Some people make you ponder your place in the Universe and your mortal existence, they challenge your boundaries, they describe your will and push you to be your best self. Sarah V. Goetz is one such artist.
I wish there were a word like, “thoughtful” that meant full of thought. Sarah V. Goetz has given the world a lot of thought. Her work raises profound themes and provokes personal introspection. It is on display at the Durham Art Guild’s gallery in the Durham Arts Council, alongside that of her studio mate Jan Dickey, in an exhibit called, “Earth: Over and Out.”
I have written about Goetz’s work in these pages previously. As always, I am not unbiased.* Goetz’s interest in systems and systems’ interaction is something I share. Her intentionality and sense of purpose is something I am inspired by.
She reminds me of influential Marxist historian, David Harvey’s understanding of place. For Harvey, a place is always four dimensional, always in motion. When we say we know a place, we mean we know a place in a time. For the place itself is never static.**
Goetz installation work suggests such profundities. She creates in a Heisenbergian way, to touch one of Goetz’s installations is to affect it and your perception of it. Her work hangs from ceilings and walls, invites the viewer to walk in, under, around, and through it. Logically, since one of the things she frequently thinks about is how moving through a space shapes experience. Experiential pace matters, too. We do not perceive our environment in the same way from the window of a moving vehicle as we do walking through it.
She admitted in our conversation the other day that in some ways she has fused the interests of her parents, Mom has a degree in child development. Dad is an architectural engineer. Goetz muses on the optimal conditions for human growth. Deliberately trying to orchestrate positive change in the world through experimentation with form. Human change through changes in the human condition. One might say social morphology.
She pointed out to me how the famous Bucky-ball was actually about the same principles. I thought Buckminster Fuller had a cool design. I didn’t know he was trying to revolutionize the efficiency of our use of space. The Bucky-ball takes up less ground footprint per space volume than any other stable construct known to humankind.
It is a long-held human fascination thinking about how much exists in small physical spaces and short moments of time. Last weekend I was reminded at Synagogue that the ancient scholars wanted us to ponder similar questions. The single longest trope in the Torah (a Hebrew method of inscribing the notes with which the text is to be chanted) is used to describe the simple cubit. The very, very long trope or note is used only once in the entire Pentateuch (five Old Testament Books of the Bible).
Why would the scholars want chanters to use the longest note in the whole story, a singular note seen only once in the approximately 60,000 Hebrew words in the text, on the word cubit, a simple measure of distance thought to designate about a mere twenty inches in length? Why not use the note on G-d, Abraham, Moses, Sarah, or Rebecca? Why indeed, if not to emphasize their awareness to us of the fullness of the microcosmos within our Universe. Twenty inches gets the longest note in 60,000 words. Tiny worlds live within all of our spaces.
Goetz almost pointillist techniques invite us to look for meaning and content in similarly minute spaces. In her earlier works she used to pen almost invisibly microscopic words into her paintings. Later she experimented with white paint on white backgrounds, again daring the viewer to perceive the difference wrought by seemingly small changes.
Maybe seeing Sarah Goetz work before the unsold portion leaves Durham will make a small change in your life. Maybe that small change will be profoundly important. Only your personal ripples, your unique, individual, life-long story of time will tell.
Sarah Goetz told me she is trying to internalize what she got from the temporal place that was her Durham without being heart-broken.*** Each of us is bereft of what was. Yesterdays disappear inevitably and forever. Thus it is possible for Goetz to contemplate a Durham that will be inexorably and irretrievably changed when she returns.
Echoing that perception she has created an installation constructed out of both thermal paper and Tyvek. One fades, the other is nearly impermeable, one is used by the exploding Durham restaurant industry, the other is used by the exploding Durham building industry.
Goetz also has been making a film about the Eno River watershed, studying the minutiae, the microcosmos that she walks through and about frequently. Its changes, when examined daily, are grand and substantial to many of the ecosystems’s small and even microscopic inhabitants.****
Those of you who read my columns about Chāi Qiān(拆迁): Inevitable Development and John Rash’s terrific exhibit at the Carrack (here, here, here, and here) know that I think this kind of focused, terrestrial observation has a powerful place in our understanding of development, and therefore in community planning and ethical ecology.
We knew this was so when we were children, whether moving rocks in a stream or throwing sticks into it, whether stepping on ant or scattering an anthill. We knew there was a microcosmos beneath and around us and we were capable of changing it for better and for worse. Goetz examines those raw, powerful childhood proclivities.
Goetz’s effect on our community has been substantial from her influence at the Mercury Studio/Carrack Salons to her work at Duke University under David Gatten. She is heading off to Ohio State University in Columbus to pursue a Masters in Fine Arts & Technology. She hopes and plans to return to Durham one day although in what capacity and for how long, Goetz, like the masters she studies, would nod with respect at the Infinite and stipulate only time will tell.
“Earth: Over and Out” is on display through August 16th. The Closing Reception is this Friday, August 15th from 5pm-7pm sponsored by the Durham Art Guild in the first floor gallery of the Durham Arts Council.
Jan Dickey is an amazing artist in his own right. His terrific work speaks for itself, and like Goetz’s provokes multifarious questions of space, scale, and emotion. Goetz says his studio conversations were priceless and influential.
*Naturally, I listen to Regina Spektor while I write about Sarah Goetz. I love layered meaning.
**The old joke was that you could never eat through all the restaurants in New York City, A—Z, because if you started at “A” by the time you got through the “Z’s” there would be new “A’s, B’s, and C’s,” again.
***Goetz may or may not have semi-privately cried at the show’s opening when one of the first pieces she ever made for public exhibit sold to a cello student of Kenneth David Stewart, a dear friend of hers and a brilliant music maker who played at Goetz’s opening.
****I first encountered Goetz’s work through an experimental film she made. Not this one… I think Pilgrim at Tinker Creek meets an artistic scientist when I speculate on the outcome of the Eno River watershed film project.