Interview with Sarah Frost: Arsenal

We had the opportunity to sit down with artist Sarah Frost when she visited Savannah to begin the process of installing Arsenal. Sarah Frost was born in Detroit and grew up in Rochester, NY. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from Washington University in St. Louis and a Master of Fine Arts degree in sculpture from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. Frost’s work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions regionally, and she has her first show in New York in 2010. She has also received numerous awards and grants, including the inaugural Riverfront Times’ Visual Arts Mastermind award in 2008 and grants from Arts in Transit and the Missouri Arts Council.  Most recently she won the Great Rivers Biennial 2010, a grant funded by the Gateway Foundation and solo exhibition at Contemporary Art Museum Saint Louis. She currently lives and works in St. Louis.

Sarah Frost: Arsenal will be on view at the Jepson Center from April 26-September 22, 2013.


Telfair Museums: Describe your work and the idea behind it.

Sarah Frost: I look at is as sometimes I like to collect things and use those things themselves; and sometimes I transform those things by taking the form but making it in a different material. In the case of Arsenal I found the forms, but I found them online and I gave them form again in a different place — in my studio — so that was about recreating existing forms.

I guess this piece came about… it’s the last in a series about communication. The QWERTY pieces, with computer keys, those were part of a body of work that had to do with discarded technology that was used in communication. Telephone cords, communication wires, scuzzy cables, power cords, various other things… the QWERTY pieces grew out of that, and Arsenal grew out of that.

It’s interesting to me, the objects that bear the fingerprints or residue of their users. In the case of power cords or scuzzy cables, computer keys, two different keys or cords look very similar and may be the same model, but no two are ever the same because different people used them. In the case of keys you can see the residue of fingernail polish and great or paint or soda, individual wear patterns — some have letters from other languages taped with scotch tape on the keys. I like that push/pull between things having a mass of something that looks very uniform, but then upon closer inspection you realize it’s not uniform.

In the case of Arsenal the mass was sort of this really large community online with this large number of pieces that they have created, so that’s a little different, but each video was unique and each creator unique. The stills help reference the skills and variety of guns and scopes and ammo belts help reference the breadth of the community.

TM: How did you discover this online community?

SF: Well I won the Great Rivers Biennial 2010, and had a solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum Saint Louis, and I had an idea that I wanted to hang something from the ceiling because they’re so insanely high; but I didn’t have a subject matter. So I was poking around and since my previous body of work was all about communication that was interesting to me, I was poking around online. I can’t say it was a complete accident, because I was thinking about it and looking for ideas that would fit in the space, but the first time I saw one of those videos it knocked my socks off. You know, it was this boy who looked like he was 7 or 8 with a high, squeaky voice showing me how this semi-automatic — paper version of a semi-automatic weapon — worked. And I didn’t even—magazines, ejecting it, I didn’t know any of that and I couldn’t believe this little kid was showing me on his paper model, so that really made a big impression.

TM: Did you think of using a material other than paper?

SF: I wanted to stick with paper for two reasons. One, I was impressed with how simple the means were that the boys were using, just paper and tape. Two, I like the way white on white forms look. A lot of my work up to that point was (with the keyboards) white, off white, hundreds of shades of beige, grey, white — I like lots of variations of the same color.

It was important to stay true to the source, although I did raise the level of craft because the pieces had to be able to hang for 3 months in the museum. SO I did make a few changes sometimes, but for the most part the forms stayed true to what the original was.

TM: Why do you hang the pieces in the space with monofilament wires?

SF: I was so inspired by the original space that I thought hanging would accentuate that, but I also think the negative space around each one of these shapes is so interesting. These are really interesting shapes and often times if you pack them together you can’t distinguish the individual features of each one. The negative space is very important. Hanging was a way to maximize taking in the individual features of each one. There are so many cool features like scopes and bipods and things that stick out.

TM: Do you find it challenging to install an exhibition such as this one in different gallery spaces?

SF: I do, but it’s a great challenge. One of my favorite things to do is make work for specific spaces, and I was so lucky to have the opportunity to display in these spaces. When I saw the gallery with the acute angle in the corner and the curved wall and angle of the ceiling I was so amazed by it. I’m really excited to see how it will look. But of course I had to rethink a lot of things from the original and so the way I went about it was to look at plans and construct a model in my studio, so I have scale replicas of a whole lot of the pieces so I could experiment with different configurations. I peer at eye level — scale eye level — to see what it would look like.

TM: What were your thoughts when you discovered this community and the material they were creating?

SF: There were a bunch of things that attracted me to this — one is the ingenuity of these kids. They figured out how to make folding stocks and spinning chambers, a lot of functional things, and create these (sometimes) complicated things. And then they had the ingenuity to film themselves explaining it, making it, and then post it online. It almost was like a community of sculptors, form makers, who often collaborated.

For example, one guy would make a video on how to make a curved magazine because so many people had responded to his previous posts and videos and I love that collaborative creative work.

At the same time I was really taken aback by this information — more information than I had ever seen about how these weapons were put together and worked and it seemed like an interesting area to sort of mine and dig deeper. In using found objects I see myself as a bit of an anthropologist; instead of having an agenda I represent them in a different context. Instead of being at home by myself on the computer I have recreated these objects and I’m presenting them in the context of a museum, which people will come and look at and infer what they will.

Of course it was provocative to me because it’s kids and guns, but it was primarily provocative to me because it’s primarily boys, touching on masculinity and almost an aspect of sexuality, more than just guns. I’m sorry it’s become even more relevant now, it seemed provocative 3 years ago when I first created it and it seems even more apropos now, and I’m really sorry to say that I don’t have a brilliant conclusion.

I still think it’s an interesting reflection of our culture.

Milutin (preparator at Telfair Museums) was saying that when he was a kid he was making boats and planes out of paper, picking up sticks and making them fly. Others chimed in saying that today boys will pick up those same sticks and they’ll be guns. So there seems to be a parallel… I don’t have the answers, but it is striking that I didn’t see any videos posted by girls in the YouTube community.

TM: If you were a tube of paint, what color would you be?

SF: I’m torn between red or green… green is nice and calm, but red is such a great color. Since I’m wearing all red today, I’ll go with red.