Since a recent curatorial project, I have developed a huge fascination in monochrome works, specifically those of charcoal. Because of this, you can imagine my delight at discovering Sara-Jeanne Bourget's work a few months ago.
I have been obsessed with the work she has been putting out there, and the ore has only grown since speaking to her about her works. I was particularly interested in this quote from Bourget:
"I believe in the importance of getting to know your material. By focusing on one medium, charcoal, I am unveiling its hidden properties, its potential functions..... I believe that making my own material is a way to speak to an environmental crisis that is restructuring the world we live in, through a specific and ever growing inspection of materials and processes, and a recognition of the ethics of making. Charcoal is an earthly medium; beyond the tree it is made from and the drawing it is part of, it connects to a multitude of histories, communities, (natural) processes and practices."
In our interview we discuss her practice, her past and what's coming up soon. Enjoy.
SARA-JEANNE, I AM SO FASCINATED TO SPEAK TO YOU ABOUT YOUR WORK... CAN YOU START BY TELLING ME ABOUT YOU, WHERE YOU WORK NOW AND WHERE YOU GREW UP?
I live and work on the stolen and unceded territories of the Musqueam (xʷməθkʷəy̓əm ) Squamish(Sḵwx̱wú7mesh) and Tsleil-Waututh (səl̓ilwətaɁɬ )nations, commonly known as Vancouver.
I grew up in Levis, near Quebec city and later moved to Tiohtià:ke/Montréal, where I lived for about 10 years. This is where I did my BFA at Concordia U. Some years after graduating, I then moved to Vancouver to do my MFA at Emily Carr U, where I am now a sessional instructor. I mainly teach drawing.
INCREDIBLE. AND, TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR PRACTICE AND YOUR USE OF MATERIASLS? HOW DID THIS START?
I have been making my charcoal from found materials (branches) in nature for many years now. I have made camping and making campfire part of my research/material making practice. I am interested in how a deep-seated awareness of materials is rooted in the intimate knowledge of their provenance, fabrication and uses. Each of the charcoal sticks I make is unique, sometimes soft and shiny, or brown-ish and too hard; sometimes it breaks or refuses to draw. I have learnt to appreciate and embrace all of its imperfections.
During my MFA, I was interested in the metaphorical connections between Rock, Paper, Charcoal, hence the title of my thesis. I started drawing representations of rock formations I visited, and later I was comparing them to the physicality of paper, as it was processed to be transformed into charcoal monotypes.
INCREDIBLE, SO WHAT IS IT ABOUT CHARCOAL?
Charcoal itself is my subject matter and medium. It is part of a cyclical process that emcompasses all the activities in my studio; from collecting charcoal, drawing, and recycling it into other forms/mediums. For instance, my prints are made of recycled charcoal drawings; I collect all the small bits of charcoal that falls on the floor to eventually re-purpose them into charcoal collages: everything has a life and an after-life.
I believe in the importance of getting to know your material. By focusing on one medium, charcoal, I am unveiling its hidden properties, its potential functions. It is revealing itself to me in a way that would not be possible if I was purchasing charcoal in a store.
I believe that making my own material is a way to speak to an environmental crisis that is restructuring the world we live in, through a specific and ever growing inspection of materials and processes, and a recognition of the ethics of making. Charcoal is an earthly medium; beyond the tree it is made from and the drawing it is part of, it connects to a multitude of histories, communities, (natural) processes and practices.
I LOVE THE IDEA OF KNOWING YOUR MATERIAL, AND GETTING TO UNDERSTAND THE COMPLEXITIES. WHAT QUESTIONS DRIVE YOUR PRACTICE?
Why drawing? / What can be drawing?
How can a deep awareness of materials, from their fabrication to their uses, affect the drawing process?
What are the limitations of a medium and how can I learn to work with them?
CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR PROCESS?
Sometimes I think I am obsessed with my charcoal, that I find myself locked in a relationship with it - I am the crazy charcoal lady... I find it unsettling to start using other materials as they never seem as interesting as charcoal. I am slowly learning to include more materials in conversation with my charcoal, which brings up even more characteristics I had not previously engaged with.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON?
I am now working on a new series of large drawings, which will divert from my thesis exhibition and work, but will still involve charcoal as a main subject.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE HISTORICAL FEMALE ARTIST?
I think that one of my favorite artists of all time is Vija Celmins. She states that a drawing is simply matter/dust that interacts with light - it is an illusion, and will reveal itself once a viewer recognizes the materials in front of them.
AND ANYONE PRACTICING YOU HAVE YOUR EYE ON?
I have a deep respect for all artists who have dedicated their practice to drawing. Despite drawing being present through time, it never had the same status as painting or sculpture, for instance. It never occured to me before (my MFA) that I could simply be a “drawer”. So big shout out to all “drawers” out there!