Sarah Hotchkiss: Future Fascination

Sarah Hotchkiss at Southern Exposure's 39th Birthday Block Party, September 2013


Reading these provocative and humorous words on the computer screen doesn't do justice to the phrase as it was originally delivered: hanging in four perfect, upside-down arches, weighted by nothing more than the elegant tug of gravity, from the ceiling beams of the Nave on CCA's San Francisco campus. The letters were huge cutouts, shiny and red, reminiscent of a "happy birthday" banner.

The work was one of two text-based installations contributed by Sarah Hotchkiss (MFA 2011) to CCA's 2011 MFA exhibition. The other work read: BOUND BY GRAVITY WE IMAGINE THE NEXT MILLION YEARS, inspiring equally futuristic and optimistic imaginings.

Hotchkiss is a San Francisco artist, curator, and writer. By day she is the communications and outreach director at Southern Exposure, the highly respected San Francisco nonprofit art organization and gallery. By night she contributes essays and reviews to numerous print and web outlets, including Art Practical, SFMOMA’s Open Space blog, and KQED's daily arts and culture blog. She is also a codirector of the roving exhibition project Stairwell's.

Future Fascination

Hotchkiss is fascinated by the future—not so much the near future, but the distant and mostly unimaginable future that is millions of years from now. To come to grips with it in her art practice, she makes objects that are anachronistically futuristic—things never before seen because they don't yet exist.

There is a lightheartedness in her work that mirrors her approach to everything in life. For instance she has what she calls "an 80-year plan." When asked what this is, exactly, she simply says, "To still be making art in 80 years," a simple yet significant proclamation for anyone who truly loves what they do.

Hotchkiss is first and foremost an artist. But when she envisions her legacy, her most important contribution will not be any single art project or body of work. Rather, it will be an outcome of her genuine, lifelong commitment to creating a sustainable and vibrant arts and cultural community -- one that attracts and keeps important artists and audiences from around the world -- here in the Bay Area.

Sparking Some Dialogue

She credits a particular moment during her time in CCA's MFA program as the spark that provoked a lifelong interest in critical and supportive dialogue:

"I was in Jordan Kantor's section of Contemporary Art History & Theory. The conversation on this particular day revolved around a perceived lack of critical dialogue in San Francisco, particularly the lack of a diverse and well-populated field of art criticism. Jordan pointed out something along the lines of, 'You know, one way to start to fix this is to become an arts writer yourself.'

"Hearing this in 2009, I had no idea that two years later I would be an arts writer, along with several other members of that small group. I'm not sure if it was a direct result of taking Jordan's words to heart, subliminally or otherwise, but I do think there's been a shift in the Bay Area landscape of arts writing in the past few years."

KQED, SFMOMA's Open Space, and More

After graduation Hotchkiss started writing for Mark Taylor, the editor of KQED's daily arts and culture blog. She currently contributes three or four pieces a month, writing about exhibitions, historical museums, and collections that are a bit off of the beaten path.

From there, other writing opportunities emerged: at Art Practical, Squarecylinder, and SFMOMA's Open Space.

"A healthy, multifaceted dialogue via a variety of arts publications is a crucial element of any arts scene," she says, "and I'm thrilled to be a part of that. If Jordan was throwing out a challenge that day, I think we're rising to it, and that just makes me more excited for what the future holds."


Hotchkiss has gained renown as well for an ongoing curatorial project, Stairwell's, that she runs together with her friend Carey Lin. Each Stairwell's project includes a new site-specific commission by one or more artists, a publication, and a series of "field trips."

The impetus was partly a reaction against the static, interchangeable gallery spaces in which art is normally shown, and partly a desire to demand more: more of artists who show their work, and more of the audiences who see it.

The exhibitions take place entirely in stairwell spaces in the Bay Area. The field trips are open to the public and each is led by a different guest, in collaboration with the Stairwell's codirectors, in order to bring fresh eyes and ideas to the site being explored. The field trips have been to all sorts of places, from the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive to the escalators in the AMC Van Ness.

The expedition leaders have included Carrie Hott, Collin McKelvey, Mark Inglis Taylor, and an a cappella group called Spot the Octopus.

In 2011 Hotchkiss and Lin applied for, and were awarded, an Alternative Exposure grant from Southern Exposure for Stairwell's. "Paying artists for their work and pushing the envelope in challenging directions is incredibly gratifying," Hotchkiss notes with pride and enthusiasm.

Prescription for a Healthy Art Scene

While speaking with Hotchkiss I was immediately reminded of the longtime Bay Area curator and CCA Curatorial Practice faculty member Renny Pritikin and his "Prescription for a Healthy Art Scene," a list of 23 essential ingredients that any art scene needs to thrive. (See the slideshow of this story for the full list.)

The prescription was originally written in the early 1980s, then published in 2006 in the Chicago magazine Proximity. It's safe to say that Hotchkiss is tirelessly devoting her life and career to getting that prescription filled.


Read some of Sarah Hotchkiss's writings:

"Collection Rotation" for SFMOMA’s Open Space »
"Cash for Schemes: Bank Heist Contest" for Southern Exposure »
"Matter of Fact at Eli Ridgway Gallery" for KQED »
"Best Of: Year Three" for Art Practical »