Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sarah Gillings - Class of 2002 - Artist

Describe your experience during the tragedy.

I was in the commons in a lunch line nearest to the student parking lot. I was with my best friend Chris. When everything started I remember looking at the clock and seeing I didn’t have much longer till English class. I was thinking, “I should be in the library working on my Government project”. I had my headphones on, a song that started, “This is my church. This is where I heal my hurts.” With the first explosion (outside) I was confused. Coach Sanders ran by me yelling as every one crawled under the tables. I thought it was a prank or a drill – more a prank by a senior. I just stood there watching. I snapped out of it when Chris pulled me down and put his arms around me protecting me. When we got outside I watched as if it weren’t me standing there with all of my friends… Well almost all of them. Some were still inside. “Where’s my Daddy? I want my Daddy…”

How has the healing process been for you over the past ten years?

Well healing from anything is hard. I had survivor’s guilt and with out a physical wound I didn’t feel like I should be feeling so out of place. I went on a trip that summer to my Grandma’s farm in Michigan and all along the way I was wearing my Columbine tee and sweats. I felt like I was being stared at and gawked at.

After three more of my friends were killed (car accident and murdered) I snapped. I felt like if I stayed, I would die. We moved. When I got into a new school (one quart the size of CHS) I lied I said I went to Chatfield and Columbine became a bad word. I didn’t use it and if I did I said “CHS” and anyone who really knew me knew what I meant. There were people who found out and taunted me. If someone wanted to hurt me worse than just words they said, “You should have been shot.” or “I wish you would have died.” Others have asked me to talk to their children and even groups of people.

Eventually I turned to my photography and design to deal with my pain and express it. Before I worked on projects just to move my thoughts away from what I was thinking. I kept journals then brought it out visually. I cried – a lot. I felt as if I kept dyeing and becoming more of a freak. I got to the point where I couldn’t talk about it any more, as if I was intruding on my family and friends.

After I was awarded for my work it brought on a whole new feeling. I didn’t feel like a freak but became ok with my own skin and thoughts. I felt I could finally live my life.

Update me on your professional life - what have you been doing over the past ten years?

When the shooting happened I was in my freshman year. So for nine of these years I have been in school and University. This past year I graduated from University and gave birth to my beautiful daughter Lillian. Since I graduated in May of 2008 I have been a stay at home mom and freelance photographer and graphic designer.

Describe your professional goals.

Currently I am looking for a job in the Design field.

About your artwork:

How many pieces have you done that were inspired by the tragedy?

Two directly Alternative Demise and Untitled. Many, many more have been influenced and would not have happened other wise.

Can you describe your favorite ones?

The first, Alternative Demise, is a photographic montage depicting a path filled with temptation, fear and death. Trees became drug needles and shadows lurked behind head stones. Untitled is a drawing of over powering the serpents intruding on my thoughts and dreams.

What exactly is it about Columbine that you tried to communicate in your art about the tragedy?

I was trying to describe Columbine or how I felt about it. I was trying to visually describe my internal emotions as a result of such horrible things.

Why did you decide to do art that related to Columbine?

I need to get out everything I was feeling before I hurt someone or myself. I needed to not be so mad.

Did you have any reservations about it?

No. It wasn’t like putting a red stamp on it saying this is because of Columbine. It was more of if you knew, you knew.

How did your art help your healing process?

It helped give me an outlet and made me really search for who I was to become. It gave viewers a chance to see it and understand my pain, my triumph, and that I was not just a statistic.

What has been some of the reaction to your work by others? Is there a memorable moment that stands out of someone's reaction?

I have my work posted on line and some of my mom’s coworkers saw it on MySpace. One pulled my mom aside, kind of bewildered… their conversation was as follows:

Jamie: Have you seen Sarah’s MySpace page.
Mom: Yes she showed me last night.
Jamie: Her work is really scary aren’t you worried? (meaning Alternative Demise)
Mom: No. In fact I love her work it tells me she is dealing instead of bottling. She doesn’t talk about it. If she weren’t doing this work then I would be worried. (Yea go mom!)

My grandmother was embarrassed. After I took first and third in the same photo competition, I was on the front page of our town’s paper. People stopped my grandmother and asked her how she felt. She was worried and asked me to stop.

Other people in the community sent my congratulations cards and copies of the article.

Have other survivors seen your work? What are their reactions to it?

Honestly, I don’t know.

Where has your work ended up? (Did you sell it etc.)

I have not sold it. But it has been in shows and published in the paper and on line.

How long did each piece take you to do?

Some can take as little as 10 hours others can take up to 50. On average my work can take up to 25 hours.

When did you do them?

I mostly worked on them during college. After seeing the memorial in December I haven’t felt the need to make more. I feel so much of a release and not as much fear of where I am from.

Have you been involved in any other Columbine-related projects?

No. I feel kind of forgotten.

Has Columbine influenced your career goals? If so, how?

Well, Mrs. H was my first photography teacher. She helped me find my love of the art. She is apart of Columbine so yes.

How did Columbine affect your spirituality? (Were you religious before or no? Did you become religious after?)

I was not religious. But it feels now like something is missing and I don’t know if that is the church. I believe in God and Jesus but I just don’t feel like I belong in a church. Or maybe I just haven’t found the right church. Jesus and Columbine have felt like they are one in the same when being talked about. Either someone loves or they hate you.

Had Columbine happened, how would you be different personally and professionally?

I can’t answer that. I don’t think I would have grown up and gone to college or found what I was looking for. I wouldn’t have my love or my little girl.

Looking around at the world today, what changes (positive OR negative) do you see as a result of Columbine?

When there is another shooting anywhere in the world it is always compared. It is always there. I think it has made people more aware but on the other hand it has been sensationalized.

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