SEX WITH ROBOTS: An interview with Sarah Weis

Chicago-based performance/installation artist Sarah Weis has a thing for transformation. Although better-known for her surrealist internet video work, Sarah’s recent practice embraces the intimacy inherent to the in-person medium, creating an environment of tensions – both alien and comforting, strange and welcoming, stark and manic.

A recurring project, Sarah Weis’s minimalist bedroom, which she first endeavoured upon at the Delano Hotel during Art Basel Miami Beach in 2015, sees the artist fully transform a room in a five-star hotel into a vision of her dream bedroom. And these rooms are decidedly hers. With unconscious exuberance, she is drawn to a materially cold and hyper-feminine aesthetic language – pearls, diamonds, transluscence – a quality that references the digital, machine-world, which is reflected in her immersive performance. Specifically referencing the space and gesture of installation, minimalist bedroom subverts the notion of ideological transformation, where her rooms are created not with her hand, but rather her guidance of scantily-clad, hired male helpers, whom she lovingly refers to as her “boys”.

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Less tangibly, the work moves between the physical and virtual realm, relying on video and photographic documentation (in the latest instance by conceptual commercial agency photoxvideo) for memory, bringing her soft, and all-encompassing brand of frivolity, playfulness and sensuality to the public.

Weis and I chatted, appropriately, via a Google Doc to unpack the latest iteration of the project, minimalist bedroom :: pearls, which was installed at the Margiela-designed La Maison Champs-Elysees in Paris during October’s Paris RTW Women’s Fashion Week.

What attracts you to the “bedroom” as a setting? Why not install the piece in a more traditional art space?

I’m attracted to the intimacy of a bedroom, and more specifically to the power and mystique of a female bedroom. Traditionally, an art space carries the illusion of being a neutral zone to display content in but I’m more interested in spaces that are sensual and loaded with context. The bedroom is the space that is supposed to represent a person’s identity more than any other. It’s also one of the most difficult spaces to keep minimal. A “minimalist bedroom” to me is something unattainable because it requires a lifestyle of constant maintenance. That’s why I need all these boys to maintain mine.


Can you explain your “boys”? They’ve become a recurring presence in your installations. Why are they necessary? How are they selected?

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The boys are my assistants. They travel with me to install my rooms. Since my last show took place during men’s fashion week in Paris [in June of 2016], I decided to use it as an opportunity to investigate/celebrate the boys’ ongoing role in my work. I called it minimalist bedroom ⚣ BOYS and commissioned custom minimalist bedroom assistant uniforms [by Maegan Stracy with accessories by Rebirth Garments] for them to model as fashion. For the presentation we created a performance based on their behind-the-scenes installation work. I had thought of it as a one-time “meta” experiment that paid homage to my assistants while poking fun at Men’s Fashion Week, but I now feel that BOYS will become a recurring theme in minimalist bedroom shows.

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Who is your performance character? What does the performance look like?

My character is just a girl in her bedroom. I hang out in bed while the boys work on maintaining the room. This room is an ecosystem of pearls, so they trim, polish and water them. During the opening, I was monitoring my pearlescent pet axolotl, Margiela (named after the original designer of the hotel room), on my laptop.

My installation practice extends from a history of creating sets for my video work, most of which were modified rooms. I actually think of any installation I create as a “film” set first and foremost and believe that the documentation created within it is more important than the live experience. Right now I’m working with the video artist Geoffrey Pugen on documenting my spaces. We spend a lot of time playing in the room and developing work in the absence of viewers. The overall performance continues to morph throughout the shooting and editing processes and ends up transcending what happens during the live presentation.

This work seems to blur the line between art and reality. When does the performance begin and end for you?

It is so blurred that even I don’t know. I like that. In-between spaces are the most exciting and fertile spaces for me – I’ve always been drawn to the interstitial.​ Overall, my art is “lifestyle art” and it doesn’t feel satisfying unless it’s a total blur. If I’m not fucking with reality then I’m not doing my job.

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What does performing feel like while you’re in it?

​It feels really nice, after obsessing over creating the room, to just hang out in the bed and feel what it’s like to inhabit it. It’s relaxing and also entertaining to watch the boys. I try to just be and actually become more of an audience member than a performer.

Is the repetition of minimalist bedroom important to you? What do the slight aesthetic differences between them mean?

Yes, the repetition is important​! Each is meant to be able to stand on its own, but the evolving differences and tensions among the various rooms are intended to slowly reveal a larger work and broader aesthetic statement.

This work leans heavily on the ideas of materiality and objecthood. What is the importance of objects/materials in this work?

They are of huge importance. minimalist bedroom is a container for objects and materials and those objects and materials are very specific, their selection having been slowly refined over time. I’m attracted to materials with what I perceive as transformative qualities – reflectivity, translucence and transparency, pearlescence and iridescence, as well as prismatic and holographic qualities. Basically, materials designed to interact with light! I’m also really into layering and combining these effects. Even the axolotl is an aesthetic object, chosen for the pearlescent and translucent qualities that it displays. So when you say “objecthood” or “the state of being an object”, that definitely applies to any living thing used in the work, including myself and the boys.

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minimalist bedroom often contains an important musical component. Did pearls include a soundtrack?

YES, pearls has a beautiful original soundtrack by Jeremiah Meece​. Soundtracks have always been super important to me. I used to exclusively compose my own soundtracks so it’s been really interesting curating other sound artists for minimalist bedroom projects. It adds a whole new dimension to the work that I could have never anticipated, and ends up setting the tone for everything that happens in the room.