Opening Reception – “Surrogate:” MFA Thesis Exhibition and Performance by Sarah Fox

December 4, 2015 6:00 pm - December 4, 2015 9:00 pm

Artist Thesis: 

How does one function in the wake of loss? Surrogate is at its core a meditation on absence. Small day to day steps into an emptied space, a palpable void. The images and objects created here are small surrogates representing an overwhelming whole.

Animals show up in surrogates throughout our visual and narrative history. Animal imagery can symbolically stand-in for our more instinctual, baser nature. Depictions of Ganesha, Mary Magdalene, Loki, all include animal attributes on a human form. They show up in masks and sacrifices standing in for the human as gifts to spirits, or as parts of rituals when the animals characteristics were desired. The hybrids that fill my own work use this tie to animal nature as gateway to freedom. Combining the human with the animal makes them blurrier, less human, but something more. By freeing themselves from tight binary, they live in both worlds, human, animal, even at times vegetable; flowers sprouting from tissue. They are creatures pieced together from our world but greater than their combined parts.

The seahorse, in my work, is one such animal surrogate. I began drawing seahorses when my husband and I started talking about having children. Something about their strangeness, their delicacy, felt embryonic to me. The curl in their tail, the curl of a child’s small ear, the curl of a nautilus shell, the curl, the golden ratio that makes up our existence. We got pregnant, seahorses filled everything I made. I created a mask, made origami seahorses, gave them as gifts. We lost the baby, and then they were the only thing I could still make. I started the “Passing the Tissue of Conception” in the weeks that followed. They were drawings of eraser and removal, of voids, and overwhelming presence at the same time. They were small, 5 x 7 snapshots of the absence that had seemed to fill my life. The waxy surfaces feel like skin and tissue, the body, with seahorses ripped from or covered by milky surfaces. The decidedly feminine materials are influenced by Kiki Smith’s embrace of wax and papermache as materials representative of the female body.

Half way through this project I was approached by our new graduate student Hiromi about the seahorses that were filling my work. In Japan seahorses were the forgotten babies of dragons, left behind in the sea. They were the “bastards”, the unwanted children. Women gave each other seahorse amulets for fertility and safe pregnancies, wrapped in the red thread that symbolized life. This felt like a small piece of magic, that added depth and meaning to an innate response.

In “Tissue of Conception” animal surrogates are also pulled from childrens’ books. This references and takes meaning from the history animals have as stand-ins for morals tales. Animals tell us about human life and dilemmas in a way that is more ambiguous and fertile. Here motherhood and loss are enacted by voided animal counterparts. The blurring between animal and human continues throughout the collages and drawings in Surrogate. Here the hybrid creatures question the idea of a singular definition of normality. Created from our own world from books, found photos and internet sources, they are made of our culture but function outside of it. The animal pieces here make them other, make them more. Specifically, the animals in these pieces begin to play the part of a child. They are carried, fed, clutched and craddled in gestures of love and maternal instinct. They ask the question of who and how we love. With collage or smoky mark, lines between animal, pet and child are blurred by tenderness and care. In the wake of a loss, those we love seek to fill the void. Beloved pets are clothed and treated as children in images both humorous and heartbreaking that reflect a version of reality.

Performance was a final way to breathe life into the hybrids I create. By living and enacting the part of a seahorse father, my drawings were allowed to move in the world. The gift giving a gesture of goodwill from a strange creature. A small way of circumventing the monetary exclusivity of the art world, and also of continuing a small piece of mystery that entered my own practice.

Within a quiet emptiness, things still stir, percolate and spark. A void is never a void for long. Emptiness is persistently filled with something other.

Opening Reception December 3rd & 4th 6pm-9pm

Artist Performance from 7pm-8pm both nights, and the UTSA New Music Lab will be playing music and exhibiting collaborative sound pieces.