Indispensable: Sasha Petrenko

“Indispensable” is a series that asks the de Young’s Artists in Residence to describe a tool that is essential to their work.

The headset microphone is a favorite tool of corporate presenters, motivational speakers, aerobics instructors—the peppy, the positive, people who “stay on message” and want you to “hang in there.” But it’s put to a more complicated use in Sasha Petrenko's hands. “It makes me think of TED talks, an expert who has it all figured out. But the more I learn, the less I know, and I realize I might just be better off not knowing.”

Her workshops and performances, part of her practice as an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and Artistic Director of The New Urban Naturalists, are earnest, but they also edge toward the absurd. “I’m pretending that I have an authority. Pretending to be an expert is a lot of what I do, but my goal is to have my audience think about what they want and what they can discover themselves, as opposed to just taking what I’m saying verbatim.”

Petrenko’s microphone was made by the company Shure, purchased on eBay, and modified with a piece of apple green foam that gives it a slightly handmade quality. “This headset is like a costume. I’m the leader, the president, the executive director. It puts you in charge when you wear it. Which is fun—especially when you can take it off.”

"Clinging to a Rock | Hurtling through Space," by October Artist-in-Residence Sasha Petrenko is on view in the Kimball Education Gallery through October 30, 2016.

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