disaster and we are reminded that justice, if it exists at all, is the result of human intervention and compassion. It is more comfortable to distinguish our self from nature because being part of it requires us to identify with our vulnerability and mortality. Unfortunately, the privilege of relative safety that we experience in this country, has allowed us to sustain an illusion of detachment from the rest of creation. Over-padded and insulated interiors soften the pound of disaster as it strikes from a large flat screen into the heart of our private lives. Painting is an act of empathy and identification and the process of making paintings is a way for me to give a tangible presence to the glut of non-dimensional images that I am exposed to every day.
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Artist Statement: ‘Liminal Dreams’
    In these paintings the boundariless figures merge with each other and with the imaginary landscape that they inhabit. Decorative patterns of stenciled flowers and deep sea fish, rain or tears, give way to the tender touches of the figures appearing and receding like dream fragments in the plasticity of the painted surface. The two figures, ambiguously female, are like two parts of the self. Lost in each other they suggest a self-contained erotic world, animated by desire and independent of the viewers gaze. These paintings evoke the primal and physiological longings that push against the threshold of what we are aware of as we go about our daily lives. Using artistic, decorative and scientific constructions of nature we try and give form to these longings and desires which can inadvertently serve as a tool to repress them.
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