How Sarah Goffman’s Work Channels The Ancient And The Modern, The Treasured And The Discarded, The Past And The Future

Sarah Goffman, Black and Whites, 2019–2021, PET and other plastics, hot glue, enamel paint, acrylics, Posca marker, wood, ceramic. Installation view in “Sarah Goffman: Applied Arts” at Chau Chak Wing Museum, The University of Sydney, Sydney, 18 January – 26 June 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Chau Chak Wing Museum.
Sarah Goffman, Egyptian blue, 2021, polyethylene, metallic tape, plywood. Installation view in “Sarah Goffman: Applied Arts” at Chau Chak Wing Museum, The University of Sydney, Sydney, 18 January – 26 June 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Chau Chak Wing Museum.
Sarah Goffman, Opium pipe, 2016, PVC, marker pen, plastic, hot glue. Installation view in “Sarah Goffman: Applied Arts” at Chau Chak Wing Museum, The University of Sydney, Sydney, 18 January – 26 June 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Chau Chak Wing Museum.
Sarah Goffman, Scholar’s Desk copy, 2005–2021, plastics, enamel paint, hot glue, wood, human hair, found table. Installation view in “Sarah Goffman: Applied Arts” at Chau Chak Wing Museum, The University of Sydney, Sydney, 18 January – 26 June 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Chau Chak Wing Museum.
Sarah Goffman, Perforated bottles A.D., 2021, PET, acrylic paint, LED lightbox. Installation view in “Sarah Goffman: Applied Arts” at Chau Chak Wing Museum, The University of Sydney, Sydney, 18 January – 26 June 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Chau Chak Wing Museum.
Sarah Goffman, Power piece, 2020, plastics, hot glue, enamel paint, acrylic. Installation view in “Sarah Goffman: Applied Arts” at Chau Chak Wing Museum, The University of Sydney, Sydney, 18 January – 26 June 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Chau Chak Wing Museum.
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Inside the new Chau Chak Wing Museum, artist Sarah Goffman responds to objects in the University of Sydney’s collections with a beautiful and intriguing proposition about the role of objects, collectors, museums and makers.

TEXT: Chloé Wolifson
IMAGES: Courtesy of Chau Chak Wing Museum

 

Sarah Goffman, Egyptian blue, 2021, polyethylene, metallic tape, plywood. Installation view in “Sarah Goffman: Applied Arts” at Chau Chak Wing Museum, The University of Sydney, Sydney, 18 January – 26 June 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Chau Chak Wing Museum.

 

A blue plastic shopping bag, painstakingly cut into a netting design, is set reverently against a golden foil wall. This work, Egyptian blue (2021) is artist Sarah Goffman’s take on a blue Beaded faience net. The object, from Egypt’s New Kingdom Late Period, c.1550–323 BC, is held in the University of Sydney’s Nicholson Collection and displayed in the Chau Chak Wing Museum’s “The Mummy Room”.

The Chau Chak Wing Museum, which opened at the end of 2020, is the new multidisciplinary home of the University of Sydney’s extensive collections. These include the Nicholson Collection of antiquities, the Macleay Collections of natural history, ethnography, science and historic photography, and the University Art Collection. With the exhibition space triple that which was previously available, 70% of the items on display have not been seen publicly for more than 20 years, and include ancient Roman, Greek and Egyptian artefacts, the art of First Nations people, and contemporary art.

“Sarah Goffman: Applied Arts” is the second project in the Penelope Gallery, the Museum’s dedicated contemporary art project space. Goffman, a Sydney-based artist, has been exhibiting mixed media installations since 1994. For this exhibition, she was invited to respond to the University’s collections. This is something Goffman has undertaken in the past, making work in response to pieces held by the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the University of Wollongong. The objects which have inspired the works in “Applied Arts” come from across the University of Sydney’s collections, from ancient Egyptian, Greek and Mycenean artefacts to early 20th century paintings and works on paper, as well as reflecting Goffman’s particular interest in Chinoiserie, orientalism and the Silk Road, and cabinets of curiosity.

To arrive at Goffman’s exhibition, located in a corner of the Museum’s lowest level, visitors first descend through the Museum, passing the other exhibits that include objects which Goffman has mimicked or made reference to in her work. Certain qualities of these objects and their display inevitably remain in one’s mind when viewing “Applied Arts”, and as one makes one’s way back through the Museum afterwards, there is the opportunity to seek out these objects and displays again, now with Goffman’s works in mind. A QR code at the entrance to the exhibition links to a catalogue depicting the work from the Museum’s collection and Goffman’s “version”, inviting visitors to find these connections.

 

Sarah Goffman, Opium pipe, 2016, PVC, marker pen, plastic, hot glue. Installation view in “Sarah Goffman: Applied Arts” at Chau Chak Wing Museum, The University of Sydney, Sydney, 18 January – 26 June 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Chau Chak Wing Museum.
Sarah Goffman, Scholar’s Desk copy, 2005–2021, plastics, enamel paint, hot glue, wood, human hair, found table. Installation view in “Sarah Goffman: Applied Arts” at Chau Chak Wing Museum, The University of Sydney, Sydney, 18 January – 26 June 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Chau Chak Wing Museum.

 

The exhibition is not simply an act of mimicry. Goffman has created several bodies of work in direct response to existing objects while others speak to the history of objects more generally and employ more artistic licence (which Goffman refers to as “the best licence in the whole world”). Goffman’s works make us smile as we encounter familiar or overlooked objects used in new and surprising settings. In Opium pipe (2016), the top of a plastic champagne glass protrudes from an intricately painted plastic pipe, which is adorned at one end with a miniature model of a temple and at the other with a grinning plastic strawberry.

There are direct transcriptions of museum displays, such as Scholar’s Desk copy (2005–21) in which Goffman has replicated a display of Chinese decorative and symbolic stationary from the past 500 years including inkstones and paperweights. Other works propose artefacts of the future, such as Perforated bottles A.D. (2021), an arrangement of soft drink bottles perforated with decorative designs and ethereally displayed on a lightbox.

 

Sarah Goffman, Perforated bottles A.D., 2021, PET, acrylic paint, LED lightbox. Installation view in “Sarah Goffman: Applied Arts” at Chau Chak Wing Museum, The University of Sydney, Sydney, 18 January – 26 June 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Chau Chak Wing Museum.

 

This cycle of re-presentation is central to Goffman’s practice. There are many artists reusing found materials, and in particular salvaged plastic, in their work. For Goffman, the use of single-use plastics and discarded objects is not only an act of environmental consciousness. Goffman’s works toy with the idea of value, of preciousness. She makes copies of objects she covets. From afar, they pass as the objects they are inspired by, or mimic. On closer inspection, the trail of the hot glue gun is visible, or the shape of the soft drink bottle or takeaway container is recognisable. The worthlessness and ugliness with which we have learned to regard these materials smacks up against the obvious care and fascination that has gone into the creation of these works. The concept of value is turned on its head, and the viewer is invited to consider the evolutions of decorative and artistic styles. The way Goffman arranges and stages her works enhances this further. The works are dramatically lit within a darkened room, and Goffman has reused display furniture from the previous exhibition held in this gallery.

While the Museum is a shiny new place for historic collections, the intricate, slick black spot-lit setting of Goffman’s new-yet-familiar works signals a different tone–beyond contemporary, “Applied Arts” is futuristic. The exhibition channels the ancient and the modern, the treasured and the discarded, the past and the future, into a beautiful and intriguing proposition about the role of objects, collectors, museums and makers.

 

Sarah Goffman, Power piece, 2020, plastics, hot glue, enamel paint, acrylic. Installation view in “Sarah Goffman: Applied Arts” at Chau Chak Wing Museum, The University of Sydney, Sydney, 18 January – 26 June 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Chau Chak Wing Museum.

 

Sarah Goffman: Applied Arts
18 January – 26 June 2022
Chau Chak Wing Museum, The University of Sydney, Sydney

 

 

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