DIRTY GIRL — STEPHANIE SHERMAN

STEPHANIE SHERMAN IS A CRITICAL THEORIST, INTERACTIVE INSTALLATION ARTIST, AND ORGANIZATIONAL BUILDER WHO EXPLORES THE INTERSECTION OF EVERYDAY AND EXTRAORDINARY LIFE. As the collaborative director and founder of Elsewhere, a living art museum and residency program set within a former thrift store, she oversees art, curatorial and design direction, and leads Elsewhere’s staff community. Her critical work explores American surplus culture, Walter Benjamin as collector, magic realism, and the phenomenology of the smile. Her curatorial work invents collaborations with various artists and organizations, realizing possibilities for connecting communities through storytelling by reinvesting shared cultural imaginaries in new creative forms and functions. She holds a MA in Critical Theory and Visual Culture from Duke and a BA from the UPenn in English Literature.
Mademoiselle Stephanie Sherman lays in bed with DIRTY on a cloudy August day in Paris, at the infamous independent bookstore / library / residency, Shakespeare & Company, and shares how her ivy league education set the stage for her influential role in play, process art, and collaborative movement.
TEXT & PHOTOGRAPHY Anthony Spinello

 

 

DIRTY: HOW DID YOUR SCHOOLING INFLUENCE YOUR DIRECTION THUS FAR IN THE ARTS?

STEPHANIE SHERMAN: I realized that everything that was happening to me in books was happening in real life. I wanted to make a world and art about that phenomenon. I also became really interested in epics and how there are chapters and series of things. I became very interested in art projects that mirrored or aloud things to unfold over long periods of time. The narrative or the story of feeling like you’re in a story, I found more hospitable to art making than in the literary world.

 

D: WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST SIGNIFICANT CROSSOVER FROM INK IN A BOOK TO A VISUAL REALM?

SS: My friend and I were in our senior year of college and we found these costumes, old Sears robes, that radiated colors. We found one at a thrift store and a couple of days later we found another at a thrift store. My friend and I were thinking about what to be for Halloween. We realized that we can be any one of a number of things, and any two of a number of things. That kind of phenomenon of just allowing character shifts to happen and intervene in the visual public realm was really exciting.

 

D: IN WHAT OTHER WAYS HAVE YOU EXPLORED THIS CONCEPT?

SS: I think that play is such an important art of everything that I do. I’m most interested in things that people encounter and can’t tell exactly what’s going on, thus striking a curiosity.

 

D: ONE PROJECT YOUR ARE KNOWN FOR IS ELSEWHERE. WHAT IS ELSEWHERE?

SS: elsewhere is a living museum set within a former thrift store in Greensboro, NC. The museum is built through a residency program that invites 40 artists, creators, producers, and thinkers a year to come and transform a 58 year old collection of things, none of which is any longer for sale. I met George Scheer who was my co-director at UPenn and we were working on a project called Collaborative Fiction. The idea of placing two writers together and they would have to navigate sharing a story by developing characters independently and then coming together through a shared plot. There is a lot of compromise and navigation, but also a lot of absurdity that unfolds when you try to bring in two characters. In that project we found that the characters in the stories mirrored the character dynamics that were evolving in the group in real life. His Grandmother had a store full of things in Downtown Greensboro, NC and on a spring break trip we stopped there and he said, “Pick out a box of anything you want” and I really didn’t want a box, I wanted all of it! How could I choose? So then we moved in, more then deciding what to do, and started digging through all these things. The idea of a living museum I think was something that we brought to it and I’ve always been interested in and the concept of the suspension of disbelief. elsewhere evolved out of that exploration and the idea of the constant dynamic between people and things.

 

D: HOW MANY YEARS HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING ON ELSEWHERE?

SS: This is the 7th year.

 

D: IN WHAT WAYS HAS IT EVOLVED IN THE LAST 7 YEARS? IN WHAT WAYS HAVE YOU EVOLVED IN THE LAST 7 YEARS?

SS: It’s become far more ordered. What was a chaotic pile that looked to me like an installation that probably looked to no one else like an installation is now very much on its way to becoming a fully integrated cabinet of wonder – where everywhere you look there is an art piece. In the beginning everything was on the floor because Silvia, the former owner, couldn’t reach very high. A large part of our organization was just moving things and relocating them to make space for people to do projects. Slowly the interactive archive is on its way so people from the public can come in and really use it and play with it and understand the parameters for doing that. It’s always navigating the tension between preservation and transformation. We’re in the process right now of really directing people towards there own experiments and experiences in the museum itself.
I learned how to practice as an artist at elsewhere, which meant at every step along the process it was very important to be approaching the environment and space around me as it’s own installation, as it’s own sculptural process. I think when I first arrived to elsewhere, I really didn’t have the sense of how to think with my hands. I approach everything as a tool now.

 

D: WE FIND OURSELVES IN PARIS AT SHAKESPEARE & COMPANY IN ONE OF THE “TUMBLEWEED’S” (A YOUNG WRITER/RESIDENT) BED AMONG THE CHILDREN’S BOOKS, WHICH CONCLUDES THE RESEARCH PHASE OF A NEW COLLABORATIVE PROJECT THAT STARTED IN BERLIN. TELL US ABOUT THIS NEW EXPLORATION?

SS: It’s funny to be interviewed here at Shakespeare & Company, because this place in some ways was the inspiration behind elsewhere: the imagination of people living amongst a store. I miss Berlin already, even though Paris is very wonderful. In Berlin I am collaborating with five colleagues all working in a variety of disciplines on an Art Matters research grant: George Scheer , Agustina Woodgate, Daniel Margulies, Chris Lineberry, and Anthony Spinello. We are researching and investigating an abandoned amusement park that is on the east side of Berlin, Spreepark, built by the GDR and possibly before and then turned over to private ownership after the fall of the wall. The amusement park has been abandoned for about ten years and no one really knows the next direction for it. Our group finds a certain fascination with the politics of abandonment, the poetics of abandonment, but also thinking about how the space can be activated in a different kind of way. A lot of our thinking and research on this trip was working through how to preserve what’s there or highlight or feature the beauty of the nature that’s already taking over these machines that are stopped in time but finding another way to add a time and a timeliness to it through allowing other people more public people to experience it.

 

D: WHAT’S NEXT?

SS: I’m going to Saint Louise to work on a short neighborhood rehabilitation project with the artist Theater Gates. He bought a house in a rundown neighborhood in Saint Louise and is working on a collaboration with a local school, universities, and museums, to establish a residency program that is community oriented. This house will be a center for the neighborhood and community. I am working with a group of artists and creatives of all kinds to make this happen and build a sustainable site.


ELSEWHEREELSEWHERE.ORG

MUSEMENTPARK.TUMBLR.COM

 

 

 






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