Stories from the Inside

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Interview with Sara Condo, MFA 2016

At the close of three successful MFA thesis exhibitions at Gallery 400, we highlight the work of graduating MFAs by looking more closely at their individual practices. Sara Condo (b. 1987) is an interdisciplinary artist based in Chicago, IL. Born and raised in Cicero, IL she is a third­ generation Lithuanian­ American who uses personal narratives and mythology as a living site for exploration into the complexity of socio­economic class, psychology and gender. Using photography, video, sound, computer programming, and sculpture, her work depicts the meditative moments present in our everyday lives that illuminate truths of the human condition. 

How do you choose the objects you photograph?

The objects I photograph are forms that embody my everyday experience within American culture. The idea for the series Journey Through Time and Space arrived after I tried to bring a set of large, expensive orchids back to life in my studio. I had planned on photographing the process from death to life. The orchids never made it so I started experimenting with other things laying around the studio. In my professional career, I work for various corporate clients that display images via the web. I became fascinated with the time and care photographers and stylists spend styling objects for an online catalog that would be discarded almost instantly. This experience made it clear to me that images live on longer than the object itself. The screen is a platform where images are consumed and interpreted. I consider the hierarchy of images within the google search and how the iconic image becomes formulated within myths and symbols rooted in capitalism. Class is an underlying theme in the work; a force unseen to the naked eye but its culture is revealed by the everyday object such as clothing or nature.

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                                          Sara Condo, 2 Orchids, 2015, archival inkjet print, 30 x 40 in.

There are multiple steps to creating these photographs. The production of the object itself is often mass produced industrially. However, some of the objects—like Two Orchids and Seashells—are not industrially produced in a factory, but are duplicated in a natural organic form, such as a a farm. The second step of the process is finding the object and photographing it onto film. The use of film is very important for both technical purposes and the craft of the photographic process. The film is then processed and digitally scanned. The digital process removes all studio elements that prop the image up to the camera. Then the image is reprinted and mounted inside two pieces of acrylic. The mounting process is crucial to the production of these images, as the image becomes one object. Although I do not have the human power to infinitely reproduce the image, the internet has the power to do so digitally. The photographic object itself functions almost the same way that a painting would and further attempts to inject an aura into the object in an effort to become unique and pure.

Your work bridges performance, music, photography, and computer art. What appeals to you about working in this interdisciplinary mode?

In my work, I meditate upon complex historical narratives and use various medias to envision new futures. I never set out to work only in one medium, rather the medium is assigned to the concept first. In my research at UIC, I worked to understand this history of the personal computer and the relation of the exclusion of women within the history of technology. There is no simple answer for this narrative. So, as a feminist, I worked as a computer programmer to create a performance illustrating this puzzling concept. In addition, while working in graduate school, I was collaborating with other artists and musicians on the west coast, which lead me to consider travel in both the physical space as well as the digital realm. I enjoy working across disciplinary boundaries because it allows me to add layers within a limited structure.

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Sara Condo, Glenn in the Garden, 2015, archival Inkjet Print, 20 x 30 in.

What was the most valuable thing you learned while at UIC?

Always trust your instinct.
Keep your community alive and work together on projects. Everyone will learn and benefit from this!
The sauna is the key to opening creative portals in your brain.

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Sara in her studio in Art & Exhibition Hall at UIC.

What is next for you and your art practice?

I will be working at home this summer as an experimental gardener while I work on a few exhibitions that I have lined up. I have one exhibition open currently in San Francisco and one at Roots and Culture Contemporary Art Center for their 10th anniversary celebration exhibitions. Roots and Culture was the first place that gave me an opportunity to exhibit my work in Chicago. It feels great to complete this cycle at a place that nurtured my practice for several years before I entered graduate school.

After that, I don't know where the wind will blow.