Each month, we feature an interview with a contributor whose work stood out to us in some way. This month, we’re featuring Sarah Beck, whose excerpt from her book Currency can be found in our current issue.
Where do you live?
I currently live and work in Toronto, but consider myself a Saskatchewan artist. You can’t take the prairie out of the girl!
When did you start writing?
According to my parents I began very young – they always had a sense that I would become an artist or a writer. Turns out I have done both.
Your bio says that you are an artist, as well as a writer – what are you working on right now?
For the past year I have been preparing for a major exhibition that I am not at liberty to discuss until it is officially announced in August. I will say that it involves disaster, humour and postcards. You can see some of my other artworks on my website (sarahbeck.com).
Your last couple of pieces in TGS are excerpts from a full-length book. Can you tell us more about the book and how it originated?
The book is titled Currency. Originally it was supposed to be an artwork, not a book, to thank the late Kurt Vonnegut who inspired me to become an artist. He asserted that artists and writers can be agents of great change, that we are the canaries in the coal mines of our society.
Within a year of his death I was entering grad school in pursuit of my MFA, so I chose this time to make Kurt a monument. At the time I was also traveling the world to make artworks at major events. The research, the art, the travel and the writing all fed one another, and I ended up instead with an illustrated novel…so Currency is my thesis, the story about my thesis and an artwork. It turned out a little weird!
On Kurt’s advice found in the pages of his books, I began to study paper money for the clues he suggested would reveal the nonsense that concealed great crimes. I began a journey that lead me to explore money, art, colonization, assholes, fakes and escaped animals.
You should read the book – it is far more charming than my description!
What inspires you in your art and writing?
I entered university initially to become a photo journalist, and through a series of twists and turns I think I’ve found the ideal venue to report visually on the world and its events. Vonnegut’s ideas about the arts got me thinking that this would be a great platform to address political and social issues. Frequently I am drawn to ecological and economic events.
My sketch book is filled with stories I’ve ripped from the newspaper. When I respond to the world like Kurt’s previously mentioned canary in a coal mine, that is when I’m on to something. Art and writing give me a way to not only talk back, but to get other people to look at the world from a new point of view. I really like to embrace his use of humour so as to not be lecturing the audience in a didactic way. As long as the world is filled with ecological disasters, imbalance, and strange stories, I will continue to be motivated and inspired to create.
I keep wondering if I have another book in me, but figure when the time is right it will happen. Sooner or later something will make me yell at the TV, or doodle furiously on napkins, so we’ll have to wait and see.
Are you influenced by anyone’s work?
Obviously Vonnegut has been a major influence. Since film school I have been a great admirer of Orson Welles, and not for his outstanding achievements in film, radio and theatre; what gets me is that after bursting onto the scene as a wunderkind, then being ostracized and mocked by his community, he kept going. He needed to make the work he had inside of him. He’d do embarrassing commercials to fund the projects he believed in. He held on tenaciously and pursued his work until the end. It’s easy to be talented and on top, it is very, very hard to be talented and broke, with the odds against you and a head full of projects with little commercial value.