For this issue, we interviewed Sarah Hahn, a native Ohioan and local artist whose work harkens back to the classic works of Ancient Greece, but with a twist. A graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and University of Kentucky, she creates vibrant sculptures of some of today’s most well known figures in the Classical style. Her work has been on display at the Cleveland Sculpture Center, and even transformed for the public into an ice fountain liquor luge for a local bar. Through her sculptures and performance work she presents a clever and pointed perspective of our current popular culture and society.
By Alyssa Adkins
GCAC: We’d like to know a bit about you. Were you originally from Columbus, if not what brought you here?
Sarah Hahn: I grew up in St. Clairsville, Ohio, which is in the eastern part of the state across the river from West Virginia. I attended undergraduate school at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio. After graduating, I lived in German Village for a year before heading south to Kentucky for graduate school at the University of Kentucky. Though the bluegrass state grew on me, I moved back to Columbus after finishing grad school. I enjoy the opportunities in Columbus, and am glad to be back supporting theColumbus Crew.
GCAC: What was your inspiration for combining current popular culture figures with symbols of Greek myths?
SH: While in school I really focused on my art. I put my social life way on the backburner, and as a result knew nothing about current cultural events. After graduation, when I was off of the school food plan, I wound up in the grocery store and was confronted at the cashier with magazine cover after magazine cover of Hannah Montana, Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian. I didn’t know who these people were or why so much importance was being placed on their daily lives and habits.
The question of the importance of these celebrities in current culture was logged into the far corner of my brain as I entered my first year of graduate school. I was wracking my brain to come up with something truly original. While searching for this “truly original” idea, I was writing a research paper on Rodin for an art history course. What I found during my reading, was that Rodin’s predecessors criticized him for creating sculptures that forced the viewer to walk around the form. This later generation of sculptors believed that sculpture should have one angle where all of the action acclimates, which I found humorous. These artists were the Futurists. In their manifesto the Futurists suggest to burn the libraries, get rid of everything from the past and push for the new. The reason I found their criticism of Rodin, and their “new” idea of sculpture humorous is because it actually is a Classical idea that sculptors like Michelangelo employed in their masterpieces. So, here the Futurists are pushing to get rid of everything old and push for the new, but ultimately in some respects were recycling old ideologies. This really made me evaluate what I was doing in my own work, and that in my search for originality, I would ultimately be recycling a past idea. The fact that ideas repeat themselves, in my understanding of art history, in some cases can legitimize the art.
So with this awareness of the inevitability that I would in some capacity repeat the past, I determined to envelop the idea of repeating the past rather than deny it. I have always been drawn to sculptural forms. I enjoy the physicality of sculpture, and so looking towards classical sculptures seemed to make the most sense. For some the marble sculptures from antiquity, and the Classical and Baroque time periods will always remain the staple of what sculpture is, even though many are unaware of the faces or the ancient myths that the sculptures represent. This made me think of our current celebrities and the importance that is placed on even their most mundane habits; that just like the ancient sculptures, the stories of these celebrities will ebb away and be forgotten, even though at the present their image is plastered everywhere. I saw a correlation between the ancient gods, saints, and heroes and our current celebrities. What they represent and represented to the people of their time, how their image and myths grew and changed over centuries, and that for current celebrities this ebb and flow of public interest is accelerated. This idea of ancient and current icons and my thoughts of originally in art coalesced into the current body of sculptures that I have been creating where I take a celebrity and insert them into the pose of an iconic classical sculpture.
GCAC: How do you decide who you will depict as which Greek myth?
SH: My interest in celebrities is more based on an event that created a lot of buzz. I don’t actively search magazines or websites for ideas, and I don’t watch award shows. I usually wait until I’ve heard about an event from several different people. This is where facebook is very beneficial. When friends
from all over are posting about something that a celebrity, athlete, or politician has done, my interest is peaked. Where this really manifested and started was the 2009 VMA awards. At the event Kanye West so gracefully interrupted Taylor Swift during her acceptance speech. For this piece I referenced classical poses but not a specific sculpture. The direct reference to a specific sculpture occurred with my piece Leida and the Swan/Tiger and Rachel Uchitel. This piece was created after the scandal of Tiger’s affairs became a national talking point. For this piece I saw Tiger as the mighty powerful Zeus, king of the Gods. The sculpture is based on the myth where Zeus comes to Leida, the virtuous maiden, in the deceptive form of a swan. Zeus came to many woman in different forms for this purpose. For me, this myth fit with Tiger Woods because he had created an image and a brand of a powerful, wholesome, and stable world class athlete. The complete opposition of our belief and the reality in this case, not the act of him having affairs with all of these woman, but that he had tricked us into believing this other super human image of himself, is what made the incident so scandalous.
GCAC: Is there a celebrity or politician you haven’t sculpted that you would like to?
SH: Currently I am in the process of creating pieces with Kanye and Kim, Miley Cyrus, and Snowden. I have wanted to create a piece with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, but with the scale of the piece I haven’t been able to manage it yet.
GCAC: Your performance piece Average, is not only telling of our society but speaks personally to the culture in which we live in today. What inspired you for this piece and how did you develop it?
SH: I am a very petite woman and don’t quite reach 5 feet tall. All of my life I have received the reaction of “you are really short”. I would be lying if I said this wasn’t irritating, for one I know, and two there is nothing that I can do about my height (except growth hormone shots which is a route that I did not pursue). If I am truly honest, being small really made me feel inferior. It took me years to realize that
almost everyone, for one reason or another, has these same insecurities. This realization stuck with me and eventually was incorporated into a performance piece. It seemed natural for me to address my own body image issues. I chose to aim for the average height because of several lengthy conversations/debates with taller woman over whether it is worse to be tall, or short, I determined that anything other than the norm is undesirable for one reason or other.In the piece I rip off the soles of shoes and glue them to the bottom of the pair of shoes I am wearing. Throughout the performance I frequently measure myself in reference to the average height marked on the wall. The shoes seemed natural to me because I often use shoes as a means to make myself appear taller. I liked the violent act of ripping, as it represents the frustration of not living up to others standards, but also the destructive nature of the pressure to be perfect. During the performance I came across a pair of shoes that I could not rip. I struggled for a few minutes with the shoes before abandoning them for a different pair. I was told afterwards that this was a very poignant moment in the performance, and that several spectators had to fight the urge to assist me. The piece ends once I reach the average height marked on the wall. I have thought about recreating the piece with an alternate ending where I walk throughout the space and compare my average height with viewers in the space. Even though this piece addresses my insecurities, I feel that audience members can reflect upon their own points of imperfection, or times that they have made others feel lesser than.
GCAC: Any upcoming events you’d like to share? How can people learn more about your work?
SH: The piece that I am working on with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian will ultimately be made into a champagne fountain. I did something similar for the piece Bacchus/ Lil Wayne, where the sculpture was created as an ice sculpture liquor luge. The liquor luge was featured at an event at a college bar to reenact the cult of Bacchus (Bacchus is the god of wine, ritual madness and ecstasy). I want to hold a comparable event for the champagne fountain and will start looking for venues once the fountain is finished.
I will be adding more detailed information about the history of the original piece and the relation of the myth and the celebrity on my website in the near future. There are a lot of details and various thoughts that are incorporated into every piece. This will be a way for the viewer to gain a broader understanding of each piece outside of my general artist statement. The information will be manifested in both text and video form. Other than my website, Facebook is another way to see where my work will be showing, and to see in process shots. The Facebook page is s.e.hahn for anyone interested in checking it out. You can also visit my ColumbusArts.com profile for more information.