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Interview with SAIC MFA Candidate Corkey Sinks

The SAIC MFA candidate talks about the occult, conspiracy theories, and colonial expeditions.

By Arts & Culture, Uncategorized

Corkey Sinks, Black Candle, 2011

I was first charmed to the supernatural at the age of nine after watching The Craft, secretly practicing “light as a feather, stiff as a board” with my like-minded, occult-loving girlfriends at slumber parties.  In fact, my fond pre-teen associations to the film were what first drew me to Chicago artist and SAIC MFA candidate Corkey Sinks after having seen her short film compilation SUPERNATURAL TEENS at “Surrender Dorothy”, a two-person exhibition Sinks produced with Jesse Butcher at Concertina Gallery in March of last year.

The exhibition mined the tropes of adolescent rebellion, focusing on symbols of obsession for teenage subcultures, using nostalgia to idealize a generation’s fascination with the objects included as sculpture and installation work – boom boxes and race car beds to name a few.  Keeping up with Sinks over the past year after her acceptance into the graduate Fibers department, her work has evolved quite a bit.  I had the pleasure of visiting her studio to talk about her latest plans for an upcoming installation called We Buy Gold, a hybridization of apocalyptic theory and syndromes of mass collection.

Carrying the aesthetic quality of a low-budget horror flick, Sinks filters a variety of historical, sociological and cultural models through her interest in black magic occult superstition. Sinks’ subculture environments often allude to the oddities in existing forms of American capitalism, consumer systems, and folklore and, most recently, doomsday theory, mending the opposition of her subject matter by focusing on the shocking similarities between systems.

SC:  I know a lot of your more recent work deals with the intersection between doomsday phenomena and sensationalized consumer systems, ranging from government organized stockpiling to more personalized crazes such as couponing. It’s hard to separate the incredible likeness between mass collecting for a bargain and preparing for the end of days.  How did this type of excess in the face of an apocalyptic threat filter through for you?  When did you decide to start talking about both observations in unison?

CS:  That’s a hard moment to pin down. I definitely started making work about apocalyptic economies, but I’ve been intrigued by civilizations’ obsession with the end for a really long time. My sister and I used to come up with stories in which she and I, and maybe our closest friends and relatives, would survive a significant disaster. We would always imagine building some kind of fortress that was full of material things we didn’t have. Sometimes the fortress would resemble a more rugged Swiss Family Robinson kind of tree house with zip lines and friendly wild animals, and other times we would take over a shopping mall and live off the goods there. I think these fantasies came out of a child’s desire for independence but also being socialized to equate survival and happiness with material goods. There is usually a utopian projection of surviving the aftermath of an apocalypse – in getting to start over, but also in not having to let go of capitalism’s comforts.


Corkey Sinks, We Buy Gold, 2011

SC: This is new terrain for you then – before becoming interested in organizations that focused on apocalyptic projection were there other segregated groups you were researching that dealt with this sort of failure?

CS: Last summer I became obsessed with failed colonial expeditions, especially the Burke and Willis Australian expedition in the 1860s. A key factor in their failure and violent deaths was packing unnecessary goods. They had brought camels because they assumed camels would fare well in the desert, despite any proof of that or any knowledge of the terrain.  They also packed rum (for the camels), 120 mirrors as gifts for the Aborigines, heavy guns and dynamite, and immediately traded the goods they actually needed: limes, water, etc.  Anyway, I became really interested in irrational value systems and the futility that accompanies that. The combination of that with my interests in doomsday cults, religious zealotry, and new age practices lead me to my most recent projects.

SC:  When we talked before in your studio, I had mentioned a certain similarity between your research methods and the paranoid protagonist often present in Deb Sokolow’s work. Conspiracy theory plays a pretty significant role in both your practices- a lot of this comparison comes from the timeline I saw you had set up as a reference point for the current work. How did that timeline start, and how it has influenced your manner of production in the studio?  How much of the conspiracy documentation makes it into the final work?

CS: I was looking for some kind of local folktale to use as a jumping off point for a research project, and I found the [story of the] “Devil Baby”. In one version of the story, a Catholic woman is placing an image of the Virgin Mary in their home, enraging her atheist husband who tears the image down and proclaims “I would rather have the Devil in my house.” Although, in another version, a Jewish father with many daughters wishes for a son saying, “I would rather have the Devil in my house than another girl.” I read a Jane Addams essay where she attempted to explain how the story started and why it spread so quickly throughout Chicago communities. So, I began researching the “Devil Baby of Hull House” phenomena and its relationship/possible influences with the novel and film Rosemary’s Baby.

I began plotting related events in time (the timeline) and space (the map). The research branched into the lives of celebrities, Mia Farrow, Anton LaVey, the Manson Family, Kenneth Anger, the Beatles, Gerald Ford, etc. and the occult, building upon the American-centric imagination of a hidden evil.

At first, I wasn’t even thinking about the timeline or map as anything more than a research tool, but it did achieve a visual tone that I was interested in playing around with. The timeline and map reveal a paranoid and viral quality, and it implicates me in the process and the product.  I think I am most interested in maintaining that tone with other sculptures, drawings, and installations, and the more specific data from the timeline will get compiled in the zines I’m making. Although the timeline is not an ideal model for presenting the information I have discovered, the process has become a very important part of my studio practice.


Corkey Sinks, 2011. Plastic fused with heat.

SC:  I like how you talk about your implication in the timeline.  In many ways, I see your work being about your implicit connection to the objects you create, in the timeline as well as in your other pieces, functioning more as tactile artifacts.  How does that work into your zines and animations in regards to that sort of artist’s presence?  I like how direct the zines are as tangible objects, and the animations carry so much of that balance between light and dark you strive for in your more sculptural work – no one pattern has more white than black, and vice-versa. 

CS:  I’ve been drawing these forms and patterns based on right triangles. They’re very similar to Truchet tiles, the process of drawing them has become a meditative process in balance, but also imperfection. I think the act of drawing them on the paper with a Sharpie that bleeds or trying to iron the patterns in plastic provides a system where I know the pattern will have faults. I am bothered by social obsession with the abstract concept of “perfection” and explicit favoring of “the light” over “the dark.” I believe that in drawing these patterns and embedding a new value into them I am creating a new version of sacred geometry that does not rely on tropes of idealized perfection. I think what’s important in the process is that it’s a fairly neutral exercise that yields more disruptive forms.

With the zines, I’ve been thinking about the artist as a prophet. I’ve been thinking about the value in the book form as a key to some kind of secret whether that’s how to invest wisely or how to save your soul. I think the format fits in with my aesthetic and more directly with my interest in sharing information.

In the past my GIF animations have been studies in patterns, applying repeated elements in found photos via Google Image Search or isolating loops from films that shared a common theme. The patterns I’ve been drawing will be a little bit different, atmospheric loops more like the meditative videos you can find on YouTube.

SC:  I’m interested in how the lighting and material choices reinterpret the products you choose to replicate, and how the recycled material gives off a sort of double aesthetic; on the one hand we appear to be looking at fairly standard grade signage (banners and neon), and on the other we’re seeing its assemblage, which is far from structurally sound.  The sculptures appear to be artifacts from the near future; perhaps they were created once doomsday has in fact happened?  Is this tension something you’re looking at in terms of producing a sort of theatrical effect?

Corkey Sinks, Banner, 2010. 5′ x 16′ Plastic sheeting and plastic bags, hand cut and fused with heat.


CS:  I am most definitely trying to achieve a sense of theatricality within my installations, but with some open ends so that the viewer can interpret the space without all the answers. I make a lot of my material choices based on haunted house construction and low-budget film production. I see haunted houses as contemporary modes of experiential storytelling where fantasy and reality exist in a sort of suspended time and space. Also, since I am working with irrational value systems, I like to use everyday materials which may be seen as low materials, or even waste materials, and insert a new and improved value upon them.

I like to think that this installation creates a suspension of time and space similar to how I see haunted houses functioning; both fantastic and tactile, those environments allow for a certain level of interpretation from its viewers.  In terms of being from a futuristic environment, We Buy Gold can be more openly conceived in the present, happening right now in preparation for imminence, or in the near future after “the end”.

Corkey Sinks will be featured in “Inspiration Information,” a group show curated by Sam Belkowitz & Alex Gartelmann opening October 22nd through November 12th, 2011 at The Maas Building, 1325 Randolf Street, Philadelphia PA, 19122.

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