Often when I have seen Sanné Mestrom she is away from home, travelling. She has stayed at mine quite a few times when she has come up to Sydney from Melbourne and still does sometimes in her commute now from the Blue Mountains. I don’t think I have ever found her not working on something. She comes to the house with a miniaturised travelling-set studio in her bags (like a chess-obsessive who won’t go anywhere without a mini-chessboard).
Usually at a polite distance, I enjoy watching Sanné nutting out ideas in watercolour on the dining room table. Or almost absent-mindedly kneading little balls of blue jewellery wax in one hand (wine glass in the other) which might later become a bronze ring, or a box for a precious stone, or a large public sculpture. She is constantly playing with ideas that may be tiny or city planner large.
She experiments with materials ranging from found-objects for conceptual installations to traditional materials, like stone, screen prints and bronze sculptures. And although most of this work happens in her studios, it can also happen quite easily anywhere. She has an uncanny knack of finding fertile solitude in rooms filled with other people.
The poem ‘Things that Break’ that named and inspired this exhibition was written on my back deck in 2009. I remember Sanné talking about poems and the lists of verbs used by John Cage and John Baldessari in their classrooms and it was something she was exploring too in her tutes. As Sanné told me recently, “I never made anything with the poem, but I always loved it, so I pulled it out of the archives…”
She has returned too to a found object she has long known and loved: an ornamental head in a faux-modern style. This head was originally recast for Soft Kiss, which is now in the MCA collection. Like the screen prints in this current exhibition, the lovers in Soft Kiss were designated by different colours, different materials (one foam, one plaster) and a slight shift in height (traditionally in Western art the male is darker and taller than the woman). In Me and You, although there is the height difference, there is perhaps a stronger mirroring and equality. The connections to Rodin, to Brancusi, to Klimt and other famous kisses are still there but there is also a facing-off in conversation. By bringing the old and the new, the common-object and the sculpture, the valuable and the valueless together, Sanné is able to produce a productive conflation of things; although knowing and even ironic, the work never falls into cynicism.
Sanné’s work is an earnest engagement with attempting to imagine and picture the precariousness of being together and the way we must constantly negotiate, repair and remake our love for one another. Her current screen print series offers many versions of this grappling from the tender and familial to the erotic.
The little fetish lost wax bronzes also mine similar ground. They are small, graspable things, that you want to hold and caress. They are the perfect love tokens. Placed on a tall plinth they are obviously special but they never lose their fragility. In the screen prints too the figures seem – looked at in a slightly different light – to become part objects: locks of air or fingers, or personal belongings like combs or spoons.
This exhibition for me seems “very Sanné”, that is to say it is confessional. She has looked not only at the history of art but at her own precious ‘things’ accrued and tucked away safely in studio drawers. The exhibition moves seamlessly between media, and across various scales, in a way that I expect from Sanné’s process and curious way of working; it becomes a unified whole under Sanné’s careful hand.
Dr. Oliver Watts