A spring, 2011 residency at the Creative Glass Center of America came at a key transitional time for Sara Pitt. “I was in school (the Hite Art Institute); then I graduated and I was immediately at Wheaton. I think there was no place on earth that would have been better for me at that time,” she recalled a few months later. “In school you have to have a reason for what you do and there is a timeline. At [CGCA] I could make whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.”
In addition to working on her own individual projects, Pitt performed as part of the collaborative Burnt Asphalt Family at CGCA and planned to work with the group in the future. Burnt Asphalt Family’s interactive performances link concepts and activities around cooking, serving and eating food and, as the name implies, cultural ideas about the family itself, to artists’ techniques and interdependence in the hot shop. It also engages the artist’s interdependence with the audience (literal consumers in the performance) itself. The group has worked with similar elements since 2007. The performance at WheatonArts combined theatricality with glass blowing and hot-casting techniques and the serving of actual food to the audience. A giant bouquet of marshmallows was flambéed, steak seared on slabs of just-poured molten glass and chickens cooked very quickly from the inside when hot glass was poured into the bird. The experimental, almost anything-goes attitude extended beyond the performance for Pitt and the other artists in this particular residency.
An unusual series of investigations Pitt carried out at CGCA involved ladling hot glass directly into the raw earth, into holes she had excavated. This, of course, is not a reliable way of making glass sculpture because abrupt temperature changes shatter solid cooling glass. The glass altered and sometimes partly bonded with materials present in the soil. Perhaps that material transition of boundaries between glass and earth was comparable to Pitt’s transitional experience at CGCA “Glass has this very lively quality. When you pour it in the ground, it really changes what’s there.” Pitt looked on the results of these actions as records of events, only observable after the fact. She saw the glass pours as “little worlds.” In these actions there is an intriguing resonance with gardening practices and burial sites, with magic, incubation, and transformation.
Pitt was fascinated with the exchange that occurs when something is recorded through glass casting. She also poured hot glass into wooden boxes and observed the glass as it solidified while simultaneously charring and destroying the surface of the wood. She tried to divorce herself from seeking meaning, to focus on simply witnessing. Perhaps her most unusual observational activity involved collecting dead mice found in the glass house (probably the victims of extermination). She invested the sad limp corpses in wax with the intention of casting them in glass.
Since CGCA Pitt has moved into more conceptual, language-related areas. She is studying informational systems, considering how “information tends to exist in an abstract sense as well as manifest physically.” Language itself is a mystery. “There’s no [singular, free-standing] definition of what a word is,” she has noticed. “All definitions are context bound. Arguably, language is the biggest feat in our history because it enabled us to cooperate.” These musings have led her to look more closely at the electrochemical signals in the brain. “Somewhere that [exchange] leads to consciousness and self-awareness but you can’t find that line between physical and abstract.” Another decisive, transitional point has engaged her.
Currently without access to glass facilities, Pitt and has been working with fiber. Applying her thinking about language and systems of data — algorithms — to fiber systems, she wants to work within a simple system, one she can analyze. Where that idea will go is not clear yet, but she is now crocheting. The one continuous thread that creates loops upon loops and can loop back on itself has a mathematical fascination. “It’s very elegant in how simple it is. It’s such a great metaphor for so many systems.”