Frame 61

Sara Dittrich

Frame 61
Sara Dittrich

“I aim to create interactive moments with audiences to heighten the awareness of their body in space, giving a reestablished sense of place and identity.”


Your work explores presence and absence as well as gesture and the lack of it. It is easy to make a link to this age of non-presential communication, is this something you want to explore in your work?

I think we do tend to take our bodies for granted in this digital age of communication, or even just forget about our body, or that there is a real physical body on the receiving end of the messages and posts we send. Sometimes my artworks exaggerate the absurdity of our lack of communication, and sometimes they strive to create situations to counter-act it. I aim to create interactive moments with audiences to heighten the awareness of their body in space, giving a reestablished sense of place and identity.  I hope my artworks create a renewed awareness of what we take for granted.  

I also consider the social constructs we create.  Benedict Anderson’s text, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, has been influential to me in this regard.  He proposes a nation defined as a community socially constructed, imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group.  These are the invisible bonds I wish to question and investigate.

I cannot help but read a critique of our current inability to communicate in your work; music, lacking of words, becomes a unitarian and universal message, when did you first started to integrate music in your practice?

While I had an interest in painting and drawing from an early age, I was also obsessed with the saxophone. I played the alto sax all through grade school in concert, jazz and marching band.  However, I always enjoyed the social and collaborative aspect of being in band more than individually practicing.  Even though my high school art portfolio was full of hyper-realistic oil paintings of saxophones (lol), I didn’t begin to understand music as a sculptural tool until college. Early on in college I became obsessed with string, and the tension it could embody.  Eventually I made the connection to strings on an instrument, and everything clicked.  I began to make sculptural objects inspired by musical instruments. This led to creating performances to use those objects.  Which led to using video to document those performances.  I discovered music was an accessible immersive forum for the manipulation of communication, time, and duration.  

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?

I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and then moved to Baltimore, Maryland to attend the Maryland Institute College of Art. I graduated with a BFA in interdisciplinary sculpture in 2014.  I always knew I wanted to pursue art from an early age, but I never expected to fall in love with sculpture.  If it were not for a required sculpture class my first year of art school, I may have ended up studying to be a designer or painter.  Aside from the occasional artist residency, I’ve been continuing my multimedia practice in Baltimore ever since.  

Going Staying, 2017

Installation View, 2017

Installation View, 2017

Arrhythmia of the Body, 2015

Arrhythmia of the Body, 2015

Tell us a bit about how you spend your day / studio routine? What is your studio like?

The morning is when I feel the most energized, so I like to get an early start and head to the studio in the AM.  I try to be strategic and plan other commitments to be in the afternoons and evenings when my creative energy starts to run low.  I tend to not be good at switching between the administrative side of being an artist (applications, documenting, writing) and the making side, so I will spend separate days doing those things.  Other days I need to get out of the studio, out of my head, and go explore.  Recently, I’ve been trying to make time on a daily basis for yoga, reading, and practicing my cello (I started taking lessons about five months ago).  It doesn’t happen every day, but I’m making more of a point to do these kinds of activities because I realized these experiences are what feed new ideas for new work in the studio.

I like to keep my studio clean and quiet—it helps me think.  Of course there are exceptions, it just depends on what I am creating or researching at a particular moment.  My studio has tall ceilings and a lot of natural light; it opens my mind to new possibilities and helps me think big.  The space is filled with scraps from past projects, I like to hold onto them because sometimes ideas can simmer for years, and I never know when I’ll return to a failed experiment or rework a piece that never felt quite finished.

The music you integrated is far from the commercial music we are exposed to, do you see a connection between pop music and this sense of isolation from others? 

I think all genres of music have the ability to bring people together, however I do tend to refrain from using lyrics in my work, or making any specific stylistic choices.  I do not think of myself as a composer, and therefore feel uncomfortable making intentional musical decisions.  I find ways to remove my hand from the sound created in my works by using data from sensors connected to the body, such as a heartbeat sensor.  I also take inspiration from the use of improvisation in jazz.  I think trumpeter Wynton Marsalis said it best when he said, “Jazz is just a bunch of people trying to deal with each other.”  There is quite an extensive history of experimental music performance and notation my work draws from as well, such as the work of John Cage or Allan Kaprow’s “Happenings”.  As a result, the sound in my works can be very happenstance, based on say the amplified sound of your footsteps walking across the floor. 

There have been times when I collaborate with composers and the music does take on a more specific style, but I still remain most interested in how music can bring physical bodies together and unite them, or push them to their limits.  The sound becomes more a result of the body, than based on a certain genre. 

Cadence, 2013

These Blobs, 2019

These Blobs, 2019

These Blobs, 2019 (detail)

These Blobs, 2019 (detail)

A Chorus of Footsteps, 2018

Your practice takes many shapes, from performance to installation including two-dimensional work and sculpture, how do these different mediums allow you to convey your message?

There is a mix of practical and conceptual reasons as to how I determine what medium to use to convey a concept.  I like to use electronic technologies when I want to collect an unbiased set of data.  Other times, I create interactive installations to reach a level of audience engagement and accessibility I do not think I would be able to achieve otherwise.  No one else in my family is an artist, and that creates a need in me to find new ways for my work to engage with those outside the art world bubble.  Creating two-dimensional work allows me to express a message more quickly and can be easily exhibited; other mediums like performance can be very time consuming and require a lot more resources. 

I enjoy learning how to use new mediums because when working in a naive nature you do not become weighed down by what previous artists in that field have done, or get caught up in having correct technique, or discard ideas because you think it’s not possible or feasible.  It gives me a lot of creative freedom.  I end up knowing a little about a lot of things, it keeps me on my toes and opens me to new ideas and possibilities.

Additionally, this tactic has led to working with many collaborators from other fields.  In past projects, I have collaborated with everyone from programmers to musicians, composers, and poets.  Many times I find this aspect of collaboration to be the most rewarding part of my practice.  It is exciting to have an exchange of knowledge between people from different perspectives and to inspire each other in new ways. 

What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated (no pun intended) with you?

I recently made a special trip to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, MA to see Ragnar Kjartansson’s The Visitors.  The work was created in 2012, and is part of ICA’s permanent collection. The Visitors is a sixty-four minute, nine-channel sound and video installation of a musical performance featuring Kjartansson and his collaborators/friends.  They each occupy a room within a historic upstate New York estate, linked together with headsets while they perform an original composition collectively.  

The installation is captivating, so much so that fellow museum-goers remained in the gallery alongside me for the entire sixty-four minutes.  The way the different channels of sound and video are arranged keep you moving throughout the gallery, always noticing something that had gone unnoticed the last time you walked by.  The ability for an artwork to really immerse and hold one’s attention is powerful, and an aspect I strive to create in my own works.  There is something so visceral and authentic about The Visitors.  Kjartansson is able to keep the piece humble and unpretentious.  He reminds me to let go of my perfectionist tendencies and allow a work to unfold the way it wants to; sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself.

Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?

I am currently finishing up a fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA.  Spending the past six months on the tip of Cape Cod has been refreshing for my practice, and has sparked a new direction in my work addressing climate crisis issues by examining the relationship between rhythms of the body to rhythms within nature.  I have also taken time to learn new skills, like how to projection map videos and work with multi-channel sound. 

Right now, I am waiting to hear back from a few opportunities I applied to for after the fellowship ends, but I am also hoping to squeeze in travel this year to Japan and Amman, Jordan to visit family and friends currently living there.  I find travel and getting outside my comfort zone inspires some of my best work.

Feel free to follow me on Instagram at @sara_dittrich to learn more about upcoming exhibitions and the behind the scenes of my practice.

All images courtesy of the artist
Publish date: 02/04/2019