Open Frequency 2012: Sarah Staton, selected by Stephen Snoddy

Open Frequency 2012: Sarah Staton, selected by Stephen Snoddy Sarah Staton, Hugo, 2012 Powder coated steel and rose quartz, 55 x 50 x 35 cm

Stephen Snoddy, Director of the New Art Gallery Walsall, profiles the work of Sarah Staton

At the centre of Sarah Staton’s work is a dialogue between design, architecture, modernism, interior, exterior; the space between the work and the ground or support structures that exhibit the objects, and a little bit of life and fun without any cause for concern or angst-ridden guilt. This sounds flippant, when it is not. Her work is difficult to classify.

She is interested in producing syntheses between art and design, painting and sculpture. An embrace of modernist aesthetics has developed into ideas for objects that work in conjunction with their environment. She is continuously developing an approach to sculpture that expands its modes of interaction with both audience and environment, becoming for example habitable or capable of supporting life in other ways.

She has said, ‘I am working against the conceit of sculpture as an autonomous, passively received object, preferring forms of sculpture that invite direct contact, and become animated by human or organic presence.’

Inspired by Susan Sontag’s proposal that collecting objects produced in multiples (books/cds) is infinitely preferable to the fetishisation of the unique object, she instigated ‘SupaStore’ (1993-2001), a social sculpture created with functionless multiples and operating as a real-space hub for an ever growing network of peer group artists.

‘Anti-Paintings’ (1994-2001) was a body of work created with bleach, denim and a washing machine, an end-of-century homage to Gertrude Stein and her adage that ‘America did invent the 20th Century’. Works such as ‘How the West has Won and Lost’ (1999) and ‘The Masses are Massive’ (1999) worked, along with quotation and appropriation, to make an unfinished lexicon of takes on iconic 20th century American Art.

Furniture commission for the New Art Gallery Walsall, 2012

Sarah Staton, Furniture commission for the New Art Gallery Walsall, 2012
Powder coated steel, cast iron, manchichi wood

In 1991 Staton laid a Union Jack made of coloured broken glass on the lawn outside the Serpentine Gallery, in the Royal Kensington Gardens; in 2003 she made a modernist English country garden in the ongoing social experiment that is the new town of Milton Keynes, and in 2009 exhibited at The Lowry, Salford, in the land of LS Lowry, The Fall and Alan Turing. All these people have a particular English accent: they are all visionaries in their own distinctive, idiosyncratic and singular way. Staton is making work that is richly layered and disrupts familiar conventions of visual grammar whilst retaining a position between high and low culture, slightly tongue-in-cheek but never trivial; sophisticated and complex. Working across disciplines she produces work that manipulates scale, colour, material, texture, position and context. Staton meets Braque meets Hepworth meets Bauhaus meets Muji meets Swarovsky meets Rick Astley meets Sarah.

The plinth was at the core of The Lowry installation, ‘A Clump of Plinths’ (2009), and it provides the start of a conversation that can shift easily from casual conversation to rigorous debate. It is colourful in speech but never pedantic or overbearing, and offers promises and pleasures to any spectator who is willing to engage in an imaginative journey. Many may suggest that the creative process should replace the ‘frame’ and the ‘plinth’ but I would argue that these are legitimate subjects in their own right: subjects for an artist to interrogate within a context such as The Promenade – a space to walk through slowly, and consider.

These themes and preoccupations are resolving into ideas for pavilion-type sculptures and furniture works for exterior sites. The exterior works complement wall-based works and floor-based furniture-type works created for interior locations. You could sit on one to view the other. In a recent roof terrace commission at The New Art Gallery, Walsall, Staton has designed a space for social engagement with careful planting that will mature in the next few years to fit with the Caruso St John sleek architecture.

Collaged paintings have provided the raw material for series of panning shots for a recent ambient film work that she has created together with artist Karin Ruggaber: ‘Shorts’ 2012 combines their respective footage in a clunky edit that runs to a soundtrack created by a young Sheffield-based band. ‘Shorts’ is just one of the collaborative projects that she has been involved with for over 20 years. Her work is self-assured, contained, confident and interrogative.

Stephen Snoddy, December 2012

Artist's biography

Sarah Staton studied at St Martins School of Art, London (1984-1988) and has exhibited widely in Europe, North America, Russia and Japan.

Recent commissions and exhibitions include a commission to create an outdoor room with sculpture, furniture and a planting scheme on the 4th floor roof terrace of The New Art Gallery, Walsall (2012); Shorts, a short film created with Karin Ruggaber with music by Konkrete Mickza, screened at Babylon Cinema, Berlin (2012); Steve – The Autonomous Machine, a commission from Sheffield University, created in collaboration with the architecture and physics departments (2012); Parts and Labour, a group exhibition devised by Bridghid Lowe and John Chilvers, Camberwell Space, Camberwell Art School, London (2012); A Thing is a Thing is a Thing, a group exhibition looking at the role of objects, the Minories, Colchester (2012); Sculpture Drawing, group exhibition, Kings Place Gallery, London. Sarah lives and works in Sheffield.

About Stephen Snoddy

Stephen trained as an artist at Belfast College of Art and graduated in 1983 with an MA in Fine Art. His first job was to run a small community arts centre in Lisburn, NI. He graduated with a Postgraduate Diploma in Art Gallery & Museum Studies from Manchester University and then moved to Bristol in 1987 to become Exhibitions Organiser at Arnolfini Gallery. In 1991, he became Exhibitions Director of Cornerhouse, Manchester, where he was responsible for bringing The British Art Show 4 to Manchester. In 1996, he moved to become Director of Southampton City Art Gallery, where he organised the 1998 Chris Ofili solo exhibition, which won Ofili the 1998 Turner Prize. In the spring of 1998, he moved to Milton Keynes to direct the construction of a brand new gallery as part of the Pound currency symbol30 million Theatre and Gallery complex. In 2003, he was appointed Director of BALTIC Centre of Contemporary Art, Gateshead where he made organisational and structural changes, refreshed the programme and engaged with artists of the region. He joined The New Art Gallery Walsall as Director in 2005.

Open Frequency keeps you in touch with new developments in contemporary art practice from across the UK. The artists are selected and profiled by leading curators, artists and writers, presenting the work of artists to watch out for over the coming year. Open Frequency represents a forward-looking glance today of the artists who will be setting the agenda tomorrow.