Awarded to one recent graduating MFA student from Emily Carr, the new residency program offers a three-month, rent-free studio space at Griffin Art Projects in North Vancouver. During her residency, Sara-Jeanne looks forward to further developing the concepts explored in her MFA thesis installation, Rock Paper Charcoal.
Centred around a series of large scale drawings depicting geological formations, Sara-Jeanne’s project uses rock-paper-scissors as a metaphor for the physical and conceptual relationship between materials.
“These elements are always interconnected in never-ending play,” she says of the classic hand game. “For me, Rock Paper Charcoal is the same thing. They resemble each other. They’re completely different but in so many conceptual and physical ways are the same.”
Relying on equal parts strategy and chance, the precarity of rock-paper-scissors speaks to the experimental nature of Sara-Jeanne’s practice. To create her drawings, Sara-Jeanne uses charcoal that she makes by hand. Rather than follow a standardized procedure, her methods are guided by intuition. As a result, her charcoal achieves a unique spectrum of tonal values that vary according to the cooking process and species of tree that is used.
Although Sara-Jeanne’s experiments began during the final year of her undergrad, it wasn’t until her MFA that she started to consider charcoal making as a focal point of her artistic practice. Through conversation with her peers and faculty, Sara-Jeanne began to interrogate her charcoal making process in relation to larger questions around sustainability, materiality, and what it means to be an artist today.
“My knowledge of my materials will affect the way I make representation. Therefore, the charcoal I make from different kinds of trees and the embodied knowledge I have from making charcoal will affect how I will draw with it,” Sara-Jeanne shares.
The intuitive, phenomenological approach Sara-Jeanne takes to material research also applies to her explorations in geology. The day after receiving the news of her residency, Sara-Jeanne embarked on a road trip to California. Collecting rocks and making charcoal over campfires along her route, Sara-Jeanne was inspired by the topographical features of the west coast. Sara-Jeanne is interested in applying these geological studies to the work she develops over the course of her residency.
“I’m looking forward to continuing what I’ve started,” Sara-Jeanne says of Rock, Paper Charcoal. She notes that by the end of her MFA, she felt as if she was only scratching the surface of a much larger idea.
Sara-Jeanne is grateful for the support and mentorship she received from faculty, particularly her advisors Ingrid Koenig and Trish Kelly. She highlights that being part of an MFA program run by women was especially empowering. “The faculty is everything!” Sara-Jeanne gushes. “Everyone around me was here to help.” In addition to developing her artistic practice, Sara-Jeanne also reflects on her MFA experience as being a pivotal time for developing confidence in her writing skills.
“Focusing on my thesis writing was a big thing for me because I wrote in English which is not my first language. I became a much better writer than I ever thought I would be.”
Her advice to prospective MFA students is to gain experience developing a practice outside of the institution before jumping into grad school. After completing her BFA in Studio Arts at Concordia in 2015, Sara-Jeanne took a two year break from studies to pursue artist residencies in Finland and Vermont. Her experience abroad brought clarity to her practice and gave her time and space to explore ideas that became the focus of her MFA research.
“It’s important to have a moment in your life when you experience a lot of refusal,” Sara-Jeanne advises. “It makes you a bit more humble about what you do.”
Her advice to all students: “Take advantage of everything, be engaged, ask questions all of the time, and make yourself noticed. Care about what you’re doing and show the people around you that you care.”