Sid-the-Kid: Sidney Mullis in the Studio

June 14, 2019 by

Using discarded objects, brightly colored fabrics, and papier-mâché, Sidney Mullis builds sculptures that camouflage and re-contextualize the very objects they are created from, revealing underlying themes of mortality, gender, and the loss of childhood.

“In school, I had inclinations toward particular materials, such as spandex, panty hose, used makeup wipes, movement, performance, and more to make my projects. I had really amazing and responsible teachers that taught me how to question my tendencies and to understand the social and historical implications of my materials.”

Although her subject matter is not inherently light hearted, humor and playfulness are embedded in the work, providing an entry point into uncomfortable topics and experiences. “If I can make you chuckle first, when approaching my work, you are more prone to trust it and stay longer,” explains Mullis. “I usually have a tumultuous relationship with the content I make work about. Being able to laugh at it is crucial. It sets perspective, makes room for clarity, and helps me bounce back. If you laughed at a joke I put in the work, we’ve now built a distinct social tie.”

Mullis has background in dance that can be seen in the loose precision of her work. Dancing from a young age into her early twenties informed how she uses space, costumes and materials, movement, and the body. “Sculpture, for me, is still a dance and my materials are my dance partners. We move about the studio in an improvised choreography sharing who leads. My obsession with seeing what a material can do is ingrained from my years of dance training pushing myself to see what my body could do.”

During her Studio Workspace residency at Women’s Studio Workshop, Mullis revisited her early dancing years to question the coming-of-age narrative. Working in the studio she began construction of “Sid-the-Kid” a life-size mascot made in the likeness of herself at seven years old dressed for a dance recital in her favorite costume, a purple spandex unitard with pink leg warmers. Housed in an eight foot altar constructed of Play-Doh pulp and adorned with dry pasta candles, pompoms, wax coated teddy bears, and mosaicked take out containers, this is the eternal resting place of her childhood self.

“I am thinking about coming-of-age, that 18-year (or so) socialization process in which children are told to tamp those quirks and stifle the sillies,” says Mullis. “While I toil mentally with the fabricated distance between child and adult, including the American self-enterprising myth based on heteronormative capitalism, I am building a spiritual environment that copes with the apparent loss of my childhood.”

While this project is personal to Mullis, coming-of-age expectations touch many of us. Situating her work in the illusive rift between childhood and adulthood is a way to both preserve and re-engage with the experience. “As a kid, I made up a lot of things that I took as my reality. I made up performances, ways of logic, characters, games, ground-level forts in the forest. I think I am trying to get back to that way of thinking by resurrecting Sid-the-Kid.”

Sidney Mullis lives and works in State College, PA. Her work has been exhibited in a number of locations including Berlin, Germany and Tokyo, Japan. She has had solo shows at the Leslie Lohman Museum (NYC), Neon Heater Gallery (OH), Bucknell University, Future Tenant Gallery (Pittsburgh), Lock Haven University, University of Mary Washington, and more. Group exhibitions include Trestle Gallery (NYC), Galleri Urbane (Dallas), pehrspace (LA), Area 405 (Baltimore), and Woman Made Gallery (Chicago). Sidney Mullis is the recipient of the MASS MoCA residency, Ox-Bow MFA Residency, and a Creative Achievement Award from Penn State University. Mullis is the program coordinator of the John M. Anderson Endowed Lecture Series (Penn State’s visiting artist program) and assists with communications for Penn State’s School of Visual Arts. In addition to her studio practice, she interviews sculptors as a contributing writer to Maake Magazine.

Marisa Malone is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has been published in Selfish Magazine and BlazeVox Journal   and she has self-published two chapbooks of poetry.