Sarah Mosteller is what I call a non-fiber fiber artist; she uses the traditional method of knitting but with wire instead of yarn, creating artwork that blurs the boundaries between fiber art and non fiber art. The resulting sculptures are powerful and full of contradictions.
In this interview Sarah talks about the juxtaposing concepts to her work, and explains how she got into knitting in such a unique way.
How did you get into working with wire?
So, I have been working with fiber arts since I was 16, and have always been interested in three-dimensional art since a young age. When I was in college, I ended up breaking my back in August of 2013 in an accident while I was working out in Northern California. I was on bed rest for about 4 months and was very restless since my body was stuck in a such a rigid state. I learned how to knit in that time of healing– it was very therapeutic and became a meditative process.
After my healing process was over, I came back to school where I was studying Studio Art, concentrating on sculpture. I approached my professor about merging my passion for fiber arts and knitting with my studies of sculpture. He gave me full freedom as I experimented with several different wires until I found the one that worked best, which was a braided steel wire, essentially picture hanging wire.
The first thing I attempted to knit out of metal was a skull. It was a lot of patch work and trial and error. Then I attempted to knit a dress and it was a much more straight forward process of simple measurement.
Since then, I’ve made up and learned my own patterns for everything I make, and any new subject matter I want to tackle requires the same trial and error process. It’s pretty fun to experiment and see what all I can create!
That must have been awful, but it’s amazing that you managed to turn such unfortunate circumstances into something positive and creative. It’s quite Frida Kahlo-esque.
Your wire gloves remind me of the chain mail gloves I used to wear when training as a butcher – can your sculptures move like chain mail or are they stiff?
Yeah, it’s interesting to connect my artistic process to such a trying time. But it is indeed my silver lining. And I love Frida, so when people relate my story to hers, I feel flattered 🙂
I refer to the material I make as ‘glorified chainmail’. It does move similar to fabric, and on my website you can see I shimmied a model into one of the dresses I made. The dress was a bit small for her but we pulled at the material and it had enough give so that I could button up the dress. The material I make isn’t as malleable as chainmail because of the way it is knitted and the thickness of the braided steel, but it does have many similar qualities. Which lends itself to the subject matter of feminine identity that I enjoy centering my pieces around. I do think chainmail is an empowering idea to be wearing— to be able to make something that carries the delicacies of feminine clothing along with the dexterity of a masculine product such as chainmail, is the paradox I desire for people to interpret.
It looks quite uncomfortable! Almost like the dress is wearing the model, not the other way around.
When I look at your sculptures I get a physically uncomfortable feeling – similar to what some people experience when nails are scratched a cross a blackboard, or polystyrene is rubbed together. I think it’s the harshness of the metal against soft skin – when I look at the gloves I imagine how they’d feel to wear, I get that shivery feeling that makes my teeth feel weird – is this intended? And what other reactions have you had to your work?
It’s always interesting to hear different people’s reactions and experiences with my art. Paradoxes always seem to come up in my work, whether intended or not. I think it’s because the process incorporates so many juxtaposing ideas: delicate vs. harsh, hard vs. soft, strong vs. weak, fluid vs. rigid, feminine vs. masculine. The process of knitting with the braided steel has a lot of give and take as well. My hands have to go through some pain in order to make all of these pieces. But after a while, my hands build calluses and the process of knitting with the braided steel becomes easier. Knitting is seen as a soft, and gentle craft usually meant for unwinding and relaxation. But my encounter is a little different. My experience is definitely therapeutic in ways, but it’s also very time and labor intensive.
The fight between the two sides of a paradox has always been something very beautiful to me. I think as humans we are full of contradicting ideas that seem to work together. In the middle of all that is where I believe our identity rests. I have discovered more of myself in the midst of conflicting ideas, and finding contentment in that has been really rewarding.
I hope that people perceive this concept through what I create– no matter if it makes them feel uncomfortable, intrigued, perplexed, or nothing at all. That the concept of identity, particularly feminine identity and what we’ve been taught as a culture, would be questioned and debated. What makes up a person is not what’s seen on the outside. It’s the tug of war between strong and gentle, confidence and humility, joy and sorrow, and every other lovely paradoxical quality we innately contain.
I think a lot of artists who work with traditional ‘craft’ techniques such as knitting tend to work with paradoxes. As you say, its traditionally a feminine form of art so using it to create something the opposite of those feminine, ‘crafty’ connotations is a powerful gesture. Do you know of any other artists who work in a similar way to you? Knitting with wire or any other difficult materials?
I don’t know any other artists personally. But recently I was on a trip to New Orleans, LA, visiting galleries, and saw an artists work that used a lot of similar concepts. Key-Sook Geum is from Seoul, and makes a lot of amazing sculptures out of wire and beads. Her weaving has a much different effect than the knitting I do. I’m really inspired by the amount of space and volume she creates from the connecting wires.
Anne Mondro is another artist who I have discovered recently that crochets with wire. Her subject matter in her current works has a lot to do the human body. She crocheted a heart out of metal wire which I thought was really interesting!
What direction do you see your artwork taking in the future? Are there any projects we should keep an eye out for?
I would love to explore knitting with metal on a larger scale and really push the boundaries with my subject matter. Whether it is a residency program or grad school, I also want to further my education in sculpture and fiber arts.
Do you have any exhibitions coming up? Where’s the best place to see your work?
I am currently preparing for my first solo show, which will be at Harper Smith Studio in Mobile, AL this November. A few of my pieces will be a part of the “Uncommon Materials” exhibition at LeMieux Gallery in New Orleans for the month of October. Also, some of my pieces will be on display here in Charleston in the month of October.
In the Spring of 2017, I will be assisting Jill Hooper on her fresco project for the St. John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem for five weeks. I am very excited and look forward to being exposed to the fine art world there and seeing what possibilities may arise!