Absurdism, Dayton-style

Meet the artist: Sarah Kane

By Eva Buttacavoli

Photo: Sarah Kane, I Got You The Jelly Kind, 2014, archival inkjet print, from the series The Neighbors

I’ve only known Sarah Kane for the last three months – first meeting her on a wintry Saturday afternoon as she was setting out with her camera to capture one of her friends, donned in a four-foot tall giraffe head, running through the banks of a recent snow in the field adjacent to the Dayton Visual Arts Center. I liked her immediately.

Within days, University of Dayton photography professor Joel Whitaker told me I had to meet her, so I wanted to learn more. I’d been trying to figure out what to make of this animal-focused, post-modern absurdism thing that began popping up around 2012 (think viral videos of the Horse Head Mask and “What did the Fox Say”) and recently invaded commercial advertising (think Sprint’s dancing narwhals) and large-scale music performance (Katy Perry’s dancing sharks, anyone?).

Like any trend, I wanted to follow how it has been infiltrating visual art. I was intrigued with Hybridity last year at Cincinnati’s 21c Museum Hotel – a show curated by Alice Gray Stites exploring the scientific boundaries between human and animal kingdom and recently with Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold, a group of politically provocative sculptures by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, shown at the Cleveland Museum of Art last year.

And here were these crazy animal – and human – heads in this clever, young artist’s work. Who, it turns out, cites contemporary cross-disciplinary filmmaker / photographer / costume designer / sculptor / installation artists Yayoi Kusama, Julie Taymor and Jenny Fine as her primary influence. Perfect timing.

Kane was born in Dubuque, Iowa; grew up near Chicago and is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Dayton. Growing up, she says, every wall of her house was covered with old posters, prints and paintings and “making art as favors for friends or gifts for family just always made sense.” Her studio space is located in UD’s Fitz Hall and she spends half her time in the painting studio and the other half in sculpture. We met up a few times at DVAC and traded emails, and ended up with this interview.

Tell me about your early influences.

Sarah Kane: Growing up, my brothers and I watched an unholy amount of movies. Through memorizing them frame by frame, I feel like I soaked up things like composition, camera angle and scale. Three mentors who inspired me are Nate Smyth (former UD photo professor), Tim Langenderfer (drawing, UD) and Gary Marcinowski (sculpture, UD). Professor Smyth taught me to trust my gut and to not only welcome criticism but to use it as fuel. Professor Langenderfer taught me to be tough and honest. He never sugarcoated any feedback, and I grew as an artist because of it. Professor Marcinowski taught me perspective. He taught me to stay open to change, to plan thoroughly but reassess calmly.

Tell me about your typical art-making day

SK: My typical art-making day starts with coffee and list-making. On the outside, my workspace and process of making looks disorganized, but there’s a method to the madness.

How do you choose what to make?

SK: For the concept Found Faces, I purchase old photographs at antique stores, particularly ones with writing on the back or ones that have the photography studio’s insignia. I then research the identities of the faces I find and create work about them and for them. The concept, The Neighbors, is what sprung up while taking a break from Found Faces. The notion of capturing these giant, goofy characters going about their business cracks me up, and helps me find humor in my daily routine.

What are your favorite materials to work with?

SK: My favorite materials to work with are masking tape, chicken wire, cardboard and whatever is in my recycling bin.

How many years have you spent as an artist?

SK: I have been an artist since 2004.

If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?

SK: The Book of Kells.

How do you think social media is changing the art world?

SK: I it affects it both positively and negatively. On the positive, artists are able to connect, share ideas, give feedback and gain inspiration from artists and non-artists across the world. The negative to social media’s can be that it over-simplifies an artist’s works. With a sea of images at our fingertips, we lose sense of what it is special or different about that work. We judge one image and move on.

What are your upcoming shows and/or projects?

SK: Most recently, I created a video installation for the University of Dayton’s Annual Horvath Juried Student Exhibition (March 26-April 23). I plan on living in Dayton for the next year, exploring more film and moving image work, cranking out masks and getting to know the community of artists who call Dayton home.

Eva Buttacavoli is the Executive Director of the Dayton Visual Arts Center. You can reach her at Visuals@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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