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The work of Sarah Belknap & Joseph Belknap

Sarah Belknap and Joseph Belknap were recently selected to participate in Chicago Artist Month and participated in another show that opened last week entitled, Wood Worked. This show was visualized and co-curated by Chicago Urban Art Society’s Chief Curator and Co-Founder Peter Kepha along with Kevin Wilson, who currently serves as the Chicago Urban Art Society’s Pop-Up Satellite-Space Curator. The work of Chicago-based artists Sarah Belknap and Joseph Belknap, speaks to notions of mediation and communication through their own perplexities towards life. The process of their work unfolds as an investigation and an attempt to gain a deeper understanding of the wonders of everyday life along with the happenstances and unpredictable nature of our experiences.

With all of our busy schedules and hustle and bustle in these busy fall months, I was finally able to get in front of them on behalf of Sixty. Below is a short interview with the collaborators. Also incorporated in this feature is a short video documentary about Sarah and Joseph’s work. Andrew Roddewig of Clarion New Media produced the video for The Department of Cultural Affair’s Chicago Artist Month.

Nicolette Caldwell: When did you decide you wanted to make creating artwork a career?

Sarah Belknap: Ever since I can remember I have wanted a career I was in love with. After I finished my BFA, I seriously thought about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Nothing made me more excited than to be in the studio – I feel challenged there and constantly stimulated.

Joseph Belknap: I do not remember ever believing I was meant to do anything other than to create things with my hands. The moment came when I realized that this field of study requires absolute commitment. Pursuing art means being engulfed by it.

NC: Who influences you both as artists? Is there one particular (or a few) artist/s that you appreciate who you take into account when you are making your own work? Where do you draw your inspiration?

Sarah and Joseph: We have crushes on a lot of artists, in particular, Rosemarie Fiore, Simon Starling, Francis Alys and Helen Mirra. Our inspirations come from loads of other artists and from looking at the world and what it has to offer. We draw from what we see every day, in and out. We try to take those recognizable images and turn and twist them into something different while still maintaining some recognizable bits.

NC: What is your ultimate goal? Where are you taking your art business and where would you like to be ten years from now? Do you have a driving agenda?

Sarah and Joseph: Oh… We love this – we love making work and having a separate but complimentary small design and art business. In ten years, we hope to have these two things still running parallel to each other. We want to keep making. We want to keep doing this.

NC: What do you think about this question, “Theory before art or art before theory?” How do you think your work falls when being discussed on a theoretical platform? Does applying theory help you do what you do and others understand your practice? Or do you think that your work would be just as successful with out? Maybe that is the difference between your business iamhome and the type of work you show in galleries?

SB: It’s both. They need to work hand in hand. Theory does help contextualize art, but it shouldn’t be necessary to know and understand for someone to look at art. We want to make pieces that can evoke thought and emotion without the viewer being completely involved in the arts, or in the theory that surrounds the art.

JB: I would agree that the difference between iamhome and our fine art practice outwardly is the separation of critical discourse. But even in our design we engage with themes and definitely investigate formal discourses. Our fine art practice is fueled and enriched by this level of engagement in our design business. It keeps us on our toes. We like to reference Eva Hesse and the conversation in her work around the finished piece and the work sample.

NC: Eva Hesse is hands down, also one of my favorite artists.

"Catastrophe" - Work by Sarah Belknap and Joseph Belknap, September 17, 2011. (Image Credit: Tempestt Hazel.)

"Catastrophe" - Work by Sarah Belknap and Joseph Belknap, September 17, 2011. (Image Credit: Tempestt Hazel.)

NC: You just showed work at Wood Worked, a show that Kevin Wilson curated at Chicago Urban Art Society. The series of work that you displayed embodies a new(er) aesthetic that I have not noticed in your work before. How do you see your work changing based on the last couple months worth of studio work and art shows you have been producing for?

Sarah and Joseph: Our work is always shifting and changing. It’s exciting for us to explore new spaces in our concepts. The work at Wood Worked draws from capturing moments or images. Imagine running down a city block, and the world around you blurring into colors, shapes and textures. In these new pieces we think of fences and interlacing of televisions simultaneously.  Their form follows this idea, which results in a mechanical and clean aesthetic. This is off set then by the mimicking plastic, embedded histories and the idea of reclamation. When we look back at our body of work, we are always surprised by how different everything feels, but in the end, we can see ourselves always searching and looking for the same thing. We are trying to capture a moment in time or space and trying to hold on to it, or to freeze it, just for a second.

NC: How has being part of the BOLT residency been going for you?

Sarah and Joseph: The BOLT residency is a one yearlong residency program with the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. We have a studio and share this space along with nine other artists. We have studio visits and professional development workshops. We love it. The other artists are amazing and it gives us a strong sense of community. We live on the outskirts of Chicago and were feeling pretty isolated, BOLT gives us a space where we can be a part of something big. This November and December we are having two group shows in the Bolt Gallery and in the spring through the fall, each resident will then have a solo show.  We are excited to be a part of this residency in its first year as it takes off under the direction of CAC and Courtney Lederer who relentlessly works to ensure the success and longevity of this residency.

NC: And you were selected to participate in Chicago Artists Month. What was your first thought or reaction when you found out you were one of the selected participants?

Sarah and Joseph: It was pretty shocking and humbling to be among the chosen twelve. It’s been great. We are meeting wonderful people and are honored to be representing the BOLT residency and Chicago Artist Month.

NC: I’ve always been curious about this. How do you incorporate your vegan lifestyle into your art practice? Do you buy certain materials that fit the sort of standards and criteria you live by?

SB: We are recently eating some fish, but are mostly vegetarian. We care about the world we live in and how it is treated, but we use the materials we need for a project. Art is pretty messy. To offset this, we try to use as much reclaimed material as possible and we try extremely hard not to waste material.

JB: Ever notice the dumpsters that surround most studio buildings? iamhome was born out of the stacks of wood we kept in our studio and couldn’t bear to throw out and couldn’t use in our fine art. We have as little waste as possible and try to be aware as consumers what our money is supporting and propagating. In this idea, we have also begun to collect artwork from artist at all levels. We think everyone should be supporting each other as a community.


NC: What one fact do you think people should know about the two of you?

SB: We spend no more than 3 hours away from each other at a time. We are married, have a small business together, teach together and make art together. People think we are crazy, but I think we balance each other out. And besides, it is amazing to work alongside another person.

JB: We work while you sleep. Just kidding although we try to work relentlessly. But in all seriousness, we want to stay in Chicago. Too many artists flee this city and move East or West. We want to have a sustainable practice and manufacture in Chicago. There are amazing groups and businesses that want this too, i.e. Chicago Urban Art Society, The Haymaker (a Chicago made Design Store), Jettison Magazine, The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, Chicago Artist Coalition and many more! But it is up to artist to organize and collaborate.

NC: And Sixty Inches From Center!

For more information about Sarah Belknap and Joseph Belknap go to www.sarahandjoseph.com and www.iamhome.us

To learn more about BOLT Redisdency go to www.chicagoartistscoalition.org

Go to www.chicagoartistsmonth.org to find out more about Chicago Artists Month

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