Interview with MiAL Artist Sarah Fortais


Sarah Fortais has to be one of the most fascinating people we have ever encountered, originally from Ontario, Canada there she studied for two years to become a plastic surgeon, in 2010 she changed her mind. In 2011 she began her MA in Fine Art at CSM and we are delighted to have been working with her ever since including her amazing installation work at our latest Independent Capsule. We spent a morning with her finding out more about her unique practice and inspirations at the Last Tuesday Society shop and gallery on Mare street.

How would you describe your work, it seems to incorporate a lot from performance, to taxidermy, music and installation...

I like to take things apart and I think that the insides of things are beautiful. Sometimes representing something isn’t enough, sometimes it’s better to just be the thing. I also don’t think it’s fair for people to come to the gallery and just watch me have fun. I try to give people the experience that I would most enjoy and so if that means putting up signs to touch, or holding workshops to make instruments of your own, so be it!

How did you get into installation and taxidermy? There must have been a time when you moved from 2 to 3D work. 

To be honest, there wasn’t! Even when I took a painting course, I prided myself in finding as many ways as possible to not actually paint. I guess some of my early hobbies were more flat, like say the cross stitch for instance. But they never stayed that way. I would turn them into giant tapestries and make forts from them, or turn them into garments. It might also be that personally, photos and pictures are records of ideas or instructions, and not the idea themselves. I do minor sketches in my notebooks but only because I don’t have the tools with me at the time.

Sometimes I find it hard to look at other art and not read my own way of working into them. A lot of the time with paintings I’ll start to like it but then think ‘but why didn’t you just make the thing?’ and get disappointed that I can’t poke it or touch the buttons. That’s one of the best things I got from CSM: to see that there are so many ways of working and that you don’t have to sculpt everything, all of the time.

I was only recently ‘officially’ trained by a taxidermist up in Edinburgh last fall. She was amazing, a part time swim instructor, part time taxidermist who worked at the Natural History Museum preserving study skins. Before I met and trained with Sal I was a self-taught Victor Frankenstein type. I wouldn’t say that they were bad mounts but I also wouldn’t have offered to do any beloved pets.

Where did the idea for the Spacesuit come from? 

It seemed like a really complicated road of research at the time but in retrospect it’s pretty straightforward: I was looking at sculpture and how materials could act as an interface between a person and environment and whether or not the environment created by the sculpture itself (between sculpture and wearer) would alter that person’s navigation in the larger environment (sculpture and space). Some of my early experiments seemed to completely fuse the person and the sculpture (hence ‘wearer’), which bears a striking similarity to how Roland Barthes describes the Jetman in his book Mythologies. A little more research down this road got me interested in how the astronauts navigate almost the non-space of outer space which in turn rekindled my dream of going to the moon. (I haven’t made it there yet but I’m going.)

What drives your practice? 

Curiosity and always wanting to see new things happen. A lot of the time I’ll be thinking ‘why hasn’t this been invented yet’ or ‘this would be even more awesome if…’ and just go from there. There are a lot of possibilities, and there is just so much good trash in London to go through.