Magazine Feature / People

Artist’s work is grounded in nostalgia

Sarah Gjertson says jumping out of a plane is the most peaceful thing she’s ever done.

“It really is, because when you skydive you have to be in the moment and you can’t think about anything else,” says Gjertson, an assistant professor at DU’s School of Art and Art History. “It helps keep me sane and helps me deal with life.”

But on earth, Gjertson is grounded by art, particularly art that explores nostalgia, personal and public comfort and society’s expectations of women.

In April, she shared some of her work and the ideas behind it in a presentation to a group gathered at the Humanities Institute’s Faculty Lecture Series.

Gjertson shared images from her 10 years of work, including the “Parlor Project,” a combination of video, large-scale photography and sculpture she exhibited at DU’s Myhren Gallery last year.

It focuses on a generation of women who seek beauty, personal attention, comfort and camaraderie at beauty parlors, a service Gjertson says is dying out and taking with it a unique social culture.

Gjertson also talks about the tools of beauty in past and current society and how many viewed corsets as bad but that today women are getting Botox injections. “So really, one thing has replaced the other,” she says.

Gjertson says she likes to focus on aesthetics of her art — something to get people’s attention and draw them into her work. “It’s a kind of visual seduction,” she says.

One of her pieces, “Meditations on a Roller Set,” does just that. It’s based on the process of getting a roller set, the weekly ritual of getting one’s hair done, commonly by the elderly. The work’s three Styrofoam heads (the same used in hair-styling schools) are a meditation on this process.

Annette Stott, director of the School of Art and Art History at DU, says Gjertson’s work “opens avenues” for students to explore the impact of gender and beauty in their lives and the culture around them. “She’s an inspirational artist and teacher,” Stott says.

Gjertson’s new body of work is much more personal — about being a woman in her 30s and not being married and not having children.

“I’m personally fine with that, but my friends and family have become increasingly curious about my life and how those things might play out.”

She says she’s particularly interested in how American society views motherhood and how women negotiate whether to get married and whether to have children. She hopes to have the work done within the year. It will include sculpture, video and works on paper.

The Humanities Institute’s Faculty Lecture Series allows faculty in DU’s Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences to share their research and work. The lectures are free and open to the public.

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