Sarah Bostwick

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SARAH BOSTWICK: CLIFFS AND CANYONS


Sarah Bostwick grew up in Ridgefield. When she was a senior in high school she won first price in The Aldrich’s annual exhibition of artwork created by area students. Her sculpture was exhibited in a gallery of the Museum that no longer exists. Understanding that simple fact, and trying to visualize where that gallery was, will help you understand something of Sarah Bostwick’s work, and of The Aldrich, where her work is currently on view again.
If you were to stand at the front door of the current Museum building and look west-straight ahead- you would see in front of you the Museum’s offices, housed in the “Old Hundred” building. Since 1783 Old Hundred has been, by turns, a general store, post office, bank, home, church, museum, and now, offices. The building you see is three stories high, although it appears to be a bit taller than that, because it is uphill from where you are standing. Were you to walk up to Main Street, to the front of Old Hundred, the building is again three stories high, although what was the second floor
from the back is now the ground floor; the sloping topography of the site is deceptive.
And were you to travel back in time to when the original Old Hundred was built, what is now the top floor was the ground floor; as with many old New England buildings, this one has been transformed over the years, with a new ground floor inserted in the nineteenth century. In the 1980s The Aldrich added galleries on the back of Old Hundred; these were torn down in 2004 to make way for the entry plaza that currently provides access to our new Museum building. So the entry plaza is a space that retains the memory of an interim building, a building which stood for about twenty years.
It is spaces like this, voids created between buildings, the edges of what is built, and the spaces reflecting the transient nature of structures – whether man-made or natural – that Sarah Bostwick explores in her complex artworks. A good example is her Natural Bridge State Park, which is a wall sculpture based on a small State Park in North Adams, Massachusetts, which features a natural bridge of stone, contained within a chain-link fence enclosure, at the edge of an abandoned quarry. A space which is deceptive to look at in person, and almost impossible to describe accurately; an in-between space, not quite spectacle, almost quarried away, visited briefly, protected by a low fence. Spatially this is complex terrain; culturally it is an almost forgotten place.
The buildings Bostwick depicts are similar in that they exist almost unnoticed – the second and third floors of nineteenth – and early-twentieth-century city buildings, or a greyhound bus terminal. If a city can be thought of as a living entity, then these buildings are not the muscle of the growing metropolis, nor are they the fat of suburban sprawl; rather they are the tendons that connect a city’s past to its present; the tendons that link architecture to inhabitants, memory to brick and mortar. Bostwick captures forgotten ornament on buildings rarely considered as works of art. She focuses on the sides of buildings that show the remnants of departed neighbors, buildings that used to be attached. Bostwick highlights the voids that define absence in the urban fabric of built and razed buildings.
The fragment vision Bostwick gives us of these buildings and spaces implies a point of view which roots us on the ground, looking up at buildings, down at low fences; in short we are always at her eye level. The viewpoint we occupy is that of the acute observer. Much has been written in art theory about the flaneur, the participatory urban observer of culture, seeing the life and art of the city amidst the bustle of the crowd. Bostwick’s viewpoint is, perhaps, that of the post-flaneur – the observer who is acutely aware of the built environment she inhabits, and of its transient nature, and of its intimate relationship to the natural world of which it is an extension.
Sarah Bostwick’s work might cause you to look closely at the place you are standing, and consider how old it is, where it is located; and, if it is a building, what design ideas inspired it, what it is built out of, what floor you are standing on, how long it might last, what preceded it, and maybe even imagine what might come next. She draws our attention to relationship between man-made and natural structures, and begs us to question our assumptions about what it is we see, and its place in the environment in which we exist.

Harry Philbrick, director of The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.