Speaking with Sarah Irvin

Sarah Irvin is So to Speak’s new Art Editor!

Her work is currently showing at Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton,VA until the closing reception September 12th from 6-8pm. The exhibit, “Objects and Actions,” displays photographic pieces born out of an extensive process, which she tells us more about below . Sarah also runs the blog (Pro)Create Anthology where she brings together artist’s narratives about the “intersection between studio practice and parenting.”


Objects and Actions

To make the photographic pieces in this exhibit, I created digital negatives enlarging the various textures of my infant daughter’s toys, blankets and clothing that were gifted to us by our friends and family. I created cyanotypes with these negatives and re-developed them in Mother’s Milk Tea, a tea made with a set of herbs used for centuries to promote healthy lactation. The tannins in the tea create a chemical reaction with the iron of the cyanotype causing the traditional cyanotype blue to darken and additionally tone the white of the paper.

This work is paired with light boxes of layered glass capturing early stages of my daughter’s mark making through fingerprint dust. The archive of materials found in the cyanotypes is here contrasted with the record of activities and actions of nurturing found in the light boxes in a hybrid of play, production and development.

With this work I call the viewer to consider actions and objects of care. Who do you care for and who has cared for you? What actions fit under the definition of care? What motivates, enables and facilitates these activities? How does care manifest itself through physical objects and who produces, provides and defines these objects?

 Sarah Irvin talks with us about her artwork, process, and mothering


Holly Mason: Your process for these images is quite compelling. And seemingly extensive. How important is process to you in creating your art? Do you feel as though the process of creating is spiritual or meditative in any way?

Sarah Irvin: Process is extremely important to me. I simultaneously have a deeply intuitive way of creating work and a very analytical approach to what I decide to make and how. I use materials and processes in a purposeful way that is tied to something else I want to consider.

I’m hoping to create something poetic and very rooted in my own experience that also leads to some critical thinking. 

HM: Was there a lot of trial and error involved in deciding on the right process for this series (cyanotypes, Mother’s Milk Tea, your daughter’s gifts)? What is the process of figuring out the process/medium like for you?

SI: I was drinking quite a bit of that Mother’s Milk Tea, and I had it in the back of my mind that I needed to use it to create something. At the same time, I was set up to do a photo project, studying with Peggy Feerick in the GMU School of Art. I was familiar with cyanotypes and I thought their immediacy would be a good process to explore for someone taking care of an infant. While meeting with Peggy, she mentioned that cyanotypes could be redeveloped in tea.

The tannins of the tea create a chemical reaction with the iron of the cyanotype and therefore change the color of the classic cyanotype blue. DSC_60902_web

I was immediately fascinated by this concept. A set of herbs that women have been using to make tea for centuries in hopes of increasing lactation would not only produce a potential change in my body, but also transform a traditional artistic medium on a chemical level. 

HM: How has being a mother influenced your art?

SI: I spent several years assuming that motherhood was not compatible with a studio practice. Then one day, I decided to adopt the opposite attitude, just to see if I was wrong.

What if there was work that could only be produced by a pregnant woman or a parent? What if there was work to be made that was rooted in and enabled by this experience?

I immediately had several ideas and began to plan the work that I wanted to make.  Then, I decided to have a baby and create work that was a direct exploration of this experience. Now, the two experiences build each other up. I draw very directly from each to the benefit of the other.

HM: You ask the viewer to consider notions of “care.” Why is this important to you? What inspired this?

SI: Parents spend so much time care taking. There are so many new objects that enter your life to aid in care and seemingly countless hours spent performing tasks to care for your child. Up close, in the moment, it is a terrifying mathematical sublime. At the same time, these actions seem to continue on monotonously and relatively unexamined. I wanted to think about this. For this series, I chose to focus on the objects that were gifted to us to help care for our baby. With this work, I created digital negatives for the cyanotypes that magnify the textures and patterns of blankets, toys and clothes that were part of the giant influx of objects given to us by friends and family. I paired this with the material of the Mother’s Milk tea, something I was obsessively consuming in a futile attempt to control the uncontrollable in the extremes of the maternal desire to care.

This work is really about what my work has always been about: Who do I care for, who cares for me and how does this care take form?


HM: I always like to ask our writers to recommend some reading. Can you recommend some artists and/or exhibits that our readers look into?

 SI: I recommend taking a look at Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions by Anna Atkins in the New York Public Library Digital Collections. This book set the stage for the use of photographic methods as a means of observation. There is an excellent description of the book in the “About” section.  Apparently, fewer than 20 of the original publication exist. I am determined to see one in person!

Portrait_IrvinSarah Irvin graduated from the University of Georgia with a BFA in Painting and Drawing in 2008.  Her work has been exhibited in solo exhibitions in spaces such as the Atlanta Botanical Garden, The Page Bond Gallery and The Workhouse Arts Center. She is part of public and private collections including the Federal Reserve Bank, Capital One, The University of Richmond, and Try-Me Urban Restoration Project. Irvin is the Graduate Professional Assistant for the Fenwick Gallery at George Mason University and the editor of (Pro)Create Anthology. She is interested in the intersection of gender and creative practices as well as theories of maternality.







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