“I adore the Chau Chak Wing Museum’s playfulness, especially all the old and new objects in close conversations with each other. If a museum is a ‘theatre of objects’ then there are wonderful performances taking place here. I was originally planning a smaller exhibition but there is so much here that excited me and I wanted to work with. And I do have ‘maximalist’ tendencies!”
Sydney interdisciplinary artist Sarah Goffman is commenting on her exhibition at the Chau Chak Wing Museum. Two years in the making in Sarah Goffman: Applied Arts in the Penelope Gallery, the artist takes inspiration from the Museum’s collections, applying her wit and detailed eye as she transforms recycled material, often plastic, into works that reference larger histories.
“I respond to what I’m attracted to in the collection. As many artists know, when you decide to remake something you have to study it extremely closely. In your act of recreation you pay homage to the original maker and their tradition as you contemporise the old,” said Goffman.
A small shard of Roman mosaic glass from the first century AD, depicting a theatrical mask, moved Goffman to make the bowl she imagines it coming from, rendered in hot glue. An Egyptian beaded net from 1650-300BC inspired her to think about mortality and what outlives us, resulting in ‘Egyptian Blue’ a sculptural piece intricately cut from a single-use plastic bag.
Aboriginal fish traps sparked ideas about this ancient culture, its ecologies and the practice of weaving, leading her to create a large fish trap out of white-hot glue.
Goffman has a long-held fascination for Orientalism, reflected in her recycled plastic recreations of blue-and-white porcelain as black-and-white ware, giving it a very different quality.
Early 20th century paintings by JW Power, from his bequest, moved Goffman to create a 3D version of the painting Tête (Head) 1930. She reworked Power’s abstracted portrait, with its smooth forms, into a sculpture of folds, waves, loops and curls.
“Art is a wonderful, flexible launch pad where a copy is made of a copy of a copy. None of the pieces I’ve created are ‘perfect’ or intended to be perfect. The Power piece was especially challenging but these are not meant to be exact replicas. They are meant to make people look at my work and the original with different eyes. My work has the aura of the original – art revisiting art. Art and its materials recycle in me!” Goffman said. “I’m endlessly fascinated by how things change and metamorphose between versions, and how people respond to that.”
Plastic is one of Goffman’s favourite materials because of the ideas it raises about longevity and how materials persist and change over time. “I’m fascinated by plastic, which is an incredibly beautiful medium and a highly problematic one. It is absolutely a material of our culture and time.”
In one series, Goffman perforates the surface of plastic bottles with thousands of tiny holes, turning ordinary objects into organic sculptures in stunning sea colours. Goffman says: “Of course there is often the influence of fellow artists in small or deep ways and I like acknowledging that, giving a nod and credit where it is due. There is some Daniel Boyd, Lindy Lee and Yayoi Kusama in this work, I’m sure.”
Goffman has even responded to one of the Museum’s cabinets, using avocado boxes to make a recycled version of a black-lacquer Japanned secretary case/sewing cabinet from the mid-19th century.
Sarah Goffman (born 1966) has been exhibiting mixed media installations since 1994. She completed a Diploma of Arts in Photography (1994) and a Bachelor of Fine Arts (2000) at the National Art School. In 2018, she was awarded a Doctor of Creative Arts from the University of Wollongong.
Goffman’s association with the University of Sydney goes back to exhibitions such as Camouflage at the Sydney College of the Arts in 2013 and Paradise Found at the Tin Sheds Gallery at the Camperdown Campus in 2008.
What: Sarah Goffman: Applied Arts
When: now to June 2022
Where: Chau Chak Wing Museum University Place, University of Sydney, Camperdown, Sydney