We had the good fortune of connecting with Sarah Sudhoff and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sarah, what’s the most important think you’ve done for your children?
I am a single mother of two kids–7 and 8. I have shown my kids that although I have gone through both personal and professional struggles in the last few years, that I am still here. I am still working towards a better and more fulfilling life for myself and for them. I recently started reading Glennon Doyle’s book, “Untamed”. I wish this book had been written when I was in high school although ironically the author and I are the exact same age. It would have set me on a slightly different course or at least provided more insight and support to the path I chose back then and continue to follow today. I choose to swim upstream and define for myself my worth and impact in this world, not the other way around. I am saving this book for both my children to read when they are older. I want them to understand that there is no one right way to be. I recently came across this line in the book which resonated so loudly in my heart, “Every time you are given a choice between disappointing someone else and disappointing yourself, your duty is to disappoint that someone else. Your job, throughout your entire life, is to disappoint as many people as it takes to avoid disappointing yourself.” This entire year has been an extraordinary opportunity for me to be more present and honest with myself and my children and has given me time and space to relearn and become comfortable with who I am as a mother and as an artist.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
For the past 15 years, my work has been rooted in a curiosity of the commonplace and a desire to untangle the complexity that at first appears quite ordinary. In order to achieve this, I have worked within a variety of media and interwoven themes of gender, science, and personal experience. I am a trained photojournalist and photo editor. I still operate initially within these closely regraded confines of research, information gathering and reporting. As an artist, I can go a step further, choosing to peel back additional layers, asking different questions and creatively displaying the results in the form of photographs, performances, kinetic sculptures, textiles or sound installations. Many of my projects have focused on the intersection between healthcare, community, and dialogue. In order to tackle such broad themes, I always begin my process with thorough research, using that research as a starting point for my own creative practice, I always ask – how can I substantively add to this conversation? Because I feel a personal and ethical obligation to my subject matter, I try to be as conversant in my subject area as possible. Expanding on my long-standing passion for uncovering the truth my recent projects have heavily featured data collection and data visualization, transforming hard data into minimalistic engaging and educational experiences. In the last year, performance has resurfaced as an equally important part and extension of my evolving art practice. Often my projects take years to research and gain access, where as the making process is relatively short in comparison. I think my art practice is unique not only in terms of my research based ideas but I am no longer in a position to make work without funding in the form of a grant or commission. While this can feel challenging and limiting it also helps me work through ideas and solidify plans before digging in too deep. Granted there are exceptions to this too. Over the summer, I was selected as the 2020 artist-in-residence for The DoSeum, a children’s museum in San Antonio, Texas. This announcement could not have come at a better time for me professionally and personally for my family. I not only needed a source of income but I also needed to make work again. I needed purpose outside of my home and outside of my children. Ironically though it was my son’s challenges with dyslexia which provided the inspiration for the piece. I was able to witness first hand how he navigated in a classroom and just how his dyslexia impacted his studies from my time homeschooling him during the spring. The residency, provided me the resources to be an artist again. My data-driven interactive installation, “The Reading Brain”, a colorful, organic brain-like sculpture, which flickers real-time mapping of brain activity produced by dyslexic children reading, recorded in MRI scans facilitated by Dr. Guinevere Eden, Director of the Center for the Study of Learning at Georgetown University, opened on October 10 amidst a pandemic and on a two month timeline. “The Reading Brain” is a celebration of all children and all of which makes us different and unique from one another, while igniting curiosity about the mechanics of our brains through the reading process. My two recent performances, completed at home in isolation with my two children during the COVID-19 pandemic grapple with the fears, anxieties, and the eventuality we are all experiencing. In “Will You Hug Me Forever” I chose to wear a Personal Protective Equipment mask for over eight hours while I went about my normal day–homeschooling two young kids, cooking meals, laundry, walking the dog, gardening, listening to music and sending condolences to my family after the death of loved ones in New York from COVID. I photographed myself at hour intervals and only removed the mask for the photographs, exposing the physical pressure being exerted on my skin and traces of the performance. This process and durational performance taught me more than I expected. At times, I was exhausted and my breath felt completely restricted, pressure built in my sinuses and temples, my nose dripped, and I became overwhelmed with the emotions over our reality and the lack of physical connection to my children. My 6-year old daughter asked, ” Will You Hug Me Forever”? Yes, I answered, as long as I am able. “60 Pounds of Pressure” created in the initial weeks of the pandemic and lock down in Texas was in direct response to the young nurse in Georgia, who was found dead in her home with her four-year-old by her side. As a single mother of two, my chest became tight and unbearably heavy as I reflected on the sacrifices being made and the devastating and immeasurable losses we are all witnessing. I placed 60 pounds of bricks on my chest, equivalent to the weight of my son’s and my daughter’s individual weights, momentarily equalizing the internal pressure with the outside force. My path has in no way been linear except to say I have always held true to the power of the visual to communicate without words and to connect in profound and immediate ways. My love of discovery and the joy I experience when casting light on specific subject matters has carried me through my studies at UT Austin and Parsons the New School, tenure spent at Time and Texas Monthly magazines, as a photography professor at Stephen F. Austin, the University of Texas at San Antonio and Trinity University, and as I led the Houston Center for Photography, the Texas Photographic Society and operated my own contemporary art gallery. I am still mentoring artists but I have returned to my own practice, dedicating space and time to listening and understanding my role as an artist in this world.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’ll admit since the pandemic, I haven’t been out much. I did visit the Menil not long ago and fell in love with the current exhibition by Allora and Calzadilla, which reminds me I need to revisit the work. I am waiting to attend the new MFAH Kinder building or at least go first thing on a low attendance day. I am seeking spaces in which I can enjoy and connect while also maintaining a healthy distance from others, for now. For these reasons parks and outdoor yoga have been my go-to as of late. I run the mountain bike trails at Memorial Park, explore with the kids the Houston Arboretum, we bike the along the bayous and I attend yoga classes by Black Swan at the Raven Tower.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Like most of us, especially those with children, I was seeking connection during the early months of the pandemic. I found the Artist Mother Podcast and I am so glad I did as it has provided a much needed life line, community, resource and new friends that I was able to engage within while in relative isolation. I have continued to connect with Kaylan Buteyn the founder and the community that is the Artist Mother Podcast on a number of occasions–zoom calls with artists, interviews, mentorship, exhibitions to name just a few ways this extrodinary mother of three and artist is creating space for other mother artists to find a voice and find engaged listeners.
Other: Vimeo Sarah Sudhoff
For headshot is Katy Anderson Otherwise Sarah Sudhoff