Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sha Sha Higby

Sha Sha Higby is an artist I've admired for a few years now. She sculpts these incredibly intricate costumes and then performs in them. Before taking part in my Professional Practices course at MCA, it had never really occurred to me to contact artists that I like. I always felt intimidated by the very thought. Artists are busy people; they won't have time to talk to a lowly painting student like me... But I decided to bite the bullet and track down a few awesome, working artists (most of the time, they will have their contact information on their webpages, so it's best just to look around a bit). After sending out some emails and waiting a day or two, I was delighted when both Sha Sha Higby and Misato Suzuki, two artists whose work I love, actually replied and Miss Higby even gave me her phone number! But I already made a post about that. What I would rather discuss is my phone interview with Sha Sha Higby, who was kind enough to take time out of her schedule to chat with me for a bit about her work and studio practice. Much of this is paraphrased unfortunately, but it gives an overview of the things we discussed and how awesome she is. Here goes...
When I called, Miss Higby told me she was editing a video, which begged the question:
C.Y. So what kind of video are you editing?
S.S.H. It's for a grant. It has to be about myself and my work. (Here she explains more about the United Artists Grant, which is a matching grant.)

C.Y.  About how many hours a day do you spend on your art?
S.S.H. I work at home in my studio and try to put some time into it everyday. I keep the art work and marketing seperate, but probably spend about 5 hours a day for both. I have files and files of press releases and paperwork. I tend to put making artwork before the marketing, so you'll always have something.

C.Y. What exactly is a matching grant?
S.S.H. Basically, they put up as much money as you can raise yourself.

C.Y. Do you have to find patrons to give you money for that?
S.S.H. Yes, just different patrons. About ten years ago, I had to call them one by one. It was harder to call on my own behalf than if I was with an organization.

C.Y. You work in your home. What is your studio like?
S.S.H. I know some people feel they have to go somewhere private to work. I have a friend who's a painter and works in their 2-bedroom apartment and they really have to know how to budget their time and set aside time each day to work. Our home is rented and we just like to stay in the studio because it's nice and sunny and spread out. We have different sheds and buildings we built where I can store my work. Generally, I am able to work everywhere, but as long as I have my tools.

C.Y. Do you think you could explain your process and how you work? Do you do sketches, maquettes?
S.S.H. I would say my process happens while I'm working on a piece. I do drawings before, but they are for their own sake. I like to think about movement and how that facilitates what the sculpture will do. I imagine extension and the work transforms itself through manipulation of the materials.

C.Y. How do you feel about artist statements?
S.S.H. I wrote mine about twenty years ago, just because I needed it. I sort of left it and forgot about it, but am thinking about re-doing it. My work is about change and life and rebirth, but I don't feel the core of the artist changes that much. It's certainly good to know how to write, but we didn't really need to have artist statements or resumes in school. I actually wrote my proposals in pencil and used bleach instead of White-Out. I wanted to be a writer when I was young and made little books by hand. I made one that was about 400 pages long that I sewed together and it was a little diary.

C.Y. How old were you?
S.S.H. I was probably about 12. I've always loved to work with my hands. I really enjoy physical materials. It's a little like cooking; you have all the ingredients and you find a way to put them all together.

C.Y. Where do you find the materials that you work with?
S.S.H. Well, I make all the parts, but some things I find that are natural materials, I'll paint them and transform them. I'll buy some of my dyes and Japanese lacquer. I like to recycle older things and change them. I have all these art supplies that have accumulated over the years and I cast things that I found and sometimes use old silks from flea markets. A lot of people think I find all the objects and put them together, but I love the process of altering them. It gives you the association that it's still handmade. I also love the noises of my materials while I'm working on them.

C.Y. What sorts of things inspire you visually?
S.S.H. Sometimes I feel there's a sense of character or something in the air like a smell or aroma and I try to bring it to life. Right now, I feel my materials are inspiring me. I'll see some texture, like weaving, something that has rich depth and imagine like a big stewpot. My sculptures are all different materials mixed together, all these ingredients becoming one thing, whether the performance or just the sculpture. Originally, it came from the atmosphere, but now I wonder if it's from textiles I see.

C.Y. What is your favorite movie?
S.S.H. Oh I don't know, I'm so critical. I always like just a section of a movie. I like things that move me, something that makes me cry. This is something I wish my own work would do; emote something to move people.

C.Y. Could you explain your transition from school to professional life?
S.S.H. I went to Japan my third year in school, which was supposed to have lasted for a month, but I ended up staying the whole year teaching English and continuing to get credits. When I got back, I finished up a few classes and stayed and worked in my studio most of the time. I applied for the Fullbright Grant and got my work in a gallery. Then I got the grant to Indonesia and a residency to Iowa-well I call it a residency, but I did workshops and performances there while getting a chance to exhibit my work. It's called going on tour. Different artists get selected by these residencies to give lectures and do workshops and I made my living that way for a while.

C.Y. Do you have any artists whose work inspires you or that you admire in some way?
S.S.H. Eiko Kona and Butoh art. They use their bodies like sculpture and this is what got my art into a movement form.

At this point, we chat for a few more minutes about budgeting time, she gives me more advice on studio practice, she asks to see my work (!), and I thank her profusely for her time and she wishes me luck. I hope if I ever become as successful, I'll be as friendly and helpful as Sha Sha Higby was to me. Again, most of this was paraphrased, so it doesn't quite do justice to the passion with which she explained her work and her practice. Visit her website for more interviews and articles: Sha Sha Higby

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