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Reflecting On Rio: Sarah Crew


Written by
Colin Buttimer
Published date
30 April 2016


Following their recent trip to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil as part of the Despina residency programme at Largo das Artes, we spoke to CSM graduates Beatrice Vermeir, Sarah Crew, Helena De Pulford, and Carlotta Novella about their residency and the work they’ve been doing there.  

Our second interview is with Sarah, a mixed media artist and writer, working across installation, film, sound and live performance. She graduated from MA Photography and now works in both London and Bristol.

Can you tell us a bit about your research into specific sites of reclaimed land in Brazil?

Before travelling to Rio I was investigating the large areas of land reclamation which include Parque do Flamengo and Santos Dumont Airport. I was interested in the unique plant species brought to Parque do Flamengo, as well as historic photographic and film records available of the different sites of reclaimed land. For me, it was more of a challenge to see how much of an archive could be created beforehand to utilise whilst in Rio.

During my residency, my area of research developed further and I started exploring the delicate balance between the human and landscape through the vehicle of a cosmetic surgery company. Cosmetic additions to the landscape and the body had numerous similarities, and this provided a new area of research. It was important that my work was still based in reality whilst creating a fictional company.

The physical act of being in Rio, to be able to explore the landscape and the challenges in documenting this, lead me to seek a different way of exploring and discussing the delicate balance between the human, landscape, and animal – both in the form of inflatable rabbits and through a new installation.

It was essential for me, that the archive I made before the residency, was primarily a spring board for my time in Rio, and that the time spent there, the different materials, curatorial support, visited exhibitions, critical context and research undertaken physically would form a new body of work which would significantly progress my understanding of sites of land reclamation. This grew into the ‘Chaos Cosmetic Surgery Company’ installation and film.

You ran a schools artist lead workshop at the Museum of Modern Art, and an ‘Post Transit’ workshop at Largo Das Artes. What sort of things were you doing in these workshops? What did you gain from doing them?

For the drop-in family art workshop at Museu de Arte do Rio, I wanted to plan a workshop which was open to all ages, continue my ongoing research and a workshop which was also relevant to the Museum and our understanding of its space and architecture. I was able to test the idea at the Post Transit workshop.

The workshop was called ‘brella-scapes’, in which I wanted to use the umbrella shape to reference the sphere of the earth and the panels to explore visually how the understood landscape today, and what Rio’s changing landscape meant to the participants and how they felt situated within this.

There were photographs of land reclamation sites in Rio and views from the top of the museum that I had taken, alongside historic found photography of reclaimed land in Rio. I decided to also incorporate photographs from my archive taken in Singapore and Kochi, as they are also sites of land reclamation but also as a broader comment on the role and transference of images through technology and online.

The participants had Fernando Lindote exhibition catalogues to use as the artist educators and myself remain interested in the delicate relationship between human, animal and landscape. Other materials including coloured sand, string and feathers give different textures and colours.

I worked closely with the ‘Fictional Narratives’ group, made up of artist educators from the museum, to discuss and develop the workshop idea, logistics, materials and installation. For me, it was a wonderful opportunity to work with the museums education team and be able to engage with the local community during the workshop. It was great to see so many participants happy to hang their umbrella to form a collective installation in the museum entrance.

From the collective ‘Trânsito-rio’ workshop, we had a few participants who stayed the whole day, this was a fantastic opportunity to share ideas, processes, research and practice through the different workshops. The participants who presented their practice as well and the end of the day was a really enlightening end to a busy creative workshop.

What has been your biggest challenge during the residency?

The biggest challenge initially, was working out how to take photographs and films in Rio due to the challenging climate. Photography, filming and recording sound is almost a constant part of my research process without knowing at the time how the archive will be used in my work. I found that using the buses and taxi’s as the safest vehicles for documenting worked out quite well.

What surprised me was the quick realisation of how much I relied on the internet to source materials for my projects, I really enjoyed being able to go out into surrounding streets around the studios to source all the materials I could need. The interaction with the shop owners was something I really relished by the time I left, even if it was sometimes challenging to buy what you intended, and only using the shops locally meant I was even more resourceful and flexible with how my installation was made.

The interplay which continued to develop in my research between the physical and virtual, real and fictional, made me realise how much I am still fascinated with this following my Masters degree, and I hope this experience can enrich my future theoretical studies on this area of research.

This was a really interesting process to go through, and really helped me continue to explore the use of recyclable and affordable materials in my installations, and further understand what are essential tools in my practice to create a successful and engaging body of work.

What will you be working on next?

The ‘Chaos Cosmetic Group’ which grew out of my time in Rio, is still in its infancy as a body of research, so I am looking forward to developing this and working on a new installation and film over the coming months. Currently I’m applying for other artist residences, planning more arts education workshops and looking forward to attending the Arts O.P.E.N festival in Singapore in June.

Stay tuned to the CSM blog for our upcoming interviews with the other graduates. Tomorrow we talk to Carlotta Novella.

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