2013 Residency Participants: Sarah Bliss


Sarah’s Work:



About Sarah’s practice:

Rooted in sensory ethnography, fieldwork, historical research, and kinesthetic exploration, my practice investigates the complex relationships between body, place, language and memory. Video, performance, sound, photography, text, and installation are all outputs.

I’m currently engaged in a body of work incubated during a residency on the remote Gaeltacht coast of southwest County Kerry, Ireland in 2012. This ongoing project investigates the workings and failings of memory; the nature of a language’s rootedness in place; and the relationship of body to land. The people and community of Ballinskelligs (population 600), with whom I worked closely, are not only subjects, but also participants in the making of the work.

I received my Masters of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School. My work has been recognized by a 2013 Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship in Sculpture/Installation; and I’m the recipient of full fellowship awards for residencies at the Cill Rialaig Project in Ballinskelligs, Ireland, and the Vermont Studio Center. My work has been screened at the TransArt Film Festival in Berlin; Espaço Cultural ESPM in Porte Alegre, Brazil; Interstitial Theatre in Seattle; and ArtJail in New York. I have taught both ecopsychology and art history at Lesley University, and I serve as Vice President of the Board of Temenos, an off-the-grid non-sectarian retreat center in rural Massachusetts.

How Sarah might use the residency:

My work would be research-based, focusing on the ecopsychology of the Borders. My primary working methods are threefold:

1) Engaged field research into the historical, ecological, cultural, political and religious contexts of a particular place or community. For example, my residency in Ireland was undertaken to investigate the site’s aural architecture (the relationship between architectural design, acoustics, and human experience) in relation to both early monastic and contemporary secular life. I undertook on-site informal archeological research into Neolithic and early Christian monastic ruins; far-ranging interviews with local farmers, schoolteachers, evangelical ministers, and historians; historical research; and a study of local ecology and economy. This research resulted in a body of work that includes video, text, and sound installations exploring the relationship of land, language and the body (see videos “You Leave Here” and “Beautiful Strange Land”, which were made with the participation of a local cattle farmer.)

2) Kinesthetic fieldwork: The physical, sensorial primacy of the body as both a research tool and a medium of expression. I utilize Butoh-influenced processes to engage the body, imagination, and environment. My body becomes tool-for and source-of information gained, leading to thematic development and specific choreography.

3) A deep engagement with my theological training, enabling me to connect issues of faith, doctrine, and practice with contemporary life.

In addition to this broad-based research, I anticipate working with Borders sound artist James Wyness to learn more about the techniques of field recording and sound’s application to moving images. Sound (both field recordings and audio interviews) has become an increasingly important component of my video and multimedia installations.