Documentary and Performative Projects

Beach Party, Harbert, Michigan, USA/Frinton, UK/Cornwall, UK, ongoing from 2012. https://beachparty.sarahfiglio.com/. Balloons are synonymous with festivities but are one of the most dangerous kinds of marine debris for wildlife who mistake their fragments for food or become entangled in long ribbons. On a stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline near Harbert Michigan, in the summer of 2012, I set my intentions towards the collection and disposal and documentation of this preventable environmental pollution as part of a daily walking meditation. Positioned across the lake from Chicago, the prevailing west to east winds drive balloons released in Chicago onto beaches across the lake—the beach was strewn with them every day. Flash forward a few years and I now live in an island country, England, where no place is more than 75 miles from a coast. I rarely find balloons on the beaches here, but after the COVID lockdowns of 2020 were lifted, the amount of rubbish left on UK beaches was nothing less than colossal. My practice-project continues, and the need for mindful attention to all beaches and waterways remains more urgent than ever.

What Three Words: Anonymous Gifts in a Time of Isolation, Suffolk, UK, since 2020. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic when all the world was in lock down, I/we were, both physically and otherwise, yearning for engagement with others while needing to stay apart. To cope with the dislocation I was confronting on all fronts, I used the app What Three Words, a digital decoding system, to see if it could help me sort out where I “was” not only in my physical but in my internal locus. What Three Words describes itself as “the simplest way to talk about location” by identifying a physical location by three unique words, with every 3 square metres on the planet assigned three unique words—that’s around 57 trillion squares. I approached it as a tool to think outside of the box that I was in, which was, at the time, most often my house—as it is, crowded with triple word combinations. My premise at first was vague: choose a place, identify its three words, leave something good there. The where was not informed by anything particularly discernible other than a place I could go while respecting the restrictions in place at the time. The what was sometimes a tangible thing like an artwork or a poem but also ephemeral things like wishes or intentions. If an intention is left in the forest and no one is there to receive it, can it become manifest? I still follow this practice and ask this question and the data is: most often my offerings are received by something or someone because they aren’t there when I visit next!

The Exodus Sale, Chicago, Illinois, 2017. In his 2013 Reith lectures, Grayson Perry mentioned Duchamp’s to clear out your studio out at least twice in your lifetime. I haven’t located Duchamp’s exact advice on this matter but I’ve already twice followed it. In 2017 I sold the entirety my art for a set amount by the square inch and then moved to another continent. It was a radical way of purging my pasts to start anew—perhaps too radical—as I miss some of those works and sometimes wonder how they would inform my practice now if they were with me. But I’ve shoved all regrets for my impulsiveness aside for the greater good of acceptance of my need to unburden myself from history. The actual works, if they’ve survived at all, are now in the domain of other people’s collections, forming narratives of their own that I will likely never know of but will welcome if they arrive nonetheless.

365 (RE) Affirmations, a blog project by Sarah Figlio, 17th July, 2013 to 17th July, 2014.
This was a daily diary/blog to mark a significant birthday with intentions having a lot to do with re-affirming to myself many things about being an artist during a time when my artistic production seemed adverse to the other realities of my day-to-day life. Underlying my intentions expressed in the vow to publish daily for a year were clues and signals of all the more important ways that I was on the verge of a much more fundamental metamorphosis into my self. It was young and precious time of growth from which I’ve travelled long way into a very different life from the one I was inhabiting at the time. I learned to never underestimate the powerful implications of setting an intentions and sticking by them.

Be the Beach, Harbert, Michigan, August 2012, then published with text by Blurb Press. This project extended from practices of marking/honouring/recording location or place, whether physical or psychological. I set out to photograph the horizon at the same location on a stretch of Lake Michigan beach daily for one month documenting the myriad moods of sky above the lake. At the time, I understood that particular beach to have a lot to teach me with its constantly rearranged arc a powerful metaphor for my own nascent metamorphosis—storms came often in August and the entire shape of the coast would be utterly rearranged by the seemingly effortless event of the earth moving itself. In my own life storms came in other ways and my experiencing of them as sometimes dangerous and sometimes exhilarating were equally internally transformative. I dedicated the project in large part to my sister whose end, for me, will always define the great injustice colossal.

Be The Beach | for my sister[s]

Where the water meets the sky is the constant flux
the perpetual possibility
the made and the remade
the molded and the malleable.

Immense this potential non-lymphate—
unequaled.

Resolve embedded in a body constituted of liquid—
changeable from ice to ether.

Today tranquility moves without effort—
seductive as a nymph.

On these dappled days—
we play.

Sun-glitter 
sprinkles a placid surface arrayed of blues—
delivering tickles to the toes.

Tomorrow feral furor releases bound cloacae.

Gale forces 
battering rock to sand,
returning measure for measure
the animus of an unseen, but remembered—
injustice colossal.

On that day we do not trifle
but honor rancor from tempered distance,
in the wake of the urgent reformation, 
of the arc—
of your shore.

A cloud passes.
Organum, renewed—
drop 
by sapphire 
drop.

Unfaltering in execution of a diurnal faculty—
relentless
reliable
ardent
turns unfathomable obstacles, 
as if a grain of sand.

Transcendent this course, never still, 
releasing enchainments of a past,
to alter the instantaneous
and the immemorial.

To you, the waters, and the wild.

Exiles and Protectors, Chicago, Illinois, 2008 to 2012. I have twins. When they were little we loved making fairy houses in the garden or in the woods or on the beach. It was hard going making work with my attention turned in great proportion to parenting creatively—the truth of many parent-artists. I figured that if I made things that spoke to my nearest audience—my children—then they’d back my time in the studio with less whinging! I made a cast of characters from natural materials like seed pods, sticks, and leaves that we’d larked on our forays. I modelled and painted their faces and sometimes made elaborate clothes and accessories for them. Some were as terrible as the grimmest of Grimm’s tales, while others were quite gentle, some very plaintive. Quickly they began making fantastic appearances in my film noir documentations, set in motion in the wild where sometimes I would leave them! Years later I came upon the work of Richard Schwartz, known for his therapeutic modality called Internal Family Systems, which described archetypes of an inner family. I retrospectively identified my characters by those archetypes—the exiles and the protectors—whom I look back to with great affection, hoping I’ve been forgiven by the ones I left out there but who perhaps found expression through me by way of another path.