Sarah Kimmerle is a museum worker, academic and archivist. We spoke about one of her many roles as a museum guide. Is the guide to be an expert or a conversationalist? In contemporary museum practice, we are finding more and more opportunities for rich engagement via the conversationalist model, opposed to the ‘expert’ lecturer. For instance, at YBCA, there are ‘cultural coaches’ for YBCA You* members. When I was AIR at Portland Art Museum, I also searched for new ways to engage and educate audiences that upset the traditional museum education paradigm, by singing, cheering, and facilitating a security guard–led tour. The public welcomed these alternatives. The basic questions asked by the public are often huge and vague. What is art? What is the value of art? These questions are filled with vast potential, but have no specific answer, do they? When working with a group of Florida seniors last year, many whom were artists, there was certainly no answer we could agree upon. We all keep trying, hoping to add to the conversation.
Sarah and I also discussed her interest in archiving, as well as her work putting the de Young’s collection online via Google Art. https://deyoung.famsf.org/blog/behind-screens-google-art-project. Congratulations on her new full time engagement at Oakland Museum of California. We hope to be hearing more from Sarah and her exciting thesis topic, “Collaborating with Artists in Museums of Contemporary Art”.
I’ve been chipping away at my research for Mapping the Archive, meeting with local (and non) cultural producers, archivists, and artists. I’ve been organizing my own archive, making lists and links, finding threads, and reading exciting texts about art and archives, like presentations from The Archivists Round Table.
As art and archive can be divided by a very thin line, how do we deal with these? Why are institutions letting go of archivists? What happens when an institution keeps collecting and making but stops recording? Even those that do prioritize archiving do so through temporary grants, which may or may not allow enough time and resources to do the job. So… we end up with slightly smashed cardboard boxes in the basement. How do we balance recording our material culture with physical archives vs. web preservation? How long will each of these forms last? In what objects/documents do we (or will we in the future) find value???
Where are you from?
Bucks County outside of Philadelphia, PA
Where did you receive your art training?
Stephens College and California College of the Arts
In what media do you primarily work?
Mixed media, which includes ephemera – old photographs, books, letters, tags, hand sewing.
What/Who are your artistic influences?
Not in order of importance: Lenora Tawney’s collages and assemblages. Louise Bourgeois’ fabric works. El Anatsui’s use of found materials. Peter Beard’s journals. Sonia Delaney’s artist book: La Prose du Trassibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France. Agnes Martin’s writings, my Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors, Cy Twonbly’s mark making, David Hockney’s trees and brilliance.
Do you have a favorite artwork at the de Young or the Legion of Honor? If so, what is it?
Yes. El Anatsui’s Hover II. I saw his solo show at the Brooklyn Museum last year. It was great.
If you weren’t an artist, what would you do? Are you an artist full time or what is your “day job?”
I am an artist full time. In the past, I ran a decorative painting and color consulting business, but, now, do it only occasionally.
How does living in the Bay Area influence your art practice?
The Bay Area influences my practice because I love living here. Surrounded by and appreciating the tremendous natural beauty and rich cultural populace is stimulating for me.
What is the one place/museum/cultural site you’d like to visit?
I want to travel to India, to take in the sensory and visual experience. And there is more…
I would like to be permitted solo access to one of the country’s finest libraries and spend days looking through books, special collections, magazines, everything/anything…sort of a massive pre-google tactile search. I promise I won’t rip, tear, or cut anything!
I would also live to visit Hogsback, South Arica in the Amatola Mountains.
How did the idea behind Monsters and Robots start?
It started many moons ago when one of my students [at the JCCSF] brought me in a drawing of a robot and asked me if I could make it out of clay. I told her I would try, and I was really happy with the results (and I think she was, as well). I started asking more of my younger students if they wanted to draw me a robot and monster to create, and it just took off from there. The biggest surprise for me was how much adults have enjoyed participating in the project. Bringing the project to my Oakland studio really opened it up to a whole new crowd.
Every month, people attend Art Murmur in Oakland and create sketches of monsters and robots, hoping that you’ll turn their creation into a sculpture. How do you choose?
I try not to interact with the people who are drawing in my sketchbooks during the Murmur. I want as little influence as possible between us and to let the drawing do the introductions. Usually a day or two after the Art Murmur, I will sit down with the sketches and see which ones pop out to me. It really is exciting to see what people have drawn. I was raised jewish, but I imagine its like being a kid on Christmas morning. Each page is a new present. Sometimes there are a bunch I want to work on, sometimes it’s just one, and sometimes I’m just not feeling it. That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any great work, though, because everyone who takes the time to draw has created something of value in my eyes. Usually upon second, third, and more viewings I see inspiring things that I might have missed the first few times. After I create the piece I try and email the artist and invite them to my Oakland studio to meet them and to have them see the finished project.
What do you think of as you’re creating a new piece? Do you imagine a life for it? Do you try to give it a sense of realism? Do you just try to have fun? Are you focused on it as an artwork?
I’m usually thinking about whatever other projects or tasks I am working on. At any given moment I have 3-7 projects going. Its really a strange moment when I finish everything and there is this brief time where I have no active pieces and I need to figure out what to make next.
I only recently started imagining my creatures’ personalities. More often than not, they take on their own identities as I am creating them.
I used to take my work so seriously, but now I just have fun with what I am making. I have plans to go back to more realistic figurative work after I finish the Monsters and Robots project, but it really makes me happy to make these little creatures, so I don’t think that I will ever stop.
What was your favorite monster (or robot) growing up?
Answering this question is really hard. I want to write down Chewbacca, or Yoda, or Sweetums from the Muppets, but are they really monsters? Lets just put it this way – if it was in a 70s or 80s George Lucas or Jim Henson production, then that was my favorite. All of them.
If you could become one of your sculptures which one would you be?
I’m pretty sure I AM all of them already. Each one of those guys has a lot of me in them. But the robot and toaster bunny piece is really just the clearest picture of me and my dog.
But, if I could be one of them, I would probably choose Gordo the Cuttlefish monster, or one of my Octopus. I am totally afraid of what lurks in the water, yet a lot of my work the past year has been underwater creatures. I would really love to explore the ocean, but with tentacles. Because tentacles are bad ass.
What would you like people to know about your project?
I would like them to know that this project is for everyone. It does not matter how old you are. How good your drawing skills are. How much time you can spend on a drawing. Whether I choose to sculpt your drawing or not, every piece is respected and admired for the creators effort and interest in being a part of this visual conversation.
Joshua Margolis will be in residence at the de Young museum in July. To submit a sketch to the artist, visit the Kimball Education Gallery, attend Art Murmur at the FM Collective gallery, post it on Instagram #monstersandrobots, or submit it online here.