Rema Hort Mann Foundation

Sara Magenheimer

My work attends to visual signs in a way that addresses the materiality of their
manifestation, decoupling language and meaning, and pushing at the dynamic relationships
between thought and material. I arrange objects, manipulate materials, collage sound, and
direct scenes that rupture narrative and logical cohesion. Disrupting what are often thought of
as closed, fixed systems creates an opportunity for new meanings to emerge; not just a
normative thing and its opposite, the point and the counterpoint, but a third, fourth or fifth
category. My work throws off the imagined equilibrium of signs and signifiers, acknowledging
that other relationships are always already present beneath the surface.
When working in video, a medium with a strong relationship to narrative, I like to lie to
the viewer. I construct an elaborate fiction using elements that appear true, and in converse,
craft fictive scenarios from snippets of “real life.” I draw inspiration from a wide variety of
sources; transient bits of conversation, misspellings on Twitter, a Facebook link headline out of
context, and a snippet of a 70’s pop song all found their way into the script for a new video. A
current influence is linguistic strategies employed in Hip Hop music. While my work does not
overtly reference Hip Hop aesthetics, I borrow from its toolkit, utilizing tactics such as odd
juxtapositions, intentional mispronunciations or spellings, quotation, and repetition. These
methods highlight absurdity and cognitive dissonance of living within a society that ostensibly
speaks your language, but forces you to articulate yourself using tools that come already
embedded with alienating power structures. A recent video work, “Seven Signs that Mean
Silence,” is based on a script I wrote that employs modes of “voice” from found texts, spoken
through a text-to-speech website, using intentionally “broken” language, and even total
nonsense at times to re-infuse language with new meaning and a sense of play. Historically,
such absurdist detournement has been employed by the Situationists, in punk, Dada and many
other artistic contexts. I see my work in conversation with these precedents.
Much of my interest in visual language is rooted in a tradition of semiotics. Through
playful reconfiguration of meanings in time and space, my work posits an ongoing creative
relationship to one’s experience reading the world. In my work, words are always the shape of
the letters that comprise them, the sound of their articulation, as well as what they mean.
Sound is always a vibration of molecules, as well as a catalyst for emotion when organized into a
melody. In both my video and sculptural works I imagine each work as a sentence of these
multifaceted signs, exploding out the constituent parts into grammar and punctuation. A recent
series of sculptures, “The Extras,” engages with ideas of legibility of material and
signification. Abstract mounds of haphazardly glazed clay hold up signs with clear photographic
images. The signs they hold refer to themselves and convey a cultural awareness, their titles
(“Distracted Woman, Church Scene” for instance) imply a connection with the outside world and
to an unknown narrative.
We often think of the processes associated with found material as those of
detached intellect and of selection and arrangement, while emotion and imagination are
associated with self-generated materials such as expressive painting or gestural sculpture. My
process combines these methods and uses them both strategically and intuitively, disavowing
the binary of the mind and the body. Placed In conversation with each other, these modes
reflect the semiotic potential for reading the world in endless combinations that lies at the heart
of contemporary subjecthood.