Intro to And She be Still as Bright- Q&A with artist Sabina Ott

Intro to And She be Still as Bright- Q&A with artist Sabina Ott

Women’s rights, women’s issues, women’s art, women’s voice, female empowerment, and women’s role in society have long been topics I can write and talk about endlessly. I am definitely not your hardcore feminist and certainly not your highbrow feminist but I have a topic that I am passionate about and so I plan to cultivate it through this blog series I have titled “And She be Still as Bright.” This blog series will feature fascinating established as well as up-and-coming women in or from Chicago doing amazing things in various fields. In the series, each person interviewed will be asked 5-6 questions, both dealing with their profession and outside of it as well as a quick intro.

So sit back and enjoy, and drop me a line if you’d like someone in particular featured in the series.


Sabina Ott is a cross-disciplinary artists who works with painting and sculpture. She currently resides in Oak Park but was born in Los Angeles, California, graduating with her Masters of Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1982. Her work can be found in renowned museum collections across the country including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Oakland Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Her work has also been reviewed in Artforum, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times and she is currently a professor in the art department at Columbia College Chicago.  She is most recently a recipient of the 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship for which she will be using the funds toward her new project, “there more than anywhere.” She has also founded Terrain, an outdoor installation and performance space that utilizes the the exterior of her home.

Installation view of Sabina Ott’s “here and there pink melon joy” at the Chicago Cultural Center

Installation view of Sabina Ott’s “here and there pink melon joy” at the Chicago Cultural Center

Mahjabeen Syed: What prompted you and John Paulett to create Terrain in 2011? Why did you situate it utilizing the exterior of your home in Oak Park?

Sabina Ott: I wanted to actively engage in the artistic community here and bring something very different to my neighborhood in Oak Park. For a long time I wasn’t sure what form my involvement would take. It took a while to figure out exactly what I could offer. Chicago is rich with artist-run spaces and community-based projects. I didn’t want to simply duplicate what was happening already.
I began thinking about creating a space that would be visible to everyone, not just people I know. A front yard is defined by its boundaries and property lines but can be seen all day long, all year round. Because of the parameters of the space and the associations attached to a yard, artists have been able to play and create projects that they wouldn’t normally. I invite participants who have a spirit of generosity and encourage them to take aspects of yard art or of their experiences in the country, city or suburbs, and to make that the subject—to invert something that’s usually found in a yard and transform it into something unfamiliar.

MS: What is the best advice or lesson you have learned in life? It could be in regards to any aspect of your life or specifically your life as an artist, or both.

SO: I learned that if I approach everything I do as if I were giving a gift, freely and generously, anything I did would be satisfying- at least to me. Also, I have always embraced accidents, mistakes and disasters as creative opportunities in the studio, now I have been welcoming them in my life as well.

MS: Who are some of your non-artist inspirations, your go-to songs or even books etc, that have been the muse behind one or many of your works? And what were those works?

SO: Gertrude Stein- everything she has written. Gilles Deleuze, the great french philosopher- What is philosophy? and A Thousand Plateaus. Julia Kristava, french psychoanalyst and philosopher. Novelists Vladimir Navokov – Ada, or Ardor and Lolita, Siri Hustvedt – The Blazing World and Virginia Woolf – Orlando- I have read that many times over.  Music wise I like Joanna Newsome, Devandra Bernhart  and Bjork- but I am still listening to Lou Reed and Brian Eno. I listen to HJ Lim play Beethoven’s piano sonata’s quite a bit and my friend Joe Jeffers DJ compilations and his own electronic compositions.

MS: Having been out of college for almost a year now and fully understanding how difficult it is to “make it,” as it were, with a career in the arts, what is it that you believe set you apart from other artists in order for you to make a name for yourself as a well-known and beloved artist? What is your advice to those just starting out as artists?

SO: Making art and identifying as an artist saved my life. I had difficult times growing up and focusing on being an artist helped me become human.  It was the driving force of my existence, the thing gave meaning to my life.  Because of that I worked at it all the time, believed that art history was the story of my family and other artists were my community. I am not sure I would recommend that as a strategy for other people, but it’s how I could go from being a young artist to becoming an old artist.

MS: If you had to suggest just one of your pieces of work, collection, or exhibitions to best describe you, to someone who has never been exposed to it, what would you suggest and why?

SO: My most recent work here and there pink melon joy, because it is my most recent work and a culmination of everything that I have thought and made before.

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