Sara Reedman and Her Straight-forward Approach to Art Making
During the course of her month long stay at Elmo’s House, Sara Reedman completed a number of projects in and outside the studio. Her diverse lists of accomplishments include a body of watercolours on paper, bespoke communication system for the residency, a set of sculptural objects using dried coconuts, and a song about a particularly notable day at the beach. In addition, Sara played a key role in the Residency’s often shifting social dynamics by contributing to meal conception and preparation, hosting yoga classes for other artists, and initiating social activities for morale and social engagement. Sara even assisted artists in completing their projects. In short, Sara was a whirlwind of energy and inspiration at Elmo’s House. Perhaps it's her years of experience as an ER nurse that contributed to her prolific and nuanced contributions.
How did you end up in nursing? Can you tell us a bit about your journey?
It was definitely a journey. I’ve noticed I tend to arrive at most good things in my life the round about way. If I had listened to my inner impulses as a youth, maybe I would have never gotten here at all.
I've always wanted to go to art school after high school. My father consistently advised against it for years. He had a way of devaluing art or the need for art in society. He pushed me to focus on paths that assured me a reliable income. I took his advice somewhat, immersing myself in the humanities instead. I studied English and Psychology and earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree. Ironically, the BA appeased my father, even though when finished, I had no "reliable" job skills to offer. I was a server part time through university so I continued serving.
I saw an art therapist for years as a child after a traumatic event. It essentially gave me tools that helped me cope with emotions and stressors I was too young to understand. In retrospect, the therapeutic effects of art I experienced first hand have been the primary shaper of how I see art and how I perceive its value within society. Creating and experiencing art is a form of therapy. For me, it's a way to process, cope and understand the craziness of life. This is what makes it relatable. All through my university days I remained creative. I was painting, drawing, writing poems, and then writing songs on the guitar. Art for me at that time was a very private matter, embedded in emotions. I was not willing to open up and share it with the public. It became a practice that stayed with me as a form of self care.
After university, I continued to work in restaurants. I loved the freedom it offered my lifestyle. Working late hours helped curb my insomnia because I didn’t have to get up early. I travelled and moved around. Serving helped develop my confidence. When I was younger, I struggled with depression. I was also shy and introverted. Being a server forced me to interact with people. I found that random interactions with strangers I would never have otherwise met were really uplifting. It certainly shifted my perspective and helped me develop a broader sense of community.
However, the time came when I wanted to be challenged once again. I was no longer learning at my serving job and was left unsatisfied. I debated going back to art school, my original dream. But the pragmatic side of me, inherited from my father, could not stomach another degree that didn’t secure me with a reliable paycheck. I chose nursing. Serving showed me how much I loved meeting and helping people. I enjoyed forming intimate connections for short moments of time. And the idea of taking this further in a more meaningful and therapeutic way was exciting. After becoming a nurse, I found the freedom it offered in shift work enjoyable. I could travel with the profession and work as much or as little as I wanted. It's not bound by the 9 to 5. Nursing allowed me the time to pursue other aspects of my life like art, as much or as little as I pleased. It’s worked out quite well so far, in a roundabout way. I’m glad.
Being in an environment that has no use for art or creativity to liven the soul has reinforced the value I place upon it.
Art is a big part of your personal life. You not only support the local art scene through your participation and collection, but you donate to various art related causes as well. You also have a large capacity for art-making. How has this part of your life affect or inspire your work as a nurse? Perhaps it’s the other way around?
I think being an ER nurse has reinforced my personal need to create art and to participate in the arts community in Vancouver. My job can be really stressful at times and I need this other aspect of life to balance out. I don’t know how art making affects or inspires me as a nurse except that it helps ground me. It reminds me that there’s more out there than what I see in the ER. It can be an incredibly dismal and depressing place. It's where people come when they are at their worst. There’s a huge burn out rate with nurses. PTSD is quite common. Hospitals are designed to make you want to kill yourself. The paint on the walls is the color of sadness. The halls are stark, each looking exactly the same as the last. The florescent lighting beams down and it makes everyone look just a little more sinister. There is no music and don't even get me started with the food. It’s a protest against creativity and self expression.
Being in an environment that has no use for art or creativity to liven the soul (in fact it seems purposely avoided) has reinforced the value I place upon it. It helps me process the things I see at work and aides me to accept the reality that there are life events you can’t control. This is how I use my art as therapy. Compared to my profession, it's simple and meditative. It slows down my breathing as I relax. From a nursing perspective, I know that this helps calm my nervous system. Art-making reduces the levels of cortisol in my body, making me a healthier individual.
At Elmo’s House, Sara worked on a series of watercolors on paper. Using a jewel tone palette combined with fluorescents and metallics, Sara created smoky streaks and orbs overlaid with deliberate tiny dashes in concession. The neat rhythmic pattern conveys the meditative state which Sara goes to when making art. The soft waves of colour depict movement with the striations both arresting as well as articulating motion.
You had described art functioning as therapy. Can you explain how this relates to the images, projects and music you create?
The current images I am creating act as therapy. I purposely begin the process with minimal plan or intention. I let them unfold without any attachment to it. The process is meditative, repetitive and soothing. If there is a part of the painting that I don’t like, I don’t focus any energy there. I don’t try to fix it. I keep going and accept that aspect is what it is. This process helps me translate this state of mind to life. There are things you can't change. There are things you can't make perfect. It can drive you insane if you focus your energy there, or you can choose not to give it any. At some point, it'll feel like it never existed.
Meals at Elmo’s House
Meals at Elmo’s House are important moments in the day. Meals create natural breaks in the day to regroup and foster the familial aspect of the residency. It is also a time to experience interpretations of Filipino cuisine and for artists to share their culinary offerings with others. Sara came up with a chime pulley system connecting the kitchen and studio, for easy communication. With the studio on the third floor, separate from the main house, Sara’s solution was a needed addition that enabled direct communication between cook and artists without having to leave the kitchen or studio.
Can you share with us a typical day for you here at Elmo’s House?
Like any day worth mentioning, it started with coffee. Often shared communally. Sometimes we exercised in the morning before it got too hot. Then art. Then lunch, with everybody at the House. Then art again. Then maybe an afternoon adventure. Then dinner with everyone. It's always delicious and healthy. The vegetables and fish were all locally sourced. Then it's back at the studio again. Sometimes a jam session with the ukelele or maybe all us Residents will play board games. It's all good stuff. All will repeat again the next day.
What I didn’t expect was how time seemed to take on a different rhythm at Elmo's House. The days just melted into each other. It was calm and smooth. It really felt like there was endless time… until there wasn’t.
Ob Ob Mountain
Ob Ob is a small mountain that is more like a big hill by the sea about 4 kilometres from the residency. Accompanying the hill is a folklore that changes slightly depending on the storyteller. Deciphered from multiple sources, the main story goes that Ob Ob is magical. Once inhabited by a kingdom of fairies known to the tribes from surrounding areas, the mountain was regarded with much respect. From time to time, fairies would allow tribesmen to conduct their marriage ceremonies on top of the mountain which would bless the union and ensure a lifetime of happiness. This became a sacred agreement between the fairies and the people until the humans started abusing this privilege. The fairies had no choice but to ban the people from Ob Ob.
Sara wrote and composed a song about the time she and other Artists in Residence decided to run to the foot of Ob Ob, cool off in the water and head back before dinner. It was a particularly hot day and the electricity for the whole town was out. The outing took longer than anticipated, with indirect paths and detours taken for snacks and beverages. The water was a sweet reprieve for the sweaty runners. The sky’s rumblings went by unnoticed until the raindrops started hitting the water. At that point, the atmosphere turned moody and the rain more violent. Lightning and thunder broke the horizon from all direction. It was decided to wait out the rain in the warm waters rather than on land. But the rain kept coming and eventually the Artists jogged back to the residency through puddled roads that were unlit and unpaved. The motley crew, wet and thankful to be nearly home, finally reached the Poblacion. Not letting an opportunity pass, they stocked up at the neighborhood bakery before heading back to the Residency.
Can you share with us a few other adventures and experiences you had while here at the Residency?
The Philippines and the small town of Batan was so foreign to me. Literally everything was an adventure. I remember being nervous each time we went to the wet market. I didn’t know the prices and I wasn't good at bartering. I found myself getting shy every time we went. It was exciting nonetheless and quite stimulating on so many levels. Its hard to explain but I'll try:
The one time we visited, there was a man sitting on a stump with his shirt pulled up exposing his big belly in attempts to cool down in the heat. He was smoking while he fanned flies away from a severed pig's head he had on sale.
There were so many unknown varieties of seafood basking in the humid heat. The smell was amplified by a thousand on days we at the Residency happened to get into the Tanduay rum the night before.
They loved to stare.
I always wanted to feed them. They looked so hungry cowering around the meat stalls.
They were quite mangy and scattered around like the cats all over town.
I've gotten to know some of them. They followed us home a few times and got me to play a game of basketball with them. They came back everyday since.
There were new products at the market every day. On Saturdays, the Atis came down from the mountains to sell handmade products, special herbs, tobacco, gems and amulets.
How did you envision your time at Elmo’s House and how did your actual experience compare?
I didn’t really know what to expect. I questioned whether I would feel creative. I thought I would find myself distracted and choose to explore my new environment instead. What I didn’t expect was how time seemed to take on a different rhythm at Elmo's House. The days just melted into each other. It was calm and smooth. It really felt like there was endless time… until there wasn’t. Sharing the space with the other artists was contagiously inspiring. I loved the creative energy oozing from the studio.
Did you learn something about yourself while here? With all your projects and help around the house, did your work or even just being around the other Residents reveal anything new about you?
I think if anything it allowed me to open up more than I expected. Sharing a space with so many inspiring creative individuals was so unique and quite liberating. It was such a supportive non-judgemental space that things just spilled out.
Of the many attributes she possess, it is Sara Reedmans' lack of pretense that powered her prolific and inspired time at Elmo's House. Sara's creative output was unmarred by the debilitating self awareness that, too often plague artists in their creative work. With her straight forward approach to art making, Sara was able to accomplish the goals she set for herself and leave a lasting impact at Elmo's House.