A native of West Virginia, Sarah Briland grew up near the state’s coal mining industry and later worked as a senior geological technician at the University of Kentucky. She received an M.F.A. from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2013 and a B.F.A. with a double major in sculpture and printmaking from Washington University in St. Louis in 2003. Her work has been exhibited nationally, including shows at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA, KMAC Museum in Louisville, KY, and UrbanGlass, in Brooklyn, NY. She has taught at Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia State University and currently serves as an academic advisor to undergraduate students at VCUarts. In 2018, she was awarded the Irvin Borowsky International Prize in Glass Arts and her work was recently included in the landmark exhibition New Glass Now at the Corning Museum of Glass. Briland lives and works in Richmond, Virginia.
The landscape of West Virginia, where I was born and raised, is the source of my fascination with geology and landscape interpretation. The hills and hollows shrouded in mist and the mysterious karst landscape pocked with caverns, sinkholes, and manmade mineshafts still resonates in my memory. It’s an environment of mountain vistas and hidden spaces: the zenith and the void, the sublime and its shadow. I’m particularly drawn to the earth, with its associations with body and womb, the feminine and hidden, the source of life and its ultimate destination. It’s the opposite of Platonic striving, a journey in the wrong direction, inward and down. Yet we have a long history of seeking to discover those dark places, to plunder them for energy and wealth. There are few places where this is felt more viscerally than West Virginia, where the connection is held fast through coal mining and its subsequent effects, both social and ecological.
In my latest body of work, Problematica, I collected manmade materials and cast them in glass and other materials to create speculative future fossils of our Plastic Age. Problematica is the term given to geological specimens that defy categorization; they may be true fossils of organic origin or specimens that merely resemble once-living things. They are objects of unknown origin.
By translating “disposable” materials such as plastic bags, packaging, foil, and foam through casting processes akin to fossilization, I envision a new era of the geological record: an amalgamation of manmade objects and the natural forces transforming them. Utilizing sculptural methods that mirror accretion, crystallization, and lithification, I enact and witness the metamorphosis of matter by the geological forces of heat, gravity, and time. In this way, I seek to investigate on an intimate and personal scale the incomprehensibly vast span of geologic time.