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In conversation:
Sarah Strachan

This interview offers an insight into the world of a transdisciplinary artist Sarah Strachan, who navigates environmental changes through meaningful engagements with people, landscapes, and materials. Through printmaking, painting, and ceramics, the artist crafts installations that blur the boundaries between art forms, often incorporating sound and moving imagery. Ultimately, her work beckons us to question habitual perspectives, inviting exploration of the liminal spaces found within objects, materials, and the spaces they forge.

Joana Alarcão
16 de agosto de 2023

Artist statement


In my transdisciplinary practice I sense environmental changes through deep conversations with people, place, the land and the materials and objects associated with these. I am interested in how our perception of being in, knowing and belonging to the world affects our ecological awareness and thinking. I explore my ideas through printmaking, painting, and ceramics; often fusing sound and/or moving image into the final installation. Working with ceramics allows me to explore complex issues of sustainability through my choice of materials and process – working with manufactured, recycled and wild clay. Whilst materials are important to my practice, my creative concepts with a social or community dimension often feel more sustainable and enduring. As such, collaboration is an important element whether as an independent artist, working as artist duos Itiswhatitis and The Anxiety of Interdisciplinarity or as art, geology and sound collaborative Mud Collective. For me, conversation provides a consistent, systematic approach to analysis, knowledge production, poetics and meaning; whilst proto-chaotic or chance encounters lead to empty moments or drift in thought, space and time. Drawing on this methodology of conversational drift, my work seeks to question or disrupt habitual perspectives through the liminality of objects, materials and the spaces I create.



The security dilemma by Sarah Strachan. Image courtesy of Sarah Strachan.

To begin, tell us a bit about yourself: how did you get involved with art, and what influenced you to follow this path?

I’ve been involved with art since I was a child when I would attend a Saturday Art Club every week. However, I chose Geography over Art early in my career whilst in pursuit of a ‘proper job’. But then after 20 years in healthcare marketing and communications, I took a career pivot in 2017, returning to university to study Fine Arts and the rest is history.

 

How do your deep conversations with people, places, and materials inform your understanding of environmental changes and ecological awareness?

I’m interested in how our perception of the world affects our ecological awareness and thinking and I see conversations as potentially transformative. I refer to a quote by the poet David Whyte who said “No-one survives a conversation” In so far as if genuine, you will never leave a conversation the same person when you arrived.

 


Objects listening II by Sarah Strachan. Image courtesy of Sarah Strachan.

In what ways do you fuse sound and moving image into your installations, and how does this enhance the exploration of your creative ideas?

My works are often exploring concepts around environmental change that are hidden, unseen or undervalued. In this sense, I often struggle to completely communicate what I’m trying to achieve and for me, this is where sometimes sound or moving images either resolve this for me, fill in the gaps or activate conversations with the more-than-human.

 

How does working with ceramics allow you to delve into complex issues of sustainability, particularly through your choice of materials and processes?

Working with clay is circular in nature, until we expose it to fire it can be recovered, recycled and reused. But also I find the slow process of digging and processing wild clay re-connects me with geological time and the value of materials.



Dawn by Sarah Strachan. Image courtesy of Sarah Strachan.

 

You mentioned that creative concepts with a social or community dimension feel more sustainable and enduring to you. Can you provide examples of such projects and their impact?

Collaboration is a really important part of my practice whether that relates to the process or the outcome. I find social practice more sustainable because its often less material or object focus in outcome and more enduring because the concepts have the potential to live on and re-emerge with the participants.

 

One of your submitted works is called The Security Dilemma. Can you elaborate on the concepts behind this work? And, what prompted the choice of materials and the final visual composition?

This work oscillates between the real and the imaginary, between past, present and future. It stems from a conversation with a field traumatized by industrial agriculture and serves to represent the last harvest of sorts, an archive of my memories of vast fields of corn when growing up. The security dilemma is a concept whereby nations are locked in a spiralling arms race to ensure their own security, but in the case of my work, it refers to food security and the green revolution. In spiralling efforts to secure food for the expanding world population, we have become locked into agricultural practices which has led to the degradation of 75% of global soils. With nearly a quarter of the world’s most fertile soil located in war-torn Ukraine, are we on the brink of a devastating global food crisis? 


The security dilemma by Sarah Strachan. Image courtesy of Sarah Strachan.

Can you explain how conversation serves as a systematic approach to analysis, knowledge production, poetics, and meaning in your work?

In my art practice, I see everyday interactions in the context of a methodology I refer to as conversational drift, whereby conversations provide the structure and repetition to allow for analysis and production of knowledge whilst drift allows space for reflexivity and assimilation to help me to develop meaning and understanding.


Could you elaborate on how your work seeks to question or disrupt habitual perspectives, particularly through the liminality of objects, materials, and the spaces you create?

In my work, I hope to challenge participants and/or the viewer to reconsider preconceived ideas or opinions. It’s really difficult to see the world from perspectives other than our own, but an anthropocentric view of the world has led us to a situation where we face both a climate emergency and an ecological crisis.


Beyondness by Sarah Strachan. Image courtesy of Sarah Strachan.

How does your background as a researcher and lecturer practitioner in sustainability inform and intersect with your creative practice, and how does it shape the direction of your work?

There is a reciprocity between my work as an artist, researcher and lecturer practitioner, it’s one big conversation. For me, education for sustainability is the link and an increasing recognition that it requires an approach that values the role of our hearts and hands as well as our heads.


Lastly, what message would you like to leave our readers?



A question, more than a message, thinking about sustainability - what is it that you want to sustain?


Know more about the artist here.


Cover Image


Objects listening by Sarah Strachan. Image courtesy of Jenny Harper.

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Sarah Strachan (b. 1974 Andover, UK) is a transdisciplinary artist who explores her ideas through printmaking, painting and ceramics; often fusing sound or moving image into the final installation. In her practice she senses environmental changes through deep conversations with people, place, the land and the materials and objects associated with these. Her interest lies in how our perception of being in, knowing and belonging to the world affects our ecological awareness and thinking. Selected recent group exhibitions include: Fresh at the British Ceramic Biennial (2021), London Art Biennale (2021), Newplatform.art (2022) and Fresh Air Sculpture (2022). Sarah was recently awarded the Art Resilience Sculpture Award, she has won the Sustainability Art Prize for the past two years (2021 and 2022) and received first prize at the ArtNumber23 Open Contest in Athens (2020). She lives and works in Cambridge where she recently completed an MA in Fine Art following a career pivot to focus on her art practice in 2017.

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