February 12, 2018

1/31/2018 – Be the Beacon with Sidney Mullis

Artist: Sidney Mullis

Location: Kondu (State College, PA)

Breakfast (jk, totally dinner):

SM – Vegetable Teppanyaki (?), water

SRS – Create-Your-Own rice bowl (spicy tuna & salmon), water

I have to say, Sidney Mullis is jarringly normal. As I was deplaning in State College, PA, I wondered how I was going to identify Sidney – who was slated to pick me up from the airport – and I thought, “She’ll be the one dressed as a weird, hypercolor bug of some kind.”

That’s because my first introduction to Sidney was via a series of short videos she made, capturing the mating rituals of odd humanoid-animal creatures that also sort of resembled sex toys, in brightly-colored costumes of her own making. These were among the submissions for “Borders” at the Terhune Gallery in Perrysburg, OH – my first effort at guest jurying a show – and they stood out immediately for their freshness, humor, and clever execution. I was delighted to be able to include them, even though they were one of the only pieces I ended up choosing that dealt with the notion of gender-binary borders, rather than physical or national borders.

Imagine my surprise, though, when Sidney turned out to be an extremely upbeat and ostensibly normal young lady. Over dinner that evening, we talked through an assortment of issues. There are things Sidney and I have in common: frustration with hierarchy and gender norms, a struggle to find the balance between day job and art career, and a long history with sewing and fiber art that began by being taught by a family member (in her case, her grandmother). There are things Sidney and I definitely don’t have in common – she comes from a military family, and spent much of her youth involved in dance. But dance gave way to sculpture as soon as Sidney began to pursue art in a higher education context, though this training really shows in “mating rituals,” in terms of her ability to pack a lot of emphasis into one suggestive gesture.

At 25, Sidney confesses to being in a moment of turbulence, in terms of inspiration – trying to change tracks, perhaps, or simply find the guiding force for her next body of work. She calls these points of inspiration “beacons,” and she’s been thinking a lot lately about how to continue to work in the studio without that sanctified rush of inspiration. I’m impressed, of course, because I give myself a LOT of leeway not to work on stuff, if nothing’s coming – admittedly, I have the opposite problem, with an overabundance of ideas, and less time and resources to execute than I’d like – but that’s probably why Sidney will go farther than I ever will. Girl has her shit together.

There is something so surprising about Sidney – her work is so sneakily sexual. Maybe it’s a little like how it’s super-scary when a usually quiet person get suddenly angry, that it’s so funny and unexpected when Sidney’s forms take on an ambiguous, even abstracted, sexuality. I don’t know why balls in slings are SO sexual, but they seem like they are. It’s funny coming from someone loud and outrageous, but somehow it’s even more funny coming from someone who seems so utterly demure. Sidney’s the perfect double-agent, normal looking enough to get inside any concept, and warp it into a new and surprising shape. I have the feeling that even as Sidney searches for her next beacon, she may be unwittingly serving as a beacon for anyone looking for the cutting edge in Millennial art. Keep shining!

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