sarah crowEST,  Peregrination Melbourne , 2016. Courtesy of the artist. Photography by Suzie Blake.

sarah crowEST, Peregrination Melbourne, 2016. Courtesy of the artist. Photography by Suzie Blake.

Strap-on paintings
Strategies for flexing with the unpredictable body (1)

by sarah crowEST

 

The paintings constitute wearable performative works that implicate physical and material interaction over time. With varying degrees of attention to archival imperatives and tracking of provenance, the paintings can suggestively or explicitly become documents of their own making. Part of this process involves gathering with participants, clothing them and moving their bodies en masse through appearances and peregrinations with the artist’s (my) body as reluctant fulcrum.

 

Strap-on paintings?

 

These are works that appear in a cycle of movements, shifting between stretched canvas and unstretched, linen hangings that double as off-the-wall forms of apparel. I describe these unstretched linen canvasses, complete with utilitarian ties and pockets, as strap-on paintings. This ongoing series of work involves activities by a range of agencies that determine the outcomes: physical interventions by the artist, frictions between body and clothing, and unforeseen social interactions and accidents during participatory wear and use. The strap-on paintings, through their activation by these bodies seek to escape the strict confines of painting discourse while remaining in dialogue with it.

During 2016 I am expanding the scope of this project through appearances in the TarraWarra Biennial and in Peregrination São Paulo which will coincide with a research forage into the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo, Brasil. This represents an act of propelling my introverted self into the unknown, to the extent that I can test the possibility of the haphazard agency of people, events, materials and places as the co-conspirator of my production, rather than co-opted participants.

 

How does an introverted person or body put it out there?

 

A student once asked me ‘How do you network when you are shy?’ Having spent decades as an artist flexing with this disposition and overcoming the constraints while functioning in a socially inter-connected art world through persistence and maintaining a prodigious level of production and presentation, I was happy to address this question.

As an introvert (and happily so) I seek ways to show and share the things I see and make with the world without being compelled to verbalise too much or shine in ‘networking’ situations. I see this as an art of appearance.

I rely almost entirely upon showing what I make and do and (somewhat passively and lamely) waiting for a response. By putting my paintings onto the body, both mine and others, I can spontaneously ‘exhibit’ them or quietly insert them into contexts without necessarily being invited or being pushed to explain my ideas before presenting them. It has become my own body that, somewhat reluctantly, performs the most constant and reflexive component of the investigative project outlined above.

I therefore frequently put my paintings out into the world without applying, ‘submitting’ or asking for someone’s or some institution’s attention, approval, validation or support. In short I avoid having to blow my own trumpet. By default this procedure hones focus on artworks that are ‘predicated on their circulation in contexts extrinsic to traditional art spaces’(2).

 sarah crowEST,  Peregrination Melbourne,  2016. Courtesy of the artist. Photography by Suzie Blake.

sarah crowEST, Peregrination Melbourne, 2016. Courtesy of the artist. Photography by Suzie Blake.

How can we live with uncertainty?

 

Interceza Viva or Live Uncertainty is the title of the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo. Curated by Jochen Volz this event proposes ‘to reflect on the current conditions of life and the strategies offered by contemporary art to harbor or inhabit uncertainty’(3). My own omnipresent uncertainty as a psychological condition is something I increasingly seek to acknowledge and work with rather than do away with. Research and immersion in Interceza Viva or art from around the globe that ‘feeds off uncertainty, chance, improvisation, speculation’ as it ‘attempts to count the uncountable and measure the immeasurable’(4) promises to expand my mind and body from the personal, social sphere that preoccupies me. It augers well for expansion into realms encompassing the broader conditions of all life and the pressing global questions that hover ominously over us all. Or does it?

The Bienal de São Paulo, I decided, is where I must go next and I plot a gathering of bodies and a group peregrination or circular walk around the The Lucas Nogueira Garcez Pavilion also known as the Oca (‘hut’, given its round shape). This is located in Parque do Iberapuera adjacent to the Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion designed by Oscar Niemeyer where the Bienal is staged. I am excited!

I am fortunate to acquire funding for this project(5) before I find that I am no longer able to walk with any fluidity and spend several months on crutches due to some dead bone in the head of my femor. At the time of writing, with expedition take-off in a couple of weeks, I can barely hobble!

 

How might an artist resourcefully sustain and grow creative directions (6) as the body mutates in unexpected and crippling ways?

 

I have spent the last six years observing work and survival behaviours of artists with a fascination for how they (apart from the very top, chosen, richly renumerated ones) get by, live well and sustain an energetic level of ‘art’ activity. I also observe that many peel away into other fields. It can be very difficult.

I’ve adapted my own working methods so that all the things can be used, exhibited, stored and brought into play again to be reworked, recontexualised through other spaces with different bodies and arrangements. This has been described as a Tumbleweed Methodology (7) and output has been adapted over recent years from large, unwieldy, sculptural agglomerations into foldable paintings (compactible for storage) that document their own provenance and making as a visible record on the surfaces.

Work is contingent on physical capacity, availability of materials, financial resources (expenses required for storage, crating and freight can awkwardly interrupt smooth creative flow), and desire to extend technological capacity. There is a push against these limits which is sometimes vigorous but can fall softly away to nothing. No unforseen occurrence can totally impede the creative perambulation. This is factored into proceedings to facilitate a relaxed state when dwelling with uncertainty.

But always there is ‘The Body’. My own limited tolerance for sitting at the computer can thwart the implementation of my plans (as in the endless writing of statements, proposals, applications, budgets, lectures, institutional requirements for catalogue notes, lists of works and their details, contracts, the filing, resizing, and compiling of images into powerpoint presentations, publicity fodder and on). Similarly my introverted inability to ask for help can be a serious handicap as I like to test the limits of just what I can do. (This is a deep trait exemplified by my childhood propensity to move several large pieces of furniture into new positions in my small bedroom. I would inch the bed, wardrobe, bookcase and dressing table around like slow-motion Tetris).

So I am committed to Peregrinação São Paulo. Will the walk become a lippety, lippety limp in a strange city? I find I can still ride my bicycle with fiendish joy, discover one can hire bicycles in Parque do Iberapuera, proceed to adjust the length of the strap-on-paintings to facilitate cycling without getting caught in the cogs and imagine the excursão on wheels…

 

 sarah crowEST,  Peregrination Melbourne , 2016. Courtesy of the artist. Photography by Suzie Blake.

sarah crowEST, Peregrination Melbourne, 2016. Courtesy of the artist. Photography by Suzie Blake.


  1. I was tempted to use the term ‘volatile body’ here but that term is too loaded with Judith Butler’s exploration of various dissonances in thinking the relation between mind and body. Butler has coined it beautifully.

  2. Press release for TarraWarra Biennal 2016: Endless Circulation

  3. Live Uncertainty is the title of the 32nd Bienal accessed 11/8/2016

  4. Live Uncertainty is the title of the 32nd Bienal accessed 11/8/2016

  5. I graciously acknowledge the project assistance provided by the Australia Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

  6. I’m trying, somewhat clunkily, to avoid the over-used term ‘practice’ here!

  7. Akira Akira, 2012, Three Notes for the inexplicable magnetism of an alien object, exhibition catalogue and It just goes... On Sarah crowEST and the Tumbleweed Methodology, download 16/08/2016 


sarah crowEST lives in Melbourne and sustains a peripatetic studio practice that incorporates painting off-the-wall, dressing up and walking around.