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Dead Space and DIY venues: A Conversation with Sarah Alice Moran

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Sarah Alice Moran is a figurative painter living in Brooklyn, New York. A graduate of MassArt's MFA program, Moran has been active in working to create events which bring together artists and help cultivate a community within New York City. I was lucky enough to attend "Food for Thoughts," a series of dinners which showcased the work of several artists and invited dinner guests to take part in a conversation about the work. Sarah has also held events recently at Dead Space Gallery, including a film screening and a show called "All That and a Bag of Chips" where every piece of art was inspired by food sold at a bodega, and was auctioned off the night of the opening. I've always seen these events as an extension of Moran's work--they are akin to "happenings" held during the sixties. Participants feel they are taking part in a performance; at least I have had that feeling at every event. I'm particularly fascinated by the relationship painting has to art that is pigeon holed as strictly performative. I've always seen painting as a performative act, in that at its core a painting is a record of movements of the body (though these movements are usually made in private settings) and is meant to be seen by others. Moran's paintings are often of her friends and acquaintances, whom she then invites to events. I had the chance to ask Sarah some questions about her involvement in these works of art. We spoke of the connection between community, spectacle/theater, paint, and team sports.

Paulina Perlwitz: Why did you decide to open Dead Space Gallery?

Sarah Alice Moran I didn’t decide, Cody Brgant and Sam Liebert found the space and decided to start a gallery. They asked me if they could show my work for the first show, and I was flattered and said yes. The next day they asked if I would also be interested in helping them run the gallery. I said yes but I had another show in mind for the inaugural event.

PP How do you feel about being an artist who also curates?

SM I think it helps my practice to curate. It keeps me looking outside my own studio and engaged in what my peers are working on. It’s important to be excited about what other people are making. Gathering other artists' work together is exciting because it creates a dynamic conversation that is bigger than just me.

PP It would seem to me like your first show, "All That and a Bag of Chips" definitely had a performative aspect to it. Can you talk about your thoughts on the first show?

SM It was theater! We wanted to create an environment where there was a frenzy of excitement and chaos. Where people were actually getting into arguments over who gets which piece of art. There is a history of creating art stores by artists and it seemed appropriate to bring it back at this time. Groceries are necessities to everyone. Art should be too, but it can seem out of reach to people who don’t make it themselves or aren’t wealthy collectors. We wanted to make art accessible and wanted people to really want take it home with them and live with it. It was also funny! People were getting into a fight over a six foot tall wooden piece of bacon. Life is pretty absurd. I’m just trying to point that out.

"Food for Thoughts" discussing work by the Boston-based painter Sarah Lubin.

PP You've consistently been someone who works to build a community of artists here in Brooklyn--you started with "Food for Thoughts," a group which met every few months to have dinner and discuss the work of a guest artist. Would you say community Is essential to artists and do you see yourself continuing on this path of being an instigator for artistic get togethers?

SM Sometimes I feel like I do everything for purely selfish reasons. I missed the debates we would have in grad school and I wanted to bring them back. So I created an environment with "Food for Thoughts" where I could simulate that experience. I gather a group of people I think are smart and willing to contribute to conversation, make them comfortable with each other by feeding them, and then I present an artist I want to hear about and they all start asking hard questions and creating this brilliant dialogue and I get to eat tacos, drink beer and be part of it.

Art is a team sport, it always has been. At best art is a dialogue among peers that engages with history but steps to the future. You can’t do that alone. It’s also rough out there. I think we’ve all felt that. If you’re on a team, your teammates’ successes are your successes (I was captain of my basketball team in the 10th grade--can you tell?). But all sports metaphors aside, I think community is essential for artists. I have seen a lot of that in New York and it always inspires me.

PP What's the next step for Dead Space? Any shows on the horizon?

SM In June we have LA artist and set designer Lacy Carter turning Dead Space into a fake living space--which is funny because Dead Space is a living space which is a fake gallery. She’s going to create rooms and objects out of plywood, papier mâché, and found materials and then film short vignettes in each backdrop. The opening will be a combination of experiencing the sets and viewing the videos. It should be pretty wacky like Pee Wee’s playhouse meets Claes Oldenburg.

We are also planning of showing videos on the roof over the summer. Tora Lopez, who was a "Food for Thoughts" artist, just got back from making work in Tasmania. She is going to premiere a video of a performance she did playing tennis at the Tasmanian Open. She’s dressed as a witch and there are no tennis balls. I can’t wait to see who wins.

I think most of the shows will have a ephemeral or performative quality. All of us have other jobs in addition to our own studio practices and can’t gallery sit. So the openings are the show. It’s an experience. Don’t miss it!

PP Your own work seems often to be community related in the sense that you are often making portraits of your friends or paintings of people interacting in spaces--would you say that your friends have the biggest influence on your work, or maybe more aptly, the people you interact with, are they your biggest inspiration?

SM I make work about what I see. So when I was working in the windows at Macy’s I made paintings about that. Before that I made painting about the statues in Central Park because that is where I grew up. I know my friends very well, so if I paint them, not only do I paint what I see, but I also paint their experiences, their secrets, our relationship. I am also interested in physical space and how that interacts with imagination. The key moments of my pieces are the interactions between the character with each other or with the space. The space itself is a physical manifestation of that person’s psyche and that is not something you can make up, it has to be something you already know.

PP I feel like some people wait around for galleries to notice them whereas you've just taken hold of the reigns entirely and made your own venue--that must feel pretty empowering. I can think of a few examples of DIY venues during my time in NY--people putting on shows in their homes and backyards, but yours was more official than being in someone's living room, which also has a charm to it. Is there any advice you would give to people interested in doing something in a similar vein, as in starting up a group or gallery themselves?

SM It was in the living room… we just hid the bedrooms very well. But we put a lot of time into making the space look the way we wanted it to. Sam and Cody sacrificed a lot of creature comforts to make the space more gallery than home. My advice is if you have an idea, try it out. It’s boring waiting around and that won’t help you at all. It’s okay if it’s in the living room or the back yard. But do it with your team. Cody, Sam and I all added something very different to putting this gallery together and the first show would not have been as explosive or as fun to put work on if I had done it alone. Even when I put on a Food for Thoughts lecture event I do it in collaboration with each artist who is featured. They add people to the guest list. They cook the food with me. So my advice is: gather a team otherwise you’re just playing by yourself.

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About Author

Paulina Perlwitz is an artist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She is an alum of the Massachusetts College of Art's MFA program.

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