In her sculptures Sarah Bednarek refers to minimalism with humor and love. She turns minimalism’s aesthetics on its head – utilizing minimalist language of precision to highlight the chaotic and unexpected . Her sculptures are on a human scale – witty and visceral through playful material and form. Bednarek shares with Art Spiel some insight on her life and her recent exhibition, ChiChi DooDad at Tiger Strikes Asteroid New York.
AS: Tell me briefly about your background—what brought you to art?
I’ve always been an artist, even as a little kid (with the typical desires to be an astronaut or marine biologist) when I made a lot of things out of clay. As an adult I make stuff out of wood, probably because of my work history in cabinet making. It’s relatively recently that I realized that I like the process of making stuff precisely as possible, as mathematically as possible.
AS: You say that math of the everyday is messy. How is this reflected in your art?
Sarah Bednarek: The math I do on paper or in my mind is clear, simple, and ideal, but when I make stuff in real life there are always slight changes, slight mistakes in execution, or just plain mistakes. So it’s a mess in that way. It’s also messy in that what can be imagined can’t always be created, so there’s a conflict between the real sculpture and the mathematics that inspired it.
AS: In the description of your current show ChiChi DooDad at Tiger Strikes Asteroid New York show description it says that you alter the math that constructs your forms to create protrusions, to bore holes, to link them together and to turn them inside out. Can you elaborate on that?
Sarah Bednarek: The body of work that has developed around Johnson Solids (mathematical forms with rules, similar to Platonic Solids) is the result of originally just copying them out of curiosity. Almost right away though I realized that because they were comprised of similar units (like squares and equilateral triangles) that I could use as a forum to explore other things. I could twist, turn, mirror, punch in, and push out components, for example. In this way I am free to create objects that explore symmetry, suggest the body, and deceive or deny expectations.
AS: The sculptures in this show are made of natural wood adorned with velvet. Tell me about your choice of material and texture. How does it play in your process?
Sarah Bednarek: I explored a lot of new things in this show, especially textures and materials. About natural wood, I still use a lot of fake wood, but I’ve been thinking about the permanence of my work lately and wanted to use something realer than MDF. The velvet was amazing to use because it absorbs light, so it’s as if the sculpture is hiding. As a thought experiment I wanted to make something hard to see, but that was also seductive and makes you want to touch.
AS: Your works are human scale, which prompts the viewer to imagine human forms or gestures. Are you thinking on human forms or gestures in your work and if so, in what ways?
For sure. I think they can wave at you, show their insides, or dance. I think some of the forms look like legs, bellies, heads and other body parts, I like to allow those references. I think I’m a little coy about it though.
AS: Let’s take a specific sculpture like Deluxe Bundle. How did you start it and what was your process?
Sarah Bednarek: First I make a paper model, thinking about finishes, as well as what colors and materials are appropriate. At that time for instance, I was looking at a Barbara Hepworth that had two differently colored voids. Then I make a cardboard model and measure all the angles. Later I compile a cut list based off the measured angles. Finally, I cut all the pieces, assemble them, sand, and apply finishes.
AS: It says in the press release of your show that your work is “understated autobiography and subtle prank.” What’s your take on that?
Sarah Bednarek: I have cancer right now, so a lot of the work starts as a thought about that. Like: what if I make a sculpture that has all my major tumors in it – what would that look like? That’s how some of them start. But after a lot of iterations it becomes something else, hopefully something more.
I think I am funny sometimes. I mean, I did make a cactus sculpture that waves at you. Sometimes I make things that look like genitalia. I am kind of abashed that I make stuff like that, but I am trying not to judge. I also make things that have deceptive insides – you can look in, but what’s there isn’t what’s on the outside. Maybe that’s a prank.
AS: The PR also describes your work as slyly poking feminist fun at your “Minimalist grandfather’s notion of sculpture as rarified object.” Can you talk more about your work in this art historical context?
Sarah Bednarek: I always loved minimalism, but it’s so damn serious. I feel compelled to ask things like: What if I make a totally perfect as possible and seductive minimalist sculpture that looks like a couple of balls? I guess that’s what that means when it says poking fun – they maybe bring minimalism out of the ether and down to what’s human.
As far as feminism, I think it’s important to kill the patriarchy and maybe one way to do that is to bring male dominated minimalism out of this religious-like realm.
AS: What are you doing in your studio these days?
Sarah Bednarek: I’m mostly drawing right now. I’m in a planning phase. The exhibition opened a lot of doors that I’m really excited to walk through.