Sarah Nordean plays with media to find the best ways to make the monumental out of the mundane and to discover the power of repeated gestures
“The boundary between various art forms is hazy for me,” says Sarah Nordean. “I think things can slide back and forth between different modes of expression to get an idea across.”
The boundaries for the Calgary artist include the ones between painting, drawing, sound, video and sculpture. She is fascinated by repeated gestures and strives to create the extraordinary out of the ordinary. She’ll map her walking journeys via GPS coordinates, turn these into a continuum of related shapes that sashay across an exhibit wall to a hypnotic sound loop she has also created for the occasion.
Nordrean has learned to march to the sound of her own music loop, putting aside a career as a high school art teacher to enter the Alberta College of Art + Design, where her talent and painting practice was nurtured by instructors and peers. She loved bouncing ideas off them and showing works-in-progress whenever she wanted to.
Having done the university art thing for her teaching degree, and completed her BFA at ACAD in 2007, Nordean believes that the dedicated art school is the way to go. Its unwavering focus and complete commitment give students a deeper connection to art, as opposed to integrating it with other stuff you are doing.
Yes, sure, you might have to do other work to support your practice, but the practice itself is the thing. You have to be bold and risk it. “Being cautious is not my idea of a good time,” she says. “Be passionate about what you do. Doing what you love is extremely rewarding.”
Following her passion, Nordean entered the Emily Carr University of Art + Design Low Residency Masters program three years ago, which allows her to complete her master degree in applied art in Calgary, while spending three Julys in a row, with intensive work and exhibits, at the university in Vancouver. She has just completed the last of her course work this summer.
Nordean loves the fact that her study at the university is not “media specific,” enabling her to her to pursue the mode of expression that best suits her idea, often involving a critical exploration of the world we live in. “I’m just finishing doing an exhibition, in Vancouver, with my cohorts from Emily Carr,” she says. “I am showing this one drawing, which I have been working on for the past year, that explores repetitive gestures and the idea of making something mundane monumental.” The drawing, formed from repeated tally marks using dip pen and ink on paper, is an ongoing, cumulative work comprised of more than 100 smaller drawings.
The idea of repetition and turning daily routine into revealing art underlies her The Islands exhibit, held last year at Calgary’s Untitled Art Society, a not-for-profit artist-run collective. In exploring the “relationship between image making and our connection to space and place,” she mapped her walks through city spaces using GPS coordinates and employed these “drawings as compositional elements for her visual works.” The acrylic-on-paper maps are linked through “continual movement, repetition in returning to the same places again and again, and rhythm of step and breath.”
Nordean’s art practice is also continual motion. Now done her master’s, with a strong focus on drawing, she wants to expand her practice to include performance, video and perhaps sculpture.
Whatever works best for her ideas – forget about the tried and true; borders are meant to be crossed. “If you get lost doing something, why not do that thing for the rest of your life?” she asks.
This is one of 20 profiles of alumni, faculty and students that I wrote for the Alberta College of Art + Design, which they are using in their Catalyst Magazine and various marketing materials.