Sacha Ingber (b. 1987, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) lives and works in New York. She received her MFA in Sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2013. Ingber has been an artist in residence at The Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2013), the Vermont Studio Center (2010), and Catwalk Artist Residency (2009). Recent exhibitions were held at Clemente Soto Velez, New York; Reynolds Gallery, VA; Hillyer art space, Washington, DC; Vox Populi, Philadelphia; DaSilva Gallery, New Haven, CT; Kunstraum, New York; Hometown Gallery, New York; Spring Break Art Show, New York; and Coust of Waxman, New York.
I think of my works as non-functional proposals for places that favor fantasy over utility. They are about aspiration. I make objects in which I can instill the gaps and urges in my imagination, dreams, and reality. As if I were an architect, feelings of place and the experience of the body within it, is what occupies my thoughts most of the time. Drawing from pop, postmodern design, craft traditions, and icons of the everyday, my recent work has come about in a similar way to mosaic and collage. Resin casting and building processes allow me to indulge and explore the way in which visual languages can take on attitudes of rebellion, exuberance and humor. My hope is that in the end, the process appears integral to the object’s weight and existence - that each work can possess a vernacular of its own.
Interview with Sacha Ingber
Questions by Emily Burns
What is the major structural component of your large cutout pieces? Do you refer to these as paintings?
I think of those works as objects because of they way that I physically handle things in the studio. I hesitate to call them paintings.. I rarely apply something onto a surface, and the process of making them involves actual spatial depth and relief more often than pictorial depth. My process is so tactile and the works don't always exist on the wall, so yes, I tend to use the word "object" more than anything else. Structurally speaking, what you see as the "ground" or skeleton of a piece is a type of urethane resin that I've been using for a while now. It is the material foundation for my recent cast pieces.
Can you walk us through your overall process for making one of your large-scale works?
Oh man, the process is so different and long each time! My ideas usually show up at unexpected times, and they rarely come from a direct reaction to something I see in front of me. I have a pretty strong visual memory, so I only make preparatory drawings when I feel like I could easily forget the specificity of a color or a curve or a shape. The actual making of my larger pieces starts with an outlined image of an object, which is then made into a mold, which is the negative for the finished object. This mold is what determines the boundaries of a piece. My process is similar to quilting in that I prepare all of the components I need separately, but with a specific goal or image in mind. The goal for me can be something like "I want this platter to be wearing a skirt but to also house a staircase going through it" or "this work needs to be in "greenscale" instead of “greyscale" or "this work needs to feel like the bathroom in my grandmother's house". I make or collect all of the separate elements in order to serve that end conceptually, but they also have to physically and logistically fit together, similar to a Jigsaw puzzle. When all of the components are ready, and when I've made the mold for them to go in, I then pour resin over and around them. This is how the objects become embedded and also what holds the whole piece together. Once I pull the piece out of the mold, I then make further interventions into it if I feel like it's still not doing what I want it to do. For instance, I might change the color of something if it's not quite right. Also, I've recently been drilling holes through the pieces, cutting them up and rearranging them, or threading other materials through them. I feel like that loosens them up if they feel too uptight and also reinforces the feeling that these things might have some sort of strange function or history of use. Sometimes I save a component from the very beginning of a piece to add at the end because I want it to sit above the surface rather than flush with it. I usually know a work is finished when it embarrasses me slightly and makes me disoriented and excited at the same time. I think the word for that is giddy.
Details of materials and textures seem so important—how do you source the materials that appear in your work?
The material details are really important to me. I usually know very quickly whether a material is something I want to be associated with or not. Everything has such specific cultural cues. Sometimes I'll come across materials by chance, usually in stores. I'm drawn to objects that are specific enough to be recognizable, but that have the potential of being ambiguous in their function or identity. I get a lot of things at baking supply stores, beading stores, and other specialty-type stores. Most things come from stores catered to specific crafts, though I end up using these in a completely different way than they are meant to be used. Other times, when I know exactly what I want, I order it online. If I can't find a material or texture that I want, I just make it myself and treat it as if I bought it somewhere. It always ends up looking like I made it, which to me is interesting in and of itself—the idea of treating something I made as a readymade in my own work.
Do you need to do a lot of tests in order to create the surface textures? How much experimentation is involved in your process?
I don't really believe in testing when it comes to my work because I like to have a sense of immediacy and spontaneity in the process of making, like the way that making a mark with a brush can be very impulsive. I don’t work in a serial way, so each piece feels like its own separate project or idea. I guess you could say that each work is a test for the next. I embrace the awkwardness that comes from doing something for the first time, as long as it's balanced by control in other aspects of the piece. I see testing as being very different from experimentation though. There is so much experimentation in my process. I feel so bored in the studio if I'm just executing. The moments that I feel the most excited are when I'm making decisions I've never made before in the work.
What is the relationship of your works on paper to the larger paintings?
I see my drawings as a separate body of work that runs parallel to the large resin works. The drawings are autonomous pieces and they're not studies or sketches. I keep going back to making drawings because they allow me to move much faster in the studio. I can finish one in a few hours or a day, which is a change of rhythm that I need sometimes when I'm working on a sculpture or one of the resin pieces.
The piece Royal Palm has a very explicit reference to the ubiquitous car air freshener. What inspired this form as a model?
Yes. It’s an icon that is mundane but also a recognizable piece of Americana. I think it’s funny to use this item as a central motif in a work. It's strange that no matter what scent you buy, it always comes in the shape of that same pine tree, as if that tree can produce all kinds of different smells. I wanted the air freshener to feel prominent in the piece but then it's actually the opposite of that because it's invisible and absent and only exists as a cutout. Still, as this invisible image, it has a strong bearing on what's happening in the rest of the piece. I was thinking of different types of plants, and wanted to take the monstera leaves, something that holds it's own ubiquity in Brazil where I'm from, and let them live with a pine tree in this absurd collection of air fresheners.
How important is scale for you?
It's really important! I naturally arrived at this scale for my resin pieces because it allows them to read both as spaces and as images simultaneously. They are large enough to contain space and to feel architectural, but small enough so that you can see the gestalt all at once without standing too far away. The tactility and variation in textures is important to me, so I want certain parts of the objects to be the right size for a hand or a finger to be able to touch.
How delicate are the large paintings?
They're not as delicate as they look. Obviously the ceramic components are, but the urethane I use is super resilient and also malleable, which is important for me because it can be manipulated and pushed in a lot of ways.
Are there any consistent themes in your most recent body of work? What’s on your mind right now?
There are definitely a lot of things on my mind right now... Like, how can I make psychological space in my work as opposed to illustrated space? I think a lot about blueprint type drawings or proposals for dystopian cities or bedrooms.
At which point does a scene become a still life?
I think a lot about how spaces take on psychological and emotional qualities and project them onto the people inhabiting them.
I've recently been trying to find ways that I can make my larger pieces exist away from the wall or how each work can demand to be presented in a certain way.
I think a lot about architecture that is connected to leisure, because the formal language used is so expressive, shameless, and indulgent.
What makes a color scheme feel "sporty"?
What makes an entranceway that is arched feel warm, and one with sharp angles feel cold?
I've been daydreaming a lot about my mom's daily life in Rio, always being surrounded by this amazing landscape and foliage but also by gang violence..?
I'm interested in the tipping point between using a flat surface to serve food on and going for something with a bit of a lip. I'm thinking a lot about ladles right now.
I was also recently remembering a lecture that Charline Von Heyl did on her work and a separate one that Trisha Donnelly did and the way that they each have completely different and unique eloquent ways of addressing, but also completely avoiding, speaking about nonverbal ideas happening in their work. And it's all done with such poise.
I've been thinking a lot about Dorothea Tanning's paintings.
And also about how all the clothing that Alessandro Michele has made since he took over Gucci is just completely drool-inducing and delicious.
What is a typical day like for you?
My schedule is pretty inconsistent. During 9 consecutive days out of each month, I switch gears from being in the studio and work my side job doing props on a cooking TV show. Those days are very long and intense and all-consuming. The rest of the month, on days I am in the studio, I wake up and make eggs every morning. My morning time is precious to me because It's when I get to sit down and sort of catch up on things and center myself. Then I walk or take the bus to the studio. During my studio day I'll usually work until around 7:30 or 8. When I take breaks I look at artist books or talk on the phone and catch up with friends or family. I'm usually there until my partner, Lior, who is also an artist, will come back from work and either pick me up at the studio or stay and work for an hour or so. When he's not at his side job, we'll go to the studio together. His is next door to mine. Then we'll go home and if we have energy, make dinner and lounge around with our cat, Therese. I'm not an evening person so I'm usually completely out of it and tired and black out from then on until I fall asleep.
Who are some of the artists that have influenced your work the most?
Thinking way back to my earlier years of making work: Oldenburg, Eva Hesse, Isa Genzken, Jessica Stockholder, Tom Nozkowski, Andrea Zittel, Noguchi, Rachel Harrison. And more recently: Ree Morton, Matthew Ronay, Elizabeth Murray, Diane Simpson, Jo Baer, Nancy Shaver, Betty Woodman, Giosetta Fioroni, Paul Klee, David Hockney, Emma Kunz. Also artists in the Groupo Frente from Rio in the 60s like Helio Oiticica, Lygia Pape, Lygia Clark. A lot of architects and designers have been huge influences in my work too: Roberto Burle Marx, Lina Bobardi, Oscar Nyemeyer, the Memphis group, Peter Pilotto, Mary Katrantzou, Michael Graves, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Vera Neumann, Lewis Comfort Tiffany...
What are a few of the stimuli or experiences that get you really excited to get back into the studio, particularly if you have been experiencing a spell of tepid inspiration?
Seeing really amazing art around New York, traveling, or seeing my friend's work and talking to them about art. Looking at beautiful buildings and interiors. Cooking is a big one too—the intuitiveness of it and the sensuality of it feels similar to the studio.
Whenever I go back to Brazil to visit my mom and grandmothers. Being in that landscape is so charged, vulnerable and nostalgic for me. The gap between actually being there and only having memories of it when I'm back in New York gives me so much material to work through in the studio.
Another big one is my part time job as a prop stylist on a cooking television show. I've always been obsessed with domestic objects, especially kitchen objects, vessels, and utensils. This is basically what I get to think about and deal with all day whenever I'm at work. The way that these objects are so attached to the human experience, the ergonomics of them, the diversity of them, is all really inspiring to me.
Is there anything that significantly supports or destroys your groove or energy in the studio?
Being hungry destroys my groove! Anxiety really destroys my groove. Even sometimes something as simple as the weather can affect my studio mood. Usually when I'm feeling calm, confident, happy, and free, that really supports me in the studio. My productivity is generally fueled by positivity as opposed to negative feelings like anger or sadness. Music helps sometimes too. It's usually one pop song played endlessly on repeat.
Has there ever been a book/essay/poem/film/etc that totally changed or influenced you? What are you reading right now?
Right now I'm reading "Life A Users Manual" by Georges Perec. It's a novel that describes all of the different apartments in one building in extreme detail and all the characters living in it during one moment in time. It's so vivid and visual and super maze-like. The way it's written makes you feel like you're floating through this building like it's a giant doll house, which I'm really into.
In terms of film, I am always influenced by ones that feature amazing interior spaces and architecture or that are focused around people's dynamics inside of a place. To name a few: Suspiria, Mon Oncle by Jacques Tati, The Secret Garden, The Shining, Belly of an Architect.
I recently read an article about the story of Eileen Grey, the architect, whose home that she designed was defaced and taken ownership of by le Corbusier. I'm drawn to the mysticism and karma involved in the story and how it ends. And the way it's tied up with the kind of strong opposition that women in creative fields can get when they are in a position of power. This whole story really hits close to home for me.
Any advice from your past that has stuck with you or helped you?
When I was at Skowhegan for a summer, Matthew Brannon told us something like "Don't ever let yourself get in your own way, because there will inevitably always be people or things out there that will." I'm sure he has no idea how much this resonated and stuck with me. I feel like I'm always fighting against my own anxieties, so I think about this advice a lot.
What has been one of the most challenging aspects of your career as an artist so far?
There are just so many challenging aspects of being an artist. I think a big one for me is remembering that it is crucial and an asset to stay true to myself and what I believe in, no matter what environment I’m in, whether it's graduate school, or the New York art scene, which are two very different places with their own unique sets of pressures.
How do you navigate distraction in the studio and in life?
Life distractions are always trying to pull me away from the studio. Just basic things like the exhaustion from commuting in New York, dealing with bureaucracy, doing taxes, jury duty, immigration documents, the DMV, etc. There is just way too much of that kind of stuff and sometimes it feels like it takes forever to take care of, especially here. I think it takes a lot of practice and willfulness to manage these distractions. I just try to focus all day every day on ultimately making it to the studio. Being there is the easy part. I just always have to demand and fight for my time there.
Favorite studio snack?
Do you have any other news, shows, residencies or projects coming up?
A few group shows in New York this fall, and I've also been working on a small publication of my drawings with a friend of mine who runs an imprint called Oso press, which will be finished very soon.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us!
To find out more about Sacha and her work, check out her website.