THE ONE: Artist Sarah Kaizar On “Mars Show”

We pick an artist showing in Philly right now and ask them to tell us about that one piece that inspired their latest exhibition.

"We've been here before, but it's new every time" by Sarah Kaizar.

“We’ve done this before, but it’s new every time” by Sarah Kaizar.

Local artist and Tyler School of Art grad Sarah Kaizar is showing her latest works in a solo exhibit called “Mars Show,” open now through November 30th at 3rd Street Gallery. We chatted with her about the show’s subject—mental health care and the Mars rover experiments—and its signature piece, “We’ve done this before, but it’s new every time” (above).

How and when did you create “We’ve done this before, but it’s new every time”? I’ve been working on this project on and off since August 2013. This piece is drawn with a mix of materials (pencil, ink, paint, tape, chalk, conté crayon, powdered graphite … ) on layers of vellum and acrylic resin. I have never worked this way before, so the drawing had a few false starts; you can actually see that process in the piece because of the translucency of the materials.

The drawing depicts a group of NASA technicians constructing the Mars rover, Curiosity. Since the technicians are working in a clean room, they’re all wearing these goofy full body suits to guard against contaminants. But because of things happening in the news right now, the thing I’m hearing most about this piece is: “Ebola?”

Tell us about the connection you see between the NASA Mars rovers and mental health care. Why choose a space mission to represent states of mind? Mental health issues have seriously affected a lot of people in my life. For me, space exploration is a perfect fit for such a complicated subject, because it’s a process of trying to relate to something that’s so far removed it’s almost impossible to understand.

I also like the optimism in these space missions. We’re so determined to figure things out! Conversations about mental health care are normally pretty grim, so it was helpful for me to think about obstacles in mental health care as temporary limitations in a big system that will be fixed as we understand more.

Why did you choose to give the image a foggy effect? I wanted the pieces to feel like they were coming in and out of focus. The work in the show varies in clarity depending on how many layers of vellum and resin are in each drawing. To blur things further, the pieces sort of transition from really basic sketches to more highly rendered drawings. Normally I produce work that feels very polished, so it was very strange to intentionally leave things feeling rough and “unfinished” for this project.

How does “We’ve done this before, but it’s new every time” represent or influence the other pieces in “Mars Show”? “We’ve done this before, but it’s new every time” is really the focus of the show. Smaller supporting pieces feature martian landscapes, NASA technicians working on the rover, and the rover exploring the surface of the planet.

Mars Show” will be showing alongside “Wrapped and Unwrapped,” an exhibit by fiber artist Carol Wisker, at 3rd Street Gallery on First Friday, November 7th, from 5pm-9pm.