Sarah Goffman, Plastic Arts, 2010
Collection: Artbank

Sarah Goffman’s Plastic Arts transforms her junky collection of throwaway PET plastic containers, bottles and tubs with meticulously detailed Chinese Willow-patterns. During a visit to her home/studio I complimented Goffman on the painstaking detail of her hand-drawn designs, to which she remarked: “We all need something to do with our hands or the devil gets in”.

This sense of humour is typical of Goffman’s sprawling art practice, which incorporates installation, drawing, sculpture, performance and video. Goffman deftly balances an erudite conceptual process with a witty lightness of touch, breaking apart distinctions between high and low culture without didacticism.

Having emerged in the mid-1990s, showing consistently in Sydney’s non-profit galleries – her CV reads as a graveyard of now defunct artist-run initiatives – Goffman’s acclaim is assured within the arts community, she is a bonafide “artist’s artist”. As Goffman’s work is often ephemeral, large-scale and composed from repurposed trash, it is regarded as difficult for some institutions to collect. Artbank is the first public collection to acquire her work.

Goffman is an avid collector herself. Visiting her home is an awe-inspiring experience where you are exposed to a vast assortment of artworks (her own and by her artist friends) that are surrounded by bits and pieces of consumer packaging and kitschy pop-culture minutiae. Tiny shelves populated with postcards, souvenirs, trinkets and various other bits and pieces line the walls. Tables and benches are home to this-and-that; indeed no surface is left bare. Goffman has said of her collection: “You can’t have everything you know, but you can have little samples or souvenirs. Like I can’t buy art, but I get the invites, and so I put them on my walls. I think that’s what this house is like – a big souvenir” (Duke Magazine, July 2007).

Plastic Arts may not directly reference the souvenir trade, but the reclaimed plastic vessels used are certainly invested with new life and meaning. They become “samples or souvenirs” of a mass-produced porcelain tradition that is otherwise seen as ubiquitous and potentially taken-for-granted. Curator Bec Dean writes in Runway (2009): “Decorating the surface of her juice-bottle vases, paper plates and yoghurt pots, Goffman restores a kind of individual artistry and care to the pre-industrial copy, marrying it with post-industrial waste”. Ultimately, Sarah Goffman achieves a special kind of alchemy by transforming trash into treasure, showing how the art of collecting can sometimes be the artwork itself.

Installation view of Sarah Goffman's kitchen, 2003

Profile for Artbank Now - promotional magazine formerly produced by Artbank.

Published by Artbank Now in 2011.