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sally ann mckinsey sisk

september 2, 2017

richmond, virginia

Adele: Are you a cat or a dog?
Sally Ann: Most definitely a cat--
Adele: Yeah?
Sally Ann: --in every way.
Adele: What are those ways?
Sally Ann: I have two cats. They sense a mood really well. They have a sense of control, they need privacy, they have so many sensitivities. I often think that I'm so much like a cat.
Adele: I think I’m a cat too, but I don’t actually know anything about cats. I just hear they’re really independent, which seems like it fits with my personality, so--
Sally Ann: They also sense a mood really well. Right when I come in a door, they know my mood. Either they’ll run wild or they’ll be real chill. And they can reflect my mood pretty accurately.

Adele: What have you been listening to recently in the studio?
Sally Ann: Mostly indie folk. Valerie June’s one of my favorites--
Adele: I love her! So good.
Sally Ann: Yeah, I like the bluegrass vibe some days in here, but I also like the indie twist. I usually just go on Spotify and find a good station and let it play.
Adele: Cool. Yeah. That sounds really nice. I feel like today is a really good day for Valerie June, cuz it’s foggy and cozy.
Sally Ann: Yeah, I think she’s very cool. I wish we could be friends.

Adele: Describe your studio practice as a party.
Sally Ann: My studio is generally where I go to be alone. But I think if it was a party, first of all, I think it would be a surprise. Or a party that spontaneously happens unexpectedly. I like to think my studio’s a place where something could--in terms of my process--happen unexpectedly and I would follow that. So, if it was a party, maybe a surprise party. And it would probably be a like, sit around with a listening stick around a campfire type of party. Telling stories and being together with friends. Probably that kind of party.
Adele: Yeah, totally. Yeah. So would there be--what kind of playlist would there be? Or would it just be the sound of--
Sally Ann: Maybe live music, maybe a guitar. In fact, one of my studio mates is a musician (Elizabeth Wise). Hopefully she would be there!
Adele: That sounds so lovely. Cool, yeah. I love asking that question. It’s so indicative of--it paints such a great picture of how the space feels in here, too.
Sally Ann: It is a challenging one because my studio is such a private space. You know, it’s an intimate space, and it’s a sacred space, in a way. So, it wouldn’t necessarily be--although it could be--a dance party. Like I said, I would be open to anything. This is a place where everyone and everything belongs, so if it was a surprise rave or something, that would be ok.
Adele: But definitely a surprise.
Sally Ann: Yes, definitely a surprise party.
Adele: I love that idea of a surprise rave, what! That sounds really fun.

Adele: What is your morning ritual?
Sally Ann: Every morning is a little different, but I do drink a lot of coffee in the mornings. I drink tea in my studio, but in the mornings I have to have a few cups of coffee. I try to, on the days I have in the studio, get here as early as a I can, since I work best in the mornings.
Adele: Yeah, so morning ritual is just like, get here--
Sally Ann: I do shower.
Adele: Ok, yeah, shower and studio. I feel that. There’s a nice quietness in the morning and I’m the most alert and productive in those hours. I feel like--I usually try not to have morning meetings, so I can put my head down and do a lot of tasks quickly, and then--
Sally Ann: Yeah, I like to have open space in the morning, if I can.

Adele: What is an average length studio day for you?
Sally Ann: Well, it really varies, depending on the week. Mondays and Fridays are days that I know I can dedicate to the studio. And so if it’s one of those days, I will usually stay maybe seven hours in the studio and do a whole day. I also come in on evenings or late afternoons. Then if I’m delivering or showing work, or making work outside the studio, I might not be able to be in this room the whole day. But if I have less than three hours, I can’t get into the process the way I need to.
Adele: I imagine part of that is in like, warming up, cleaning up, setting up.
Sally Ann: Yeah, there is a warm-up and clean-up time. It also depends on if I’m making pots that particular day. I make functional ware, and then I also make video, performance and installation work, and so it depends on what I’m doing that day. If I’m working on or beginning a process for a performance or video piece, I’ll go around town and look at things or explore objects, like go to salvage stores or wherever and just explore. But if I’m making functional work, there is definitely a warm-up period for throwing.

Adele: What kind of things are you looking for when you’re exploring?
Sally Ann: So, I’m looking for something really strange and interesting. I found this bright pink plastic drinking hat thing in a salvage store that holds two cups. I thought about the concept of the vessel and wondered about putting handmade cups in this hat. The conversation between the hat and the handmade cups was interesting to me. The idea of wearing a hat that would allow you to drink faster, out of a handmade cup that’s meant to slow you down. And the absurdity of the hat object with the simplicity of the ceramic objects in it. The juxtaposition interested me. So that’s an example of something I’ll find, and I may not ever do anything with that, but I brought it into my studio anyway.
Adele: It’s amazing. I can’t believe I didn’t see it when I walked in.
Sally Ann: Sometimes, at the very beginning of a process, or if I’m stuck, to explore, to go out and see what’s out there gets my brain going as I experience new ideas. And then other times I know exactly what I want to do and execute it to see if it worked or not. It just depends.

Adele: Can you talk a little more about that side of the process? You pointed out earlier your graveyard of objects and how you come up with an idea, execute it, and how you navigate whether or not it fails and how it fails.
Sally Ann: So, it’s always been interesting to me that in the ceramic process, there are many points along the way in which something could fail. 

I have several cemeteries in here. One is a greenware graveyard--all of the stuff in that corner is stuff that never made it to the kiln, that got made, and now needs to be reclaimed. I kind of like have a pile of pots that didn’t work, or sculptures that didn’t work. That clay can be re-used.

And then there’s another graveyard in bisqueware. This is fired once, and all of this bisqueware could be fired again, but I may not quite be there with the object yet. So then there are things that I carried through the whole process and put together--if it’s an installation, sculpture, or maybe I was experimenting with a material and it just fizzled out. All of those things are still important to the process.

And then there are also a lot of videos that I’ve made that I consider sketches. And I decide if there’s something compelling in that sketch to follow. I don’t know how I decide. It’s part aesthetics and part the quality of exploration of my idea, and also whether I care enough about the idea or think it’s important enough to explore it further.

And then sometimes I make things because I need to process something, you know what I mean? It’s interesting to identify things that were made when I was processing something within myself and things that are made that would be helpful for other people to see. Some things might not be helpful for other people, but they’re still important.

Adele: Yeah. But you have to work through it, for sure.
Sally Ann: It definitely requires tending. There’s something about this space that makes me think of the idea of tending to things before they go off into the world. Usually once I make something, it’s a relief to have now explored (or tended to) that thing and now be able to continue to explore it or move on to something else. I don’t feel much attachment, generally, to things that are already made. It’s the process before that I’m attached to.
Adele: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Everything displayed on these nice shelves. I can see that.
Sally Ann: There’s something about displaying things that aren’t finished.
Adele: Yeah! I know, the studio--corner office is so bare right now, but usually it’s like, the first three months we were just putting things all over the walls, like, “ok, I did this little test piece, or I did this--” and it’s nice to be surrounded by those trials.

Adele:Can you talk about what made you interested in video and performance work, and what inspires you to make them?

Sally Ann: Yeah. It felt pretty natural, but also like an explosion in the sense that the desire to explore performance was there all along but has finally appeared. It took a while, but I needed to make the first video in order to give myself permission to place myself in the work.

In the past I have loved what I thought was the facelessness of art-making, that my work could be on display and I didn’t need to be on display. But, because I had that desire to be faceless, putting myself into the work was a huge challenge and also a subversive act.

Growing up, I was a dancer, and I loved performing on stage. When I started throwing, I realized my whole body was engaged in a similar way, which drew me to ceramics. It was this process of connecting the dots between experiences in my own life that landed me at performance art. I always loved art because of the embodiment it required and invited viewers into. So then, when I gave myself permission to put my body into the work, I was suddenly able to talk about that embodiment piece in a way I couldn’t before. It is still challenging to let go of the facelessness of the work, but I love the tension between these feelings and my background in performing art.

Adele: Yeah. Cool! I'm so curious, what was going through your mind during your performance piece? Or how did you feel?
Sally Ann: Well, it was interesting that I couldn’t see anybody, all I could see was the sky, because I was laying down. At one point I thought, “I need to take a picture of this view” but alas, I didn’t remember in the end. It was cool. It always feels very bold in the moment when I’m doing a performance. I enjoy the boldness it requires to carry out my crazy plans.

Because folks were reading out statements that I hear from others in my own day-to-day life, I was thinking about each of those statements as I broke each balloon--acts of protest.

But at the same time, because I decided I would pop a balloon after each statement, I was, in a way, being obedient, in that I was taking cues from others--but according to rules I had set. This idea of obedience and disobedience is interesting to me as a woman, and especially during a time when civil disobedience is so important in American society.