It’s not exactly ugly, yet it kind of is. Sarah Mikolowsky is reassembling the taboo and turning it into something wearable.
Sarah Mikolowsky is an arranger of things. It’s hard to be any less broad in describing what she does, because that’s also the most specific, all-encompassing way to talk about her process. She collects and she assembles. Whether the outcome is an illustration, a botanical wig, a grimacing puppet, monster lingerie, or a floral arrangement, assemblage is her means to a varying end.
Mikolowsky earned her BFA in Illustration from the University of Connecticut in 2007. Soon after, the enthusiastic New England student with an appetite for wanderlust fled west. After spending a couple years in the microbrew capital of Bend, Oregon, she migrated to western Washington. In 2012 Mikolowsky established herself as a farmer florist on Orca Island off the Washington coast, cultivating a dedication to arranging the local flora in a way to highlight it’s native beauty. A short chat with Sarah will reveal that the very core of her inspiration as an artist is rooted in the nature of a flower. “A seed has so much potential—it knows how to organize itself into this absolutely beautiful thing that I have no way of recreating.” While that may be true, this concept of careful organization to create something beautiful—or striking and pleasantly weird looking—is a common thread throughout her work. Mikolowsky relies on intuition in her creative process, “I put things together based on how they feel together,” she says, “pulling strands out of what seems like chaos and creating a new order to it that makes it something palatable for me.”
About a year ago, Mikolowsky returned to her home state of Connecticut, secured a silk-screening studio in Hartford, and has been roaming the region making arrangements of all sorts ever since. While she no longer grows her own plants, this self-proclaimed “roving floral designer” stays New England-local in her freelancing—spending this past summer, for example, farming and designing at Tea Lane Farm on Martha’s Vineyard.
Mikolowsky’s most recent exhibit, Buy Me Brunch, with assemblage accomplice Jonah Emerson-Bell appeared at Hygienic in New London last fall. The show, which featured mixed-media installations and wearable, functional pieces, investigates the experience of “the human meat suit” (aka the body) as a “self-sustaining machine that functions as an interface between the physical world and some obscured metaphysical reality.” Mikolowsky is all about dismantling symbols of culture—details of reality that perhaps go unnoticed—and reassembling them with other things or symbols to create something different, something imaginary and eye catching that disarms the viewer, perhaps suggesting that the body is the sole messenger between a real, physical world and the nebulous concept of the human mind. Not to mention that the Renaissance-era-inspired botanical wig she created for the show deems Kylie Jenner’s self-appointed creative ownership of “wigs” null and void.
“It isn’t ugly, but it addresses how funny things look and how funny things are,” Mikolowsky says of her concept for Buy Me Brunch. “Both of us (Jonah Emerson-Bell, collaborator) have a tendency to pick things out of little vignettes of culture and restructure them, crack a joke, and create something new. For me that ends up being a lot of wearable things like the monster lingerie. It’s almost a bigger form of puppetry, like costuming. I tell a story by making a collaged sculpture that’s wearable.” Perhaps the most striking of Mikolowsky’s work is the “monster lingerie,” which normally comes in the form of some wearable top—bra or shirt—with lavishly adorned monster eyeballs prepensely placed over where one would imagine the nipples are. A juxtaposition between the funniness, almost awkwardness, of the design, and the connotations of sexuality with its placement, dismantles a culturally enforced shame surrounding the human body by rearranging it to create something head-cocking, something you might giggle at.
Mikolowsky’s affection for her home region breathes through her work. While she appreciates the tastes of her interim western home, it seems she prefers the unique harmony of old and new she finds in New England. “The aesthetic of New England is really different from what I’ve seen on the west coast as far as what people are interested in,” she says. “I try finding a mixture of the potential here and the history here. I like putting those things together.” As much of the materials she uses in her puppetry and lingerie work are found in thrift stores, the old trends that have been cast away or forgotten are central to the construction and aesthetic of her work.
In 2017, Mikolowsky plans to maintain her floral designing gypsy status, continue producing work out of her studio in Hartford, delve into a collaborative electronic music project, and pursue a possible printmaking residency. No doubt we’ll be back in touch with her.
Follow Sarah Mikolowsky on Instagram @auntie_beast