Sarah Gilbert Essay

Sarah Gilbert Essay

Sarah Gilbert
Spring 2007 Fellow

Sarah Gilbert, a Spring 2007 Resident Fellow of the Creative Glass Center of America, makes blown tableware and other functional projects which have been modified to reproduce isolated parts of her own body and in some cases those of others.

Gilbert’s gloss on these projects is sophisticated. She characterizes her work as an inquiry into values and co-modification in contemporary society. Each piece or project is designed to carry out a conceptual mission that reflects her study of political science, anthropology, object history, and Marxist, semiotic and other current theoretical areas at BrownUniversity (BA, 2006). She wants to provoke questions and a new sense of the objects that surround us. In addition, I find a feminist aspect to the ideas she visually articulates.

For a critique of contemporary industrial design, Wineglasses: Crate and Barrel, 4/10/06, she made a near-perfect copy of a Crate and Barrel wineglass, altering the design only to impress the texture of her own lips onto the lip of the glass and place the shapes of her own toes onto its foot. These patterns were cast from life and are therefore life scale.

There’s a curious disjuncture between the lip impressions, which are the scale and location of actual lips drinking from the glass, and the foot impressions, really a relief of toes, which is based on a verbal equivalency between the foot of a person and the foot of a glass, not a physical one. In the ordinary course of events, including the champagne sipped from the beloved’s shoe or the breaking of the wineglass at the conclusion of a Jewish wedding, bare toes rarely touch a wineglass.

When Gilbert added an appropriated barcode label to her glass, the copy was virtually indistinguishable from the original. Photographs Gilbert took of her glass with its siblings in a Crate and Barrel store document the climactic event of the project.

“[Industrial] design today seems to be about what you can make very quickly,” Gilbert notes. For the opening reception of an exhibition of her own work, she elaborated the Crate and Barrel project with Cheers, 11/30/06, 120 perfect mold-blown glass copies of the ubiquitous plastic wineglass found at gallery openings and other semi-public functions. Visitors were allowed to take one of Gilbert’s glasses home and did so with pleasure, something that would not have happened with plastic. Gilbert inverted the process by which a plastic vessel was created in imitation of a glass one and by so doing offered “new ways of experiencing the world, perhaps by creating sensations that aren’t already completely co-modified.”

For herself, Gilbert prefers objects that have personal associations, things made by her or gifts made by friends. She says, “I don’t really like stuff; I live mattress on the floor and one little desk.”

At CGCA, Gilbert blew a large number of identical wineglasses for a future social occasion. Like the Crate and Barrel glass, all are impressed with a part of the body cast from life, in this case, Gilbert’s own bellybutton becomes a dimple in what is sometimes called the “belly” of the glass.

The glass bellybuttons are “pristine and pure” in contrast to those of flesh, a contrast which amuses the artist. Gilbert hopes to incorporate casts of other bodily orifices in future work and also perhaps to cast her own breast as the basis of a tazza, reprising in real life legends of coupes molded from the perfect breasts of the likes of Marie Antoinette, Helen of Troy and other notorious beauties.

Gilbert’s completed projects usually encompass an event and a context in addition to specific objects. At the Rhode Island School of Design, where she earned a BFA, she invited twelve guests for dessert and wine and sent each a kit with which to cast parts of their bodies. She made a set of tableware for the party incorporating casts from each guest. One person’s bellybutton was in the bottom of the bowls. One person’s skin texture on a metal fork and so on. “As the guests ate and drank and conversed with each other, the objects around the table revealed their corporal characters.”

This project illustrates the feminist bias which permeates Gilbert’s work. It has to do with the presentation of food and drink, typically a woman’s task, and one in which Gilbert casts herself as hostess, cook (or provider of prepared food), and maid. A parallel of this work to Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party is obvious, though Gilbert alters contemporary-cum-traditional dinnerware and eschews Chicago’s elaborate historical iconography and embroidery in favor of functional objects.

She illustrates the familiar taxonomy of vessel parts (often discussed by commentators in terms of the female body): lip, belly, foot, skin. The female is sometimes described as a vessel because she carries children (in the New Testament, she is called the “weaker vessel.”). Gilbert sums up her interests in more general terms when she says, “[My] ideas come from living in this crazy world. I can’t help them; I’m so invested in object history and what objects fill in and record in our lives.”