Sarah Coggrave describes herself as an 'artist and researcher' who uses archives to investigate places, personal histories and objects. She develops fictional characters and stories out of the scraps of information she is able to find, exploring the relationships between fact and fiction through photographs, text, drawings, films and performance art. The resulting collections of images, ideas and objects offer an alternative means of understanding their subject that is process-oriented, subjective and embodied.
Stories from Scarborough (2014)
As artist-in-residence at Crescent Arts in Scarborough, Sarah set up a creative archive project about the resort's lost tourist attractions. Some of these, like Kinderland and Marvel's Amusement Park, formed part of her early childhood memories of summer holidays in Scarborough: others had disappeared before she was even born. She uncovered a number of funny and quirky stories about them, like the tale of the angry elephant at Scarborough Aquarium, and invited members of the public to contribute their own photos and memories. However, this is no ordinary archive: alongside genuine memories, photographs and reference material, Sarah inserted her own wacky stories, creating artworks and performances as a means of exploring the process of remembering in unusual ways. For example, as a means of recalling the thrill she had experienced as a child when seeing the town from a great height while riding one of the original red chair lifts that took passengers from Scarborough's North Bay to Marvel's Amusement Park in the 1980s and 1990s, Sarah created a wearable chairlift costume from willow, masking tape, paper, wire and string.
As most of her memories of Scarborough were childhood ones, she also decided to create a child character who would dress in an outfit that recalled one she had worn as a child - complete with dungarees, frilly collar and pigtails. However, she chose to design one that was slightly different - still dungarees, but white ones with memory patches worn with a t-shirt, pumps and frilly white socks. The patches were designed by combining existing images with her own drawings and photographs to create digital patterns inspired by Marvel's Amusement Park and its predecessor, Scarborough Zoo. Sarah dressed up as this character to perform at a number of sites around Scarborough, building sandcastles on the beach among other activities.
A House at Didsbury (2013-present)
From the moment she moved into 20 Pine Road in Didsbury as an art student in 2013, Sarah was intrigued by the house's strange name - Massis, which was carved into the gateposts. She felt sure that it must have an unusual history that was worth investigating. When she searched the census records, she found that the house had once belonged to the Funduklians - an Armenian family from Constantinople who arrived in Manchester in the late nineteenth century. They were a wealthy philanthropic family who donated to various causes, giving books and artworks to local institutions and campaigning tirelessly to help their friends and relatives who had been unable to escape the horrors of the massacres and genocide in Turkey. The y had four children, three sons and a daughter - Astra. Although only scraps of information survived about each individual – a mention in a book, a sentence in a newspaper article - each tiny clue was revealing and Sarah found myself wishing she’d known this generous and slightly unconventional family. Astra was perhaps the most mysterious of all: all Sarah knew was that she never married or had children and that she had travelled widely, played the piano and was once charged with smuggling silk.
In 2014, Sarah created an exhibition at Didsbury Parsonage inspired by the history of her home and its former occupants. As part of this, she performed as Astra, a fictional Edwardian lady who travels through time and explores the basement of the artist's home.
In 2015. she performed again as Astra, visiting Buxton Museum and Art Gallery during an exhibition of her brother Arto Funduklian's art collection held there. Back in the first half of the twentieth century, it included pieces that would have been considered shocking by many. In her performance, Sarah explored issues like:
Was Astra shocked by the pictures?
Or was she interested?
Was she close to her brother?
Might she have fostered an interest in the arts herself?
It was not a conventional theatrical performance, nor was it constrained by established facts alone. Instead, her strange, ghostly presence in the gallery and her exploratory, ritualistic gestures presented an opportunity to reconsider Arto’s art collection, and ultimately the man himself. For those not interested in the live action, mysterious little clues were placed around the gallery, and Astra dared to move more closely among the visitors, even peering at them through a makeshift paper telescope.
In July 2016, she visited King’s College archive to see documents relating to Arto’s time as a student in Cambridge from 1911 to 1914. She'll use this research to feed into her performance as Astra in the city in October. There she'll be writing letters to her brother, reminding him of the home he left behind, questioning him about university life, and debating the events of the day with him in ways that allow Sarah the opportunity to explore unexpected links between Cambridge, Manchester and Constantinople.
An artist's perspective: Sarah Coggrave, https://artlanguagelocation.org/2016/06/16/an-artists-perspective-sarah-coggrave/, posted 16 June 2016.
Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, The Funduklian Story Part One, https://buxtonmuseumandartgallery.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/the-funduklian-story-part-one/, accessed 15 August 2016.
Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, The Funduklian Story Part Two, https://buxtonmuseumandartgallery.wordpress.com/2015/07/19/the-funduklian-story-part-two/, accessed 15 August 2016.
Crescent Arts, Sarah Coggrave: Stories from Scarborough, posted 7 August 2014, http://www.crescentarts.co.uk/sarah-coggrave-stories-from-scarborough-2/, accessed 15 August 2016.
Sarah Coggrave: artist and researcher, http://coggeroo.wixsite.com/sarahcoggrave, accessed 15 August 2016.
Sarah Coggrave's Tumblr account, http://sarahcoggrave.tumblr.com/, accessed 15 August 2016.
Scarborough Museums Trust, Creative Archive Project: Stories from Scarborough, https://storiesfromscarborough.wordpress.com/, accessed 15 August 2016.