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WIP Artist Highlight: Sadie Sheldon

There’s a sewing machine front and center on the desk of Sadie Sheldon’s studio. A few collages, all made of found materials, line the edges of the desk. The whirring of the machine invites me into her studio.

“I find sewing like drawing, in some ways, the way in which it is free-handed,” she says, as she turns off the machine.

Sadie is a project-based artist, working from found materials and objects based on where she is located.

“Before Covid, I was primarily working in sculpture and ephemeral installations that I would perform in some capacity to deconstruct. The project would then exist in documentation, mostly because of storage constraints. When Covid started, I wanted to continue my creative process, but with a structure. So, I made paintings everyday for 100 days, and they range from mundane moments to active imaginations to dreams. I then sewed them all together into this 300-foot scroll that can be installed differently in any space. My work shifts based on the environment and it’s all a reflection of my conversations and my thinking and how I can develop that through a broader project. I start intuitively by feeling through curiosities then over time build narratives and meaning as I grow to understand what’s impulsively coming out.”

We jump into textiles, and more so her relationship with textiles over the years.

“I don’t have formal training in textiles actually, so being here is so exciting because of all the things I can learn. I taught myself to sew as a child when I modified and mended a lot of clothes. I found sewing to be functional and expressive, because I could always add pockets or customize clothing in any way I wanted to. I would say over the course of the last 15 years, I’ve used found materials and maneuvered ways to sew those materials together.”

I ask about her relationship with functionality and utility in her practice now.

“I regularly make clothes which are totally functional, but my projects tend to be conceptual for their own kind of utility... I’m pretty nomadic by nature, but sewing is this wonderful space where everything is bound together and it’s not going anywhere.”

"THE ORACLES OF VIBRANT MATTER" Photo Credit: Artist's archive

I’m intrigued by the project-based practice based on environments and we go into the development of narratives that come from place to place.

“I spent the last 13 years living in New Orleans and my experience of the city, in many ways, is that it is a place in a constant state of flux. Adaptability and resilience are kind of themes that come with living there. I bike a lot as well, so I noticed a lot of thrown materials which I am in the habit of salvaging. I have some kind of instantaneous connection with certain objects which is why I make my work surrounding them, but I also don’t know if these objects are something I want to keep for a long time. So that’s where the ephemeral nature of my projects started. I think being nomadic has also contributed to my process, because I have to understand how to pack things, move things, and focus on this conceptual world building. And now, I intentionally bring in this project-based nature, because it’s so reflective of the place I’m at.”

But I wonder, what would a project look like, so bound to a certain place and to the characteristics of a specific environment?

“I did a residency in South Bend, Indiana for three months and it was in an old dry cleaning factory that was decommissioned. This residency called The Birdsell Project was given the space as an installation space. I was thinking about what I wanted to do and I noticed that there were couches everywhere, just discarded on the streets. I started collecting these couches, and dissecting them with a box cutter. I saw myself as a hunter, separating the foam like flesh, cleaning the bones, and stretching all the hides with ratchet straps. And I performed as a butcher cutting “meat”, where people could assemble their own “meat tray” out of these couches. The point was to recontextualize desirable and undesirable, in order to make a greater landscape from our excessive waste and consumption.”

"FIELD DRESSING" Photo Credit: Jacob Titus

I ask about her personal documentation, and what’s the initial process of choosing materiality for a project.

“If I see a material or object and I keep thinking about it for a while, then I’ll start to collect the item. In terms of documentation, as an idea materializes, I’ll think about whether I want to install a piece in nature and how that particular piece may lend itself to either still or moving pictures.  There is a certain narrative that shapes up with documentation.”

"SCENIC VIEWPOINT" Photo Credit: Christopher Givens

With her trajectory in mind, we dive into what she’s working on now.

“So this is a project that I’ve been working on for about four years. It first developed from my reading of Vibrant Matter by Jane Bennett, which is about inanimate objects and their conspicuous but profound effects on us. I was thinking about my impulse to collect things, and the ways that their materials each held their own given narratives but that this meaning could be rewritten. With the 100 images of the scroll, I had also been attempting to look within myself and my own dream imagery, using that kind of “automatic writing”, and this method somehow worked its way into the new image-making. I made the box with the ring-objects and categorized them into 8 categories based on themes I’d been circling around in my work. For a while, I offered the objects to people to consult for a specific outcome, but recently, I set imagery to all of the possible outcomes. So there are 64 different possibilities and one could roll dice to get one of the different outcomes. For me, this is a way to have direct contact with a stranger and get to a point of mutual vulnerability, because I am no mystic or oracle, but strangely this system I’ve made seems to do something when people are open to encountering it. My next step is to make portraits of the people I give readings to, which will be painted and sewn into tapestries.”

She pauses for a second, before she says,

“I don’t really know what the project exactly is, which is scary because I’ve been working on it for 4 years. But I’m trying to learn what I already know through the process.”

"THE ORACLES OF VIBRANT MATTER" Photo Credit: Aaron Sarles

I ask her about the shifts in thoughts from the start of this project four years ago, compared to where her head is at now.

“Somehow, the project has gotten a hold of me now, compared to four years ago. It feels like running after a moving target, yet in such a grounding and fulfilling way. Now, I’m endlessly curious about the layers I’ve created for myself.” 

I find myself calling the project a sociological document, specifically how engaging it is with the people she interacts with. We talk about the process and engagement with people when presenting this project as an offering.

“Amazingly, there’s been  real synchronicity between the readings and the people who come with a question. There’s no rational explanation for how this ritual works. I find that people are touched by the experience, just to have someone bring new insight to the table of whatever they’re working through. It’s been more than I expected.”

As we wrap up, I ask her what’s coming next.

“I don’t know! I’m just trying to see what comes out of this now. I have a solo show in Texas in October then I’ll be in residence at the Joan Mitchell Center for winter, and after that I have a solo show at Sibyll Gallery in March 2025. So we’ll see!”


Artist Highlights Interviews & Studio Visits Work In Progress