Sara J. Winston

Lesson #2 from Worn Out Joy


Wavepool – There seems to be a recurring interest in domestic space in your work. What do you find to be visually and conceptually appealing about these settings?

Sara J. Winston – What I find appealing about domestic spaces are the common household items found there. I believe objects offer a discrete and distinct comfort and poetry that is lived with and available to our senses, but so assimilated into daily life that they become nearly invisible. I love the way used or inanimate objects have the ability to change a room. Objects punctuate, enliven, and evidence life – especially in kitchens and bathrooms. I like dissecting the rhythm and world of ordinary things strewn about, their forms, placements, uses, and colors to consider their varied cultural roles.

I’m learning that I hardly notice when a place is clean and only see it when it’s messy and disorganized. I like analyzing objects and this analysis usually takes place inside, but when it doesn’t, the pictures nod to the domesticated and interior life that humans and objects share.

Wavepool – Your projects all suggest some kind of narrative to me. Can you elaborate on this interpretation and what you would like your work to convey?

Sara J. Winston – I aim for my work to convey an inquisitive mood and evolving perspective on the world of objects. I rely on titles to activate an emotion more than a narrative but this varies per project.

Worn Out Joy is a showcase of photographs made in a variety of living spaces I frequented over a 9 month period, my final 9 months living in Washington, DC. At that time I believed that the documentation of my interior life would construct a fluid narrative of a life set to expire, metered and punctuated by the emotive objects I shared my personal space with. The project concluded as a small edition of books and an exhibition of 8 framed pieces at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

In Possessions there is no narrative found in the sequential ordering of pictures, but maybe a narrative within each individual photograph. I want the viewer to consider the strangeness of each found trash-object and the way it’s transformed and manipulated in the photograph. For this work, my concerns are the formal structure of the individual images with no interest in an overarching narrative. I’m not sure if the title insists that these objects are my possessions or suggests that I might be possessed by the process of acquiring and playing with the objects. I enjoy the idea of both.

In my most recent work, Flowers For Ruth, a book of 36 photographs, I created a sequence of pictures that all have organic or inorganic floral elements, shapes, and patterns. This book is a chronicle of my transition from graduate school in Chicago to living in Hamtramck, MI, made for my deceased grandmother, Ruth Golub.


book spread from Flowers for Ruth


Wavepool – How do you generate titles?

Sara J. Winston – I keep a number of notebooks mostly for lists and freewriting, I record anecdotes heard in passing, and borrow fragments from books and essays. Typically selecting the title has been the final component in the process of completing a project. I recently broke that structure and have chosen a title for the next idea I’d like to focus on — If We Spoke Yiddish in the House.

You can see some title drafts on my twitter account – @jwwwinston – which has become a growing archive of potential titles.

Wavepool – Do you typically bounce back and forth between projects simultaneously or focus on finishing one idea?

Sara J. Winston – I bounce around a lot, more between ideas than between projects. Currently my primary goal is to enjoy making pictures everyday and figure the rest out later. Typically I won’t divide my work into individual projects until I need to complete something. Developing the ideas and making the work for If We Spoke Yiddish in the House is occupying a lot of my mind, but I am simultaneously pursuing a walking Hamtramck, MI street idea, considering what to do with the trove of casual instax snapshots I’ve amassed, and refining my drawing skills sketching household objects.


installation view of Possessions


Wavepool – I’m really intrigued by the way your project Possessions existed in the gallery space for your MFA thesis exhibition at Columbia College Chicago. What was happening in the installation?

Sara J. Winston – The eight Possessions in my MFA thesis installation are printed on a glossy adhesive vinyl surface and fixed directly to the gallery wall. Each print is a different size so that the objects I’ve collected and photographed can be represented at or near life-like scale. The way I designed the work to fold around and into corners emphasizes the compression and flattening of space that occurs in each image. I wanted to obscure the object photographically by careful and considered use of shape and color, and then use an installation technique that highlighted the formal arrangement of space to make pieces of trash attractive and appealing.

The print that made its way out onto the floor is my favorite of the installation. I loved watching people, especially people in heels and dirty shoes, walk on the print as they passed through the gallery.

Wavepool – How does the rest of your work exist in physical space? What is the ideal setting for viewing?

Sara J. Winston – Recently I had some adhesives prints in Thesis, a group exhibition at Woman Made Gallery curated by Emanuel Aguilar and Ruby Thorkelson in Chicago.

This installation is the iteration playing with prints bending and interacting with the gallery space, presented similarly to Possessions. I’m not sure about the ideal setting for viewing. I don’t feel any pressure to choose between prints adhered directly to the wall or the book form. I am exploring a variety of display techniques, ranging from adhesive mural prints, handmade custom furniture covered in small prints, and a small edition of handmade books.


installation view of Houseplants

To see more, please visit Sara’s website.