In the Studio with Sacha Ingber

Words by

William Noel Clarke

In the Studio with Sacha Ingber

You were born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and moved to America when you were only one year old. You recently made a trip back to Brazil in November 2022. What did you do whilst you were there?

Every time I go back there I make a point to do three things without fault. The first is to spend time with my two grandmothers and my great aunt. When I’m at my paternal grandmother’s house, I always go through my great grandfather's drawings that he made in the 70s and 80s. They are incredible. You could describe them as being in the category of Op Art, but they definitely transcend that and you can see he very much developed his own language and sensibility, and you can see the influence of the visual vocabulary of the city of Rio in the work. He didn’t start making them until he retired from his day job in advertising, but it’s clear in the drawings and in how prolific he was, the intense commitment he was to making them. He immigrated to Rio with his family from Budapest during the second world war.

The second thing I always do when I visit is go spend time at a farmhouse that my family has several hours outside of Rio. It’s a colonial style house built in 1839 with a history that is quite dark. My great grandfather acquired it in the 50s and since then, the way that it has been passed through generations has been very patriarchal. It is also slowly falling into disrepair for different reasons. Part of its beauty is the way that it has aged and really sits inside of the tropical fauna around it, almost like it has grown roots. My mother grew up there part time and developed a wild side from the freedom she had and her encounters with nature. She has stories about swimming in the river and seeing crocodiles. The intensity of life and death is very palpable there since the things that I witness are so raw. I’ve seen a boa constrictor swallow a kitten whole and I’ve seen electrocuted parrots on a telephone pole. The surroundings are always teeming with life, especially insects.

The third thing I always do when I am in Brazil is see as much architecture as I can. There are some incredible tropical modernist buildings and designs in the city by architects like Olavo Rediq de Campos, Oscar Niemeyer, and Roberto Burle Marx, to name a few. While I was there this time I visited the estate of the late Roberto Burle Marx, which is a little bit outside of the city. He illegally brought seedlings of different tropical plants from Asia into Brazil and planted many acres of his own garden. He lived and worked there and made many paintings, designed furniture, and also built an incredible collection of objects.

Sacha Ingber, One Direction, 2022, Installation View. VITRINE Gallery, London, Photography Jonathan Bassett

It sounds like quite a busy schedule! It's a perfect trisect of ensuring you experience your heritage, local nature and national architecture during your visits. Do you feel that your trips back to Brazil are of large influence to your philosophy and ideology as a person? And if so, how does it manifest itself?

I wouldn’t say that it has influenced my ideology necessarily, as much as it is deeply ingrained in my identity. I was born in Rio, but my family moved to the east coast of the US when I was very young. As I was growing up, I was lucky enough to be able to visit Brazil to see my extended family often, and sometimes spend entire summers there. I always had this deep feeling of longing and also of not fully belonging there. Since I never had a full social network or education there, I always imagined what my life would have been like if I had grown up there. I also never developed friendships or my own sense of independence there as a young person. My experience of being Brazilian is very complex, fragmented, and displaced. This has affected my sense of self immensely.  

Do you think you might have followed a similar path to what you’re doing now as an artist, teacher and prop designer, or something completely different?

For the most part, no I don’t think so. I think my path would have been completely different. Much of what I do for additional income is a consequence of living in New York. The only thing I think would have been the same is being an artist. That is something that is part of my DNA that I believe would have happened no matter what, whether it was in a smaller or larger capacity. I think no matter what life I live, I will always find a way to make art.

Sacha Ingber, One Direction, 2022, Installation View. VITRINE Gallery, London, Photography Jonathan Bassett

When you returned from your trip to Brazil, you moved houses and combined your home with your studio. How have you found this merging of art production and living space?

I love it. Having a home studio makes a lot of sense for me and the way that I work. Often the tools I use in the house (especially the kitchen), are very useful in the studio, and vice versa. Domestic life and cooking have so many similarities to the way I work with materials in the studio, so I really enjoy the fluidity between these two spaces. I like that I can grab a tool from the kitchen to use in the studio, or when a functional sculpture makes its way to the living room for its final touches, and then ends up staying there and gets used. I’ve always believed in the importance of merging art and life in order for it to be sustainable and fulfilling for me. Since I am someone who loves staying in most of the time, to me this means blending studio life and domestic life. Many artists that I admire did this, like Niki de Saint Phalle, who literally lived inside of a sculpture for some time. The two spaces end up having a wonderful symbiotic relationship.

Do you think that because of this, functional artworks or art objects will become more common within your practice? Tell me more about these types of works and how they stand in relation to others such as ‘February Mortal Coil’?

Maybe so. My first functional works came out of a desire and need for a small table at the entrance of my apartment. And having my own kiln is like having a tool with endless possibilities to make functional things whenever I need them around the home. After I made my first table, I realized that the process tapped into this other part of my making brain, where the relationship between the function and form was more urgent. It gave me a different kind of focus because I was beholden to the end goal, which was for the object to serve its function. It’s a more physical force that is driving the piece. In my other work, like ‘February Mortal Coil’ (2022), the function is the idea, and it is limitless and more complex. In those works, although I still need to make sure the piece is engineered to hold together structurally, the process is much more of a puzzle. The process of making those works is never driven by envisioning them in a home. They are driven by this kind of absolute untethered freedom which is both exhilarating but also difficult and uncomfortable at times.

Sacha Ingber, One Direction, 2022, Installation View. VITRINE Gallery, London, Photography Jonathan Bassett

What is your interest in binding together materials and forms and how is this achieved through your working process?

Fundamentally, my interest is to create new images and objects that have previously never existed. I like to operate within a spectrum of types of binding where, at one extreme you cannot identify the meeting point where separate things become one, and at the other extreme, you can clearly see the boundary between two components. This spectrum helps me access nuanced ways of creating new relationships. Ultimately, I'd like these combinations to be convincing in that they belong together and cannot be separated. Nothing is random. With a binding of materials also comes the binding of symbols. Given that my practice is so materially focused, everything becomes about binding; Gluing materials together is a form of binding, stitching is a form of binding, firing clay is the binding of molecules, and casting is a form of binding. These very physical and alchemical kinds of binding carry as much meaning in my work as the found objects or pictoral spaces do.

Being materially focused, how is your making process structured? Do you have step by step guide that you follow religiously or is it much more free-handed and intuitive?

My making process is always based on what a piece needs. I usually don’t begin a piece unless I know exactly what I want it to be in the end. I choose what materials work best for that particular piece, and it’s a negotiation between its visual needs and its structural needs, and they are equally important. But in general, there is an order of operation that has emerged over the years that has stayed consistent between works. For example in my wall works, first I have to build and glaze the ceramics, then I cast everything together in a mold, and then I treat it like a painting and add the remaining elements on its face, whether that’s through painting, attaching, sculpting, or cutting things away.

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Photos by Alex Leav. Courtesy the artist and Vitrine Gallery