meet the artist behind selena gomez's creepy skin props in petra collins’s 'a love story'

Los Angeles based artist Sarah Sitkin is fascinated with the dilemma of the human body.

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Jun 26 2018, 11:43pm

If you’ve seen clips of Petra Collins’s new short film “A Love Story”, starring Selena Gomez, you’ll know the strange and wonderful detached body parts that feature in it. For the woman behind these insane props, Los Angeles based artist Sarah Sitkin, that’s her speciality. As the “prop master” for the short horror, Sarah created the half-face that we see Selena bathing with, and nearly kissing at one point, along with the lone torso seen on the armchair in the next room. She also created the mangled hand-face worn by Petra Collins while eerily stroking Selena’s hair and Selena’s chest-hand in the excerpt called “turtle”, found on Petra’s IGTV profile.

When Sarah was in first grade, she wrote a declaration on a piece of paper saying her ultimate aspiration was to be a famous artist. Her parents fed her dream as a child with damaged merchandise from their arts and crafts shop, Kit Kraft. While other artists stumble into art, Sarah and creating have always gone hand and hand. Her fascination with skin making it an uncanny coincidence that her last name is “Sitkin”, in bringing this up to her, she replied very casually, “I guess I was born for this”.

She describes her parent’s store, Kit Kraft, as the “heart” of her youth. “I grew up pinching crusty clay into weird shapes, taking crude moulds of my body in my bedroom, and smearing acrylic paints over every item I could get away with,” she says. As a teenager, she began working at Kit Kraft, where she made art her sole focus and loved experimenting with the many materials and tools surrounding her.

Sarah didn’t graduate high school or attend any art school. Instead, she accredits social media for her success. Through social media, she says she got to dodge “institutional grooming” and showcase work, such as her prosthetic ear iPhone case, without a gatekeeper. And, while much of her work has to be censored for the platforms, she thrives off her work becoming public discourse. “I secretly live for the comment sections”, she says. Any controversy caused by her work becomes something that informs her future work.

One of her most recent exhibitions, Bodysuits, proved to be one of her most popular but controversial projects. The life-like detached torsos, created from real bodies found from an Instagram open call, were lined with colourful fabric and able to be tried on. The idea, she says, stemmed from her Grandmother wanting her to build a prosthesis to hide her hammertoe. This got her thinking about the dilemma of the body and the extreme lengths humans go to feel comfortable. “The body to me feels like such a burden,” she says. “It’s like driving a car I can’t afford.”

Sarah created “Bodysuits” as a set of mediation objects to just “sit with the dilemma and examine it”. By allowing people to try them on, she wanted others to experience other people’s dilemmas and think about the impact of wearing them. Creating the moulds were also an extremely arduous process, involving the models to have a full body shave and stand still for 45 minutes while a team “slathered their body in gloopy silicone slime and wet heavy plaster”.

For Sarah, the wearability of the collection is what made it interesting to her. “So much art is just wasting its potential by presenting itself as tepid home décor,” she says. “I knew I wanted to make something that was poignant, not a passive piece of wall art. I wanted to honour the freedom that art truly affords and create something that just wouldn’t ever happen under any other circumstances.” Through the process, “Bodysuits” allowed Sarah to connect with people in the fitting room, invite an emotional experience and use the work as a catalyst for new ideas.

Since the exhibition, Sarah has been collaborating with Petra Collins in a variety of projects. The collaboration, she says, pushes her because she’s is so used to having months to create and perfect a piece, but with Petra it can be only a few days. “I love working with her,” Sarah says. “I’ve been really embarrassed to show up on set with less than my best work but she’s made it work every time. Petra is a pretty special human, and I feel lucky.”

Their most recent collaboration, “A Love Story”, perfectly combines Sarah’s fixation with skin with Petra’s unique vision, to create a beautifully creepy experience. While the film is a “short horror”, Sarah is not interested in being labelled a “horror artist”. “I’m sorry the human body is so horrifying but I’m not out to make work for the sake of shock value,” she says. “I like using provocative elements to bring viewers to a vulnerable state, but not without substance.”

Her obsession with skin, she says, instead stems from both a curiously about anatomy and her own issues with fear of intimacy. When creating the torsos, faces and other body parts, her process looks like “a huge chaotic, sticky, wet, crumbly mess”. It involves a range of emotions, movements, mistakes, risks, triumphs and solutions. Her working space can often look like that of a mad scientist or serial killer, using pigments from all over the world, including a collection of human hair donated from her friends over the years.

We can expect to see more Petra and Sarah collaborations in the near future, along with other exciting collabs, including two Canadian artist called “Fecal Matter” and The Health Museum. She has a solo show at NohWave gallery in Los Angeles in December, and a show in New York in early 2019.

As for her childhood declaration, Sarah says her Mom has kept that note safe. And by all accounts she has achieved that wish. Without any formal training, Sarah shows what is truly possible when a child runs wild with curiosity in a craft store. Though her work is life-like, meticulous and precise, she approaches it with the same fascination that led her to making molds of her body in her bedroom as a teenager. “Completion of something takes me weeks or months,” she says. “It completely consumes me, destroys me and then ultimately renews me.”

This article originally appeared on i-D US.