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Photography Craig Thomas

Sarah Applebaum / Loops

The acclaimed outsider artist weaves a mind-bending map of the lands of the dead in Iceland and tells us why the psychedelic experience is a vital one

Sarah Applebaum is a San Francisco-based outsider artist who literally weaves together the psychedelic experience. Her work is a dizzying experience of colour and form that takes the crams the viewer's perceptive field with an explosive mandala-esque visual overload. In her latest venture she has created a tripped-out landscape from the unfinished works of dead grandmothers all over the world, creating a deathscape or soul-map that hints at the collective consciousness via the similarity that exists in the patterning in works acquired from thrift stores everywhere. On a Dazed Digital excursion to Iceland we caught up with her at Loops – a group exhibition of international artists at Nordic House – where she told us why it is important to her to keep blowing minds with her tactile fractal universes.

Dazed Digital: What would you say most inspires you?
Sarah Applebaum:
I guess I am most interested in the psychedelic experience. I am very interested in the phenomena of that experience because I think that it is largely misunderstood as drug related. When you experience the psychedelic, it’s not an escape: it’s actually more that you can no longer ignore everything that you usually ignore, you almost go back to experiencing things in the way that children do. The experience isn't about going off into space, it’s about getting more into your body and the present moment of where you are and what is going on, and that becomes a very deep experience. I am interested in bringing people back to that experience, and helping them to really feel the depth of it. I’m not sure if they do, but that’s kind of what I am doing.

Dazed Digital: Do you think that the psychedelic experience helps you to tap into something that’s eternal?
Sarah Applebaum:
Psychedelia is just a profound part of our experience as a human. I think there are two centres of knowledge:  there is one in your mind and one in your body, ego or soul. I guess it’s like the double consciousness thing people refer to. I think that the centre of knowledge in your own body is something you can tap into to experience things more fully. I am very interested in this idea about what your body take in or perceives, I think that is why I work with a lot of textures that you can actually touch or feel. 

Dazed Digital: To make this specific work you collected together the unfinished work of dead people? Is it a map of the lands of the dead?
Sarah Applebaum:
I would definitely assume that they are the works of dead people – the reason I have them is either that they have died, or that they were too old to keep doing it. Maybe it’s a soul map, I don’t really know. Maybe I am drawn to doing it because of that, but I don’t think it’s that literal. I am certainly trying to bring death and transformation into my work. I mean, lots of religions believe death is literal transformation, but I just think the nearer you are to knowing you are going to die is where the transformational aspect takes place. I don’t think I could go so far as to say this is a chart that makes the experience of death artistic, because death is actually pretty awful, so I won’t call it a transformation: it’s more just knowing you are going to die and that things are temporal; that is where the transformative qualities of it are.

Dazed Digital: It does look very much like a landscape though…
Sarah Applebaum:
Lots of people have thought it looks like Pangaea, but that wasn’t my intention. I guess I am very influenced by nature though, and I especially love flying over America and seeing the patchwork unfold beneath. I think this piece is more about the combination of fairly mundane things and showing people that they can’t really see them for what they ire. I mean what is more mundane than death ? We are all going to die, everyone is dying all the time. That’s is just what reality is to me.