Sara Clarken is a multi-disciplinary artist whose work surrounds themes of commodity criticism and concepts of ideology in modern consumer culture. Sara utilizes presentation methods that integrate photography with sculptural forms to reinforce the nature of a fetishized society by printing on industrial materials such as plastics, foams and metals. She uses recognizable 21st Century icons and aesthetics — ranging from leaked celebrity photographs to over-sexualized advertisements in an effort to deconstruct their effects on the public psyche and question the impact at large.
When she showed up on our radar we knew we needed to take a minute to chat with her about her background, creative process and thoughts on funding the arts. After the interview, we have to admit we’re crushing even harder. Check it out below:
What’s your background? And more specifically, where did you grow up and what are some forms of inspiration that stuck with you throughout your life?
I originally intended on going to school for fashion design, but after my first year of studies I realized I was more inspired by the production of editorials and less by the physical construction of the garments. Shortly after declaring a major in photo and film at VCU, I found myself regularly assisting fashion and commercial photographers. This immediate immersion into industry while enrolled in a fine art program helped me realize my overall interest in consumerism.
What jobs have you done in the past or continue to do that enable you to focus on your art?
I’ve always been one to self produce, which keeps the momentum going whether related to freelance or my studio practice. Working with other creatives on producing shoots and exhibitions really influences how I manage my ideas.
How did you fall into the art world?
I was living in NYC at the time, assisting photographer Matt Licari. We went to MoMA PS1 for Mike Kelley’s retrospective. It was that day I decided I was going to be a multi-media artist who explores concepts in a variety of formats, unbound from traditional photography.
Why do you do what you do? What role does the artist have in society and how do you see yourself play a part in this?
Art is communication. It is my duty to create and contribute in a way that energizes the viewer. Through imagery, I hold the power of manipulating a mass audience similar to advertising tactics. This creates a stage for myself to project my frustrations, nightmares and social commentary. Influencing consumers with aesthetics and nostalgia play a huge role in infiltrating the cultural facade.
What other forms of creativity and self expression do you practice?
I’m still really intrigued by fashion. I like to challenge consumer identity by often participating in fads with irony and pure indulgence. I am the object of my own critique, living in Los Angeles shopping on Rodeo one day and creating a knockoff Juicy Couture sweatsuit for a sculpture the next. I treasure my small collection of bootlegged designer sweatshirts as much as I love to rip off and resell my own artwork. It’s a comedic release!
Your work challenges the viewer to see things in a new light/perspective. Do you have a message in mind while creating a piece that you are interested in conveying to the viewer through your work?
People are in love with objects. They lust after them, dream, hoard and fetishize them. My choice in photography style and materials is a direct reflection of this human condition. I want to lure in my audience using the objects and symbols that I am critiquing with a satirical perspective.
At what point did you feel comfortable referring to yourself and identifying as an artist?
This moment of clarity came to me after stabbing “Miley At Fifteen” with a pipe. I was new to experimenting with the combination of photography and sculpture, and the piece had only existed as an image on foam. A professor challenged the preciousness of objects, and motivated me to create a new work with a more instinctual hand. From then on, creating became less calculated and there were more drafts than finished pieces in my studio.
Do you ever feel vulnerable sharing your work? If so, what are ways you move past your fear?
Of course! If the work is genuine it is inevitably vulnerable, but critique is the most constructive aspect in delegating actions of making. Coming closer to the clearest articulation of an idea is enough to overcome any fears.
How does art impact you personally — whether it’s looking at another person’s work, creating your own or seeing your complete work on display?
Uncoding history and theory behind an artwork — sometimes it being my own — is a very rewarding revelation of subconscious thought. Connection with another artist’s work fuels the dialogue and influences the consideration of alternate approaches to shared ideologies.
Why is it important to have art funding programs?
I’ve been enrolled in art classes my entire education, and would not have had the opportunity to pursue my inherent passions without them. Eliminating the chance to explore all outlets of communication creates a risk of constrained expression. There are more voices to be heard other than just the ones that can afford an extended education in the arts. In order to nourish a dialogue that is both diverse and challenging, art programs must be inclusive to all.