Other Investigations: Sarah Hotchkiss

Sarah Hotchkiss is a San Francisco-based artist, arts writers, and one half of the itinerant curatorial project Stairwell’s. She has participated in a number of group exhibitions in the Bay Area and New York, and was a resident at the Vermont Studio Center, Skowhegan, Esalen, the Lunar Artists’ Residency, and ACRE. In early December, she made an installation for West Coast Craft, and now she is preparing for a solo show in January at Goodnight Projects in San Francisco. Sarah makes sculptures and installations inspired by science fiction, which in film and literature is filled with strange objects – their source and function unknown, their power indisputable.

“Playing with color, pattern, illusion, 2D and 3D elements, I make objects that encourage examination and inspire consideration of potential futures. The more I make, the more the future I wish to inhabit manifests around me: one filled with invigorating patterns, brushy applications of paint and stimulating graphic elements.”

Etta and I met Sarah Hotchkiss at ACRE this summer, where we spoke to her (and Sam Hertz) about Sci-fi, sound, systems, and experiences before she had to run to go to the County Fair Demolition Derby. We decided to expand our introductory feature for the ACRE artists we conducted studio visits with and ask additional questions about what they are working on, their process, and their experience at ACRE. You can read about our visit here – Part 1 & Part 2.

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What projects are you currently working on? What processes and concepts are you exploring and experimenting with in the studio?

“I’m working on two different projects. One is a hanging installation for a craft fair here in San Francisco (note: We asked the artist to send us this information earlier this fall. West Coast Craft took place in December). I’m making a series of double-sided signs to hang from the rafters of a pavilion at Fort Mason. The graphic images on the signs are optical illusions that contain two equal or identical things that appear different. I’m also working on a small publication called “Same But Different” that you can read from both directions, playing with the different viewing options that make the optical illusions especially fun.

The second body of work is for a solo show in January at a space called Goodnight Projects. I’m remaking the objects from the bedroom in the children’s book Goodnight Moon, but the items (mittens, clock and comb included) will become objects from the future – or at least my version of it. The objects will be abstracted from their original functions through a variety of sculptural shapes and surface applications. I’m looking forward to experimenting with new materials and ways of building sculptures, but I have a lot of work to do. This will be my first solo show. A few years ago, I was making work about the legacy of the space race and its effect on our collective imagination. I started to ask myself what my version of the future was – not the one I had inherited or gleaned from copious amounts of science fiction, but the one I wanted to imagine for myself. Part of the challenge for the Goodnight Projects show is the presence of two really curious cats in the apartment, so my work needs to either be inaccessible or sturdy enough to withstand their investigations. I’m working on some engineering solutions for that now.”

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What kinds of things do you research and how is it important to your practice?

“I read a lot of science fiction, which keeps me thinking about space, other worlds, distant futures and unknown objects. Some of the books make their way into my sculptures. The Third Policeman and Roadside Picnic both include incredible descriptions of indescribable things. I come back to these passages repeatedly – they could double as dream sculptures. I should also admit I’ve been revisiting Star Trek: The Next Generation on the regular. Especially the holodeck episodes.

I consider both arts writing and Stairwell’s as parts of my practice. Going to shows, spending time formulating my opinions into essays and reviews helps me situate my own practice within the context of the work I’m seeing. Stairwell’s challenges me to think about site-specificity, audience and different ways of engaging with people. Both get me out of the studio and into conversations I wouldn’t otherwise be having, so right now they’re an indispensible way of expanding my creative practice.”

How was your experience at ACRE and what kinds of projects or adventures did you participate in?

“My time at ACRE feels like a dream now. I came to it from a full-time job at a non-profit arts organization and returned to that job as soon as I got home. Those two weeks away were spacious. Getting distance from my solitary studio practice, talking with strangers about the things I’m trying to make and physically being in a place without deadlines, walls or really obstacles of any kind (Oh it’s time for lunch? Cool I’ll just go eat now and not worry about dishes) was maybe the best vacation ever. Punctuating river floats with pick-up basketball games with the local kids wasn’t too shabby either.

I played a lot of games, which I don’t get to do as much in my daily life. In one day at ACRE, I played gillhook (a metal ring on a string game), Spot It (a fast-paced matching game), croquet and bags, and worked on both a crossword and a jigsaw puzzle. I’m trying really hard to maintain some level of game playing now that I’m back in the real world, and to make sure I’m playing as much as possible in the studio, because the future should be fun.”