In keeping with Sarah Goffman’s long-time practice, Applied Arts is a contemplation of civilisation’s relentless production of waste. The exhibition sees Goffman re-appropriating plastics and other recycled materials to recreate opulent pieces from the Chau Chak Wing Museum, which houses a diverse collection of historical, scientific and anthropological antiquities and artefacts from across the world. At its heart, Applied Arts is a playful critique of consumerism, capitalism and wealth.
“I suppose my work is always about consumption,” says Goffman, “a visual feast combining waste materials with simulations of luxury status. Money as an element that drives society, and in the name of progress, ruins and murders. Converting single-use plastics into objects symbolic of wealth and power is my obsession.
In responding to the Chau Chak Wing collection with these intricate sculptures, Sydney-based Goffman also explores her interest in what she describes as “Oriental fetishism”, and some of the popular imagery associated with Asia—something that goes back to her childhood.
“The kimonos, the cherry blossoms, the temples—we ate off Blue Willow china. From an early age I was hooked on these aesthetics, not realising that the Blue Willow myth was manufactured to simply sell mass-produced transfer-ware designs to the English public, and that the blue colour had so much significance.”
Goffman also emphasises that while offering comment on mass production and sustainability, “the core of the work is aesthetic consideration and beauty.” The works in Applied Arts are designed to retain the beauty of the objects they are copying—but through the filter of an artist preoccupied with the unavoidable, disturbing proliferation of waste.
“Rubbish and waste is what I am surrounded by,” she says, “therefore what I deliberate over.”
This article was originally published in the September/October 2021 print edition of Art Guide Australia.