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Sidney Mullis

Sidney Mullis

Tell me a little bit about you!

I grew up in a military family, so home was wherever the Army sent us. I am currently based in State College, PA where I work at Penn State University running its visiting artist program. I have my MFA in sculpture and BA in studio art.

When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?

Despite relocating what felt like 13 different times as a kid, dance was my constant. I was always enrolled in dance classes and became very serious about ballet in high school. Bodies moving through space, whether improvised or choreographed, were my first conception of art. I am still fascinated with choreographies performed by bodies that occur during day-to-day life. For instance, how someone twirls his/her hair or how a group avoids a sidewalk solicitor. 

In high school, I had taken art courses with a very casual approach. It wasn’t till my senior year that I doubled down and took AP Art, which was entirely focused on representational drawing. It was the first time I had experienced the pleasure of flow and how to successfully communicate ideas with images. Upon entering college, I knew I wanted to major in studio art.

What ideas are you exploring in your practice?

From 2012-2016, I was focusing on sex, gender, and what it means to be woman. Sex and gender are serious subjects of study consistently under scrutiny to understand what they really are. For me, they operate on fluid spectrums of ever-expanding lexicons. It is this very instability of their categories that produces such intrigue and pleasure for me as a maker. Driven by haptic obsession, it is through making that I try to understand them, and then push their instability further. 

However, with the total wreck that is the Trump administration, I am feeling devastated at how anyone who isn’t fitting within a rigid parameter of white male is being attacked for his/her personhood. 

As a result, I began to make my most intimate work in which I preserve objects deemed non-precious, leftover, and unwanted. With a version of papier-mâché, I rub each corner, undulation, wrinkle, and fold with bits of paper drenched in glue. Once covered and dried, they become hardened, representing a method of mummification that can be easily learned, but is also laughable in terms of impenetrable archive. In fact, once the objects are “mummified,” their new paper skins could take on a final coat of another substance suggesting that they are in an intermediate phase. From afar, they look like raw clay suggesting their malleability. 
This time-intensive process becomes a means to get to know the objects. I get to see and feel how they were touched, what has lingered in the objects between touch, and, marking with torn paper, how I have touched. 

In a weird way, even though I wanted to keep forgotten objects intact by caring for/preserving them, the work showed me the inevitable instability of everything.

What is your process like?

In graduate school, I did a lot of research prior to touching any materials. I wanted to make sure what I was making was driven with intent. Then once in studio, my materials would become my dance partners. We would go twirling back-and-forth taking turns with who would lead the step. 

After graduating, I told myself I would trust my hands and let the work tell me what dance we were doing. It is much more emotionally exhausting, but the work has been teaching me a lot and how I feel about the moment we are in.

Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?

Oh man! I have some super powerful women artists and instructors guiding me. Julie Hodge, Carole Garmon, Bonnie Collura, Stephanie Snider, Shannon Goff to name a few. They are all amazing examples of ridiculously hard-working and generous women that I am very thankful to have in my life. 

I have gathered so much advice from all of them. For sake of time, I will share what Carole granted me as a young undergrad. 

Never ask permission to take up space.

Describe your studio.

Small and in a basement next to a public bathroom. Glamorous, I know.

What do you find most challenging, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?

The lack of support for the arts in American culture makes my life and that of my comrades very difficult. This has major effects at the institutional level all the way down to interpersonal relationships within families.

If you could sit down for dinner or a drink with anyone, who would it be and what would you chat about?

Chelsea Handler. 

With the amount of information regularly mangled and misrepresented to the public, I applaud her in using her show to allow experts (politicians, scientists, economists, etc.) to share their work and research in an accessible way to a wide sweeping, international audience. I would ask her about how her show developed into this and her plans for its future (and if I can work for her).

What are three words you would use to describe your work?

Repetitive, labor-intensive, heavily-felt

What do you do when you find yourself in a creative rut?

I get out of studio and let it occur elsewhere. I go to public author talks, museums, amusement parks, high school plays, etc.

What do you love most about your medium? What challenges or surprises you most about it?

Sculpture, for me, is changing how others experience space in 360 degrees. That is so powerful. As a sculptor, you wield that power. That responsibility can provide challenges; it can conjure many surprises.

What do you need or value most as an artist?

Well-lit, spacious studio within a community of reciprocal support and love.

What keeps you creating?

For me, the act of making takes various forms that aren’t necessarily welded to physical objects. It’s a way of thinking, of recognizing, that cross bridges to other disciplines connecting me to other people and their research. I don't think I can turn it off.

What are you working on right now?

I just finished a new body of work called Preservation of Forgetting that is going to Galleri Urbane in Dallas, TX. The exhibition runs September 9 – October 7. I will be speaking about the work on the 9th around 5:15pm.

Anything else you would like to add?

I have a solo show (October 24, 2017 - March, 5 2018) at Bucknell University (Lewisburg, PA) called Who is Puberty and how does she hit? This show has work highlighting what it’s like growing up and learning the performance that constitutes the gender given to you. 

I have two solo shows coming up in January 2018. One at Neon Heater in Findlay, Ohio, and the other at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. I will be an artist-in-residence at Rowan in spring 2018 as well.

Find more at sidneymullis.com and on Instagram @sidohku!

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