The Berkshires-based multimedia artist Sandra Muss will exhibit eight of her door sculptures during this year’s VOLTA New York. With their poetic titles, complex, yet romantic aesthetics and captivating history, Muss’s door sculptures translate forgotten tales the past to emblems of survival and resilience. Artspeak editor Osman Can Yerebakan interviewed Muss about her inspirations for Permutations series, the metaphoric meaning of doors, and her participation in VOLTA.
— Your relationship with materials derives from an interest in their history and traces of time evident on the surface. Could you talk about your fascination with once utilitarian, discarded materials?
My connection to the materials is visceral. I collect objects during my journeys. In my studio in the Berkshires, I have a display of all the things I’ve accumulated. Some people might consider these things junk, but I call them my treasures. When the moment comes, the materials call to me and I include them in my work.
— You are showing seven door sculptures in VOLTA 2017. Doors convey transcendence and alternate possibilities. A door is a metaphor for new, undiscovered territories. What do you think about this metaphorical aspect of doors?
The metaphorical aspect of doors is central to Permutations. The doors have the power to connect us to mystical, magical, and mythical possibilities, but it takes a lot of courage to be able to walk through them. One risks that there could be nothing on the other side of the door; it takes a leap of faith to make that kind of transition. But the work is about the importance of continually moving forward and taking the next step in our lives. Emily Dickinson once wrote, “Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.”
— On the other hand, the fact that they are 19th century doors suggests historic and mysterious elements for your work. How familiar are you with each door’s past? Is this an aspect you considered while working on the series?
The doors are all salvaged from my studio, which was once the Frank Barbieri Lumber Mill. The mill had a major fire and these fire doors were some of the preserved debris. They were once fire doors, covered in metal, but I opened up the metal encasing to reveal the more delicate wood doors inside. When I moved into that space, I felt an immediate connection to it and I have conserved many of the building’s original elements such as the old elevator shaft. The doors lived in my studio for two years before I realized what I wanted to do to them. But ultimately, the final pieces use a kind of alchemy to transcend the materials’ histories and become symbolic.
— Each door has a different title such as Through the Veil, Rising, and Desert Meditation. How do you choose a title for each piece? Does the title come first and you work accordingly or is it the opposite?
I always do the work before coming up with the title. The title is a reflection of the process of making and what I’ve learned from that process.
— Your studio is in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. How does this city influence your work as an artist who works with found objects?
I’m influenced by the natural elements surrounded by my studio in the Berkshires and my hikes around the area. The doors are industrial, but I reveal their connection to nature. Somehow I feel like I infuse life into these industrial entities and they do the same for now. It’s about the life cycle of the object and nature reclaiming the materials.
VOLTA NY begins March 1st and runs through March 5th at Pier 90 in New York City.