Sarah Bendix was born in the foothills of Colorado in Fort Collins where she resides and studies to this day. She earned her BFA in studio art with a focus on fibers at Colorado State University and is currently working as an apprentice for world-renowned fiber artist Claudy Jongstra in Spannum, Netherlands. She has exhibited and received honors in a number of solo and group shows, including shows at the Carnegie Building and The Shed gallery in Fort Collins, CO. When she is not apprenticing in the Netherlands, she splits her time between Fort Collins and Denver, making art, teaching sewing and fiber art classes, and curating shows at the Curfman Gallery. Sarah draws inspiration from the unfamiliar, spiritual and sublime, creating things inspired by other places, other times, and imagined stories. She hopes that through her creations, she can take you with her.
Through my work in fiber I explore narrative, the surreal, and the otherworldly. Since I was quite young, Iʼve been fascinated with Elsewhere, other earthly places or fantastic worlds full of spirits and myth. My work tells stories of the beings, bodies, and places that weigh on my mind.
The medium of fiber allows me to create physical and accessible relics from these Elsewhere places by combining a wide variety of materials and techniques ranging from the traditional to the unusual. The intentional, slow acts of weaving and stitching let my mind delve deeper to discover new facets of the object at hand. The grid of a threaded loom can play host to anything from cotton yarn to cow bones. Yarn can be dyed with chemicals, plants, blood, or wine. A stitched and sewn object can be formed into anything at all. By referring to a rich variety of historical and cultural traditions such as Japanese stitch and dye methods, I can tell a personal narrative that is informed by those who come from everywhere and those who came before.
I honor the impulses that make us human: the need to create, the urge to protect, as well as the internal struggles that come with change and choosing. I merge the worlds of sacred and secular thought, invoking new gods and deities that embrace human beauty and folly.
Q&A with Sarah Bendix
by Lydia O'Reilly
Hi Sarah! You use a lot of nontraditional and organic media, such as human hair, chicken blood, and found objects. How do these shape your work?
I love using these items for the same reason that I love vintage clothing, and that is because there is more to the story that what is immediately apparent. I find a lot of comfort in the idea that I am a blip in an items life and not the other way around. When it comes to the use of things like hair and blood, I think that those materials in general are just very powerful. Blood once kept a being alive and by including that in the making process, the piece imbibes that power. I use blood in part because it is so necessary to the really strong emotional and physical responses in humans: blushing, racing hearts, arousal, and even pain. Hair from a loved one or your own head keeps the essence of the person that it belonged to. Itʼs all very magical to me.
What were some of the weirdest materials you have tried to obtain? Are there any materials that you would love to work with in the future, but haven't yet?
Bones are so easy to come by these days! Theyʼve become so appreciated and popular that I feel like stores are starting to stock them, which is great. The first time I dyed with blood, it was really hard to get! I thought I could just get it at a butcher shop, but I ended up having to go to a really remote chicken farm on a slaughter day and this big burly man took me inside with the racks of chickens and handed me a mason jar full of chicken blood with no lid that was in a newspaper bag. It was horrifying. But this last time I got it from a butcher friend, which was great and way less creepy. I learned about a membrane that covers the muscle called Silverskin that I would love to work with. I want to try and dry it and use it as a vellum type surface!
Many of your works explore the passage of time, memory, decision-making, and inner sublimity. Why do you choose to focus on these particular themes?
I feel like all of these things take their toll on people. I have always felt emotions in an acute way and dealt with depression and anxiety and it is exhausting. I focus on things like memory, decision-making, and sublimity because producing a piece relating to something internal is my way of getting it out. These things have shaped who I am in a big way. It doesnʼt make the feeling any less real and powerful, but it gives it a body and a vessel to reside in so it frees up my own mind for other things.
MAAKE: Do you feel that this issue have not been adequately addressed by our society, or is it more about personal exploration and discovery? Both/ other?
It is very much about personal exploration and acknowledging and honoring each positive or ugly feeling and giving me a way to address them; but I do believe that some of these issues are hidden away by our society. What is typical vs. atypical has become such a point of focus that we tend to want to medicate those who feel the weight of strong emotion or indecision rather than telling people its okay to feel these things. Its important to know that nothing is wrong with this facet of being a human. Itʼs hard, and it hurts sometimes, but itʼs also so incredibly beautiful. What Iʼm trying to say maybe is that I merge the beautiful and painful aspects of daily life to make both easier to handle.
Can you give us some insight into your process? How do your ideas take shape?
My process always starts with a single idea or concept that I am fixated on at the time. It can be an emotion like indecision or a concept in old medicine that is weighing on me but its always one thought. Itʼs very organic in the way that when I think about something enough, I begin to see it in my mind, and from there is a matter of figuring out how to make that idea tangible and letting the process shape the end result.
Are there any particular artists (contemporary or historical) that you consider yourself to be in dialog with?
I am always returning to eras such as the Neolithic and Pre-Columbian for reference. I am fascinated by Neolithic because it is a very tangible relic of when humans began living in groups and forming strong connections and beliefs. We can see when our predecessors turned from worshipping the familiar objects around us to when they created another worldly being to idolize—and most beautifully, they were figuring out ways to pay tribute to these things through making. I relate a lot to this raw transfer of feeling into item. Works from Mesoamerica are incredible because of their depth of rich storytelling and belief about where we come from and the extreme weight held by ritual and ceremony. I really like the dialogue between deities and man, the use of worship and sacrifice as our means of expressing ourselves to them, as well as the idea that certain materials like jade and feathers carry an otherworldly power within them.
I know that you've done research in the past on sacred objects not only from Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, but also Medieval Europe, and other times/places. And you talk a lot about the spiritual quality of physical material. Can you tell us a little bit more about how your artworks function as 'reliquaries'? How does the tactile aspect of your work relate to your themes?
Recently, my experience in art history has led me to the concept of ʻeffigyʼ; I am in love with the idea of making something so cerebral and ephemeral into something that can be touched and held. I feel like the term is more something that embodies and represents something else than something that is meant to hold an item of significance. Instead I strive to make something that is a physical placeholder for an idea. All of these things that we have to deal with in life are a little less frightening when they are given a face and identity. Whether this means photographing or drawing or painting the thing in question, it puts it in a place where you can see and touch and talk to it. Iʼve always used physical touch and affection as my way of communicating things of significance so that familiar, childlike tactility beings me back to childhood when we would find comfort in clutching toys and blankets and parents.
You recently led a workshop on making gut paper, which is so badass. Can you tell us a little bit about what this is and how you make it?
I learned about gut as a material when I was assisting an instructor, Maureen Kelman, at the Handweavers Guild of America in Providence, Rhode Island, last summer. Maureen uses it as a skin to stretch over armatures, but she also taught us how to make sheets of paper with it. Itʼs just pig intestines that you cut into a sheet from a tube and you can do pretty much anything with it in that form! To make paper, you lay sheets of the same length slightly overlapping each other onto a slick polyester fabric and repeat this to get a sturdy paper, and let it air dry. You work with it wet, so it changes and conforms and constricts to the armature you place it on or the position you place it in. It dries into a rigid translucent membrane that has so much character and life in it. I am hoping to start incorporating it into some book binding work soon!
What other workshops have you led? What has drawn you to teaching? Do you see teaching as an important part of your own artistic process?
At a fabric store I used to work at, I used to teach sewing classes, and I teach friends to sew all the time! I have led workshops in bookbinding, embroidery, and printmaking too. I have always loved teaching people about things that I love in a smaller setting, but when I was a TA in the Fibers Department at Colorado State University, I realized how amazing teaching really is. There is nothing better in the world than when you find a student that gets truly excited about something youʼve taught them. Try and remember when you learned something that you connected with and changed the way you think, when you teach, you get to do that for certain people! When you teach, you also learn a ton from your students; they might not know ʻthe rulesʼ so they donʼt feel as restrained as someone who is practiced, and they think of the most amazing things because of this! Because the learning process is so reciprocal between student and teacher, I think it is crucial to my artistic process. Teaching gets you out of your own isolated headspace, itʼs so inspiring and healthy.
What's on your music playlist right now? Any bands/artists that you turn to when making your work?
Mas Ysa! He is one of those rare artists that when I listen to his music, I think he just understands me. I donʼt pretend that I understand him, but he totally gets me. He is amazing. When I am not listing to Mas Ysa, I am listening to a podcast called Gilmore Guys where these two guys just watch and discuss Gilmore Girls, and they are so funny and intelligent and insightful. That is literally all Iʼve listened to for the past three months. Those two things.
Thank you so much for sharing your work and talking with us!
To find out more about Sarah and her work, check out her website.