Sara Morowetz treats her studio like a laboratory. Makes sense when you consider her artistic goal: to break down the long-held distinction between science and art. This aesthetic defines everything from Sara’s creative process to her finished pieces.
We recently caught up with the brilliant Aussie at her home in Clinton Hill to discuss the generosity of New Yorkers, her husband in NASA, and how important houseplants are during the winter.
Hey Sara. Where are you from?
I grew up in Newcastle in New South Wales, but lived in Sydney for the better part of a decade where I went to art school and worked afterwards.
So art was a constant in your life, even then?
Art has always been a part of my life in one way or another. I’ve always sort of floated through different creative disciplines—I’ve worked in graphic design, I’ve worked in museums behind the scenes, obviously I’ve made my own work.
These days, why do you make art? I know that’s a silly question, but if you had to say…
I make art to test an idea. I’m like a strange little scientist with no particular conclusion, but everything is a hypothesis. The work that I do along the way is an answer to this question.
What brought you to New York?
We moved here so my husband could take a position at NASA, but it seemed to be a remarkable opportunity for both of us. His name is Darren Engwirda and he is doing his post-doc at MIT and NASA. He is working on a 3 dimensional mesh code of the ocean – that will be used for their climate change research.
NASA? MIT? I’ve heard of those before. How has New York treated you guys so far?
Everyone has been so kind and generous and remarkably unlike the stereotyped New Yorker. There’s something really exciting about being in a place that has gathered so many people together. You constantly feel like people are here to do something-they’ve come to this place to try and change their destiny or to meet other people and try to change the world in their own slight little way. Everyone recognizes that in each other and they want to help. It brings a generosity of spirit or at least a willingness to try something different. It’s really pleasant and welcoming. There’s a synergy and energy to the city that allows things to just happen.
Are you able to focus exclusively on your art here? Or do you have other projects going on?
I’m currently doing my PhD in visual art through the University of Sydney, but remotely from here. My PhD looks at how methodology in science has impacted conceptual art practice. So how how artists use methodology in their work or contemplate methodology. All of my work seems to refer back to the process behind it, or the creation of a concept as opposed to its finished product. So that’s my interest and my passion.
Tell us about this office space.
Living in this work-home space is part necessity, living in New York. It’s difficult to maintain both an apartment and a studio. But it’s also probably my nature: I tend to like living and working in the same space, I like to think about work 24 hours a day, and it’s easier to be in a space where I can just pick up a pen and write things down in my pajamas at 11 PM, 2 in the morning.
So you don’t do too much to separate work and leisure?
I decided to live by Mars time to see what happened. It was an experiment, like all of my work. So for thirty-seven days I lived according to Martian time in a gallery in Brooklyn called Open Source. I started with the clocks in sync, so at 9 AM on Mars and 9 AM on Earth the project began. I allowed my time to incrementally fall out of step with Earth’s until it totally inverted and then returned to sync, which took thirty seven days. In that time I went about my day to day life, except that all my times were different and I could only rely on my own sense of time. There was a period where I was more in sync with people in Australia than I was in New York.
I seem to work better when there’s a constant motion between life and work. And things like the Mars Project reference the idea that a lot of my life is my work. And I like that transition—the where does art end and where does life begin and vice versa.
Do you have special escape, or a distraction, that keeps you grounded when things get hectic?
My plants are really important. I think living in a big city, particularly when winter gets here, having some sort of greenery indoors lifts my spirits and generally a the place feel calmer than what’s going on outside. I really appreciate having something to tend to-you have to check on your plants and check on their progress.
You mentioned the Mars Project, can you elaborate on that?
What are you working on now?
This series of work is called “Quanta” and it’s a study of macroscopic worlds inside of other things. I started doing these drawings as a response to my husband’s work. I watched him do his PhD and sit in front of a computer for hours on end working on these very intricate, detailed meshes. He’s a computational mathematician who writes code that will simulate oceans or any kind of fluid in motion, and watching him write this code and watching him create this program made me recognize that there was so much work that went on beneath the surface— so many details that science ignores. Science needs the solution, not the process through which something is created.
Would you say that your art is a response to science, or a scientific way of thinking, then?
Often I’m trying to subvert science. Often I’m trying reveal some sort of truth about the nature of science, or how we just accept some of the fundamentals of science as being absolute truths, when in fact nothing in science is an absolute truth. I think there’s a lot of scientific fundamentals that have been absorbed into society at large, and we don’t even recognize them as scientific values anymore. That’s a huge driver in my work.
What has your process looked like as you’ve worked on Quanta?
I started with these very detailed drawings where I became a machine myself. I tried to simulate or emulate a computational program where I set myself a very simple set of instructions that I had to repeat until completion. And with each drawing that I do I count every single element, so each drawing can end up looking quite similar but they end up being one long line, made up of individual elements that are counted. And each one is in the thousands.
How many dots are you up to in this painting?
Wow. Thanks Sara.