While working with UNIT on our first collaboration, I had the chance to speak to incredible artist Sarah Lewis @feltculture about her practice, her life, and her work producing the iconic Helen Beard bag with UNIT Drops!
She describes her practice as: “Intuitive, curious, indefatigable, committed”. Speaking to Sarah was fascinating, and learning about the varied and intricate facets of her work and practice.
When describing her hopes for the future of her career, she said “There are different contexts in which I would like my work to be shown but big picture is to stay curious, committed, and connected to others. All my career expansion happens from this intention.”.
Sarah, you are a filmmaker, interdisciplinary artist and creator: how would you describe your practice in a few words?
Intuitive, curious, indefatigable, committed
Tell me about your earliest memory surrounding art, and when did you decide to pursue a career in art?
At kindergarten my teacher, Mrs Esnouf told my mother that my paintings were ‘very advanced’ for a 4 year old and she put them on the wall. Growing up I remember that my father had a Super 8 camera. When I was 12, I wrote a film script and recruited my neighbourhood friends to act out the parts in the back garden. I was always wanting to know ‘why’ and although art may not give a definitive answer it provides a structure for the questions. My artist career has been an extension of my curiosities rather than a well thought out strategy.
What is your artist story Sarah? How have you got to where you are now?
My process into art has been seemingly inside out, based on a deep intuitive drive. The projects that I have developed feel non negotiable. It usually starts with a fascination towards a person, a situation or idea that represents something unresolved in my psyche. This has led to creative outcomes working in different mediums - film, sculpture, performance. With my film work, I’m interested in the gap between my personal motivation and the narrative that ends up on screen. It was only when I did a Masters in Artists’ Film at Goldsmiths that I understood the professional context and potential of my work - up until then it felt entirely like my own private Idaho.
Do you collect artwork? If so, what is the jewel in your collection?
I mainly collect artwork from my friends who are artists – I like living with little bits of them hanging in my home. A couple of pieces that I own that are extra special – one is a punch needle embroidery from a rural home in Cambodia. It was given to me by a group of women through an economic development program I was developing. It is dirty from lying around the village but the craftwork is exquisite and I’ve framed it as is.
The jewel in my collection would have to be a tapestry that the artist Helen Beard made me for my birthday. I’ve always loved the way that she reclaims ownership of the erotic via a female perspective. It was a surprise gift and my hands were literally shaking with anticipation when I unwrapped the package.
What are you working on at the moment?
-completing a documentary based on the relationship between David Nyuol Vincent, a South Sudanese child soldier and Patrice Barrat, a French journalist and filmmaker that I have filmed over 10 years. www.theboywhowouldntdie.com
-an auxiliary film that tracks behind the scenes of the master narrative, through the email exchanged between myself, David and Patrice and the events that led to Patrice’s suicide in 2018. These films are intended be shown alongside each other in a gallery context.
- a conceptual piece called Blow, made from collected photos sourced from personal photos albums and online.
- a short conceptual film exploring intimacy through the metaphor.
- the Felt Culture bag collaboration with Helen Beard and UNIT
- Ten x 4 minute films based on fragments of the life of Ronke Osinowo (my co-creator on the project)
Talk to me a bit about your UNIT and Helen Beard collaboration?
UNIT approached Helen about producing a work to help celebrate International Women’s Day, 2021.
I have made bags for many years through my label ‘Felt Culture’. Last year Helen and I worked collaboratively to recreate her painting ‘Temporarily Banishing Isolation’ 2019 as a limited edition bag, a process we both really enjoyed. For IWD, we decided to extend this collaboration to create an extra large bag, in association with UNIT
We are both passionate about supporting causes that help empower women so 10% of the profit is going to Rise, an independent, Brighton-based registered charity that helps people affected by domestic abuse.
How would you reframe the conversation around art to get more people involved?
This is a subject close to my heart.
I was involved in a 2 year project at the Pavilion school in Melbourne, Australia, an educational setting established for young adults who were outside mainstream teaching. Most of these students had backgrounds of trauma. As artist in residence, I worked to help narrativize their life stories through a series of video diaries which they got to control. This project was then shown at the Centre for Contemporary Photography and was an example of 2 very different worlds engaging. The students struggles were made visible within an established cultural context which sparked discussion and promoted understanding. This is something I would truly love to revisit and update now, 10 years on.
What are some things you are committed to fulfilling in your career?
There are different contexts in which I would like my work to be shown but big picture is to stay curious, committed, and connected to others. All my career expansion happens from this intention.
And what has been the highlight of your career so far?
At this stage, it would have to be when my film ‘No Ifs Or Buts’ premiered at the London Film Festival. This was a personal and professional highlight. The screening delivered personal history back to the people who had been filmed for the project 20 years ago. Professionally I had lived with this story and characters so it was great to experience the reaction to a project of such longevity and satisfying to find a home for it.
If you could have a meal with any artist from any time, what would the meal be, who would the artist be, and why?
Meat balls with Louise Bourgeois! Why?.....because I’d want to thank her for being unapologetic in her expression of a deep female energy, often despised and rejected within our patriarchal culture. I have always been fascinated and comforted by her work.
Who are your favourite female/ non-binary artists and their instagram handles?
Helen Beard @helenbeardart
Coco Rosie @cocorosie_official
Jenny Holzer @jennyholzerstudio
Wu tsang @wu_tsang
Pipilotti Rist @pipilotti_rist_studio
Sun Park @coco____
Aimee Neat @aimeeneat
Ginou Choueiri @ginou_choueiri
Aoibheann Greenan @rodeo.oracle
Tosh Basco @boychild
Tai Shani @taishani
Vaginal Davis @vaginaldavis_official
Laure Prouvost @studioprouvostsocialclub
Laurie Anderson @ laurieandersonofficial
Barbara Hammer @barbarahammer1
Rachael Rose @worrrld
Judith Scott @judithscottart
Saya Woolfalk @sayawoolfalkstudio
Tiffany Alfonseca @tiffanyalfonseca
Zackary Drucker @zackarydrucker
Zarina Muhammad & Gabrielle de la Puente. @thewhitepube
And so many more that are not on Instagram