In more than an art exhibition, a local artist and organizer investigates ideas, invites community to do likewise

When you check out “Sarah Weinstock: A Self Portrait at 40,” don't sweat that you can't seem to find an individual piece of art within the immersive assemblage of paintings, sculpture, glass, music and dance that is a visual, literal representation of the artist herself.

The entire exhibition, vast in medium but most importantly in thought, is itself the self-portrait, depicting the interests, desires, emotions and ideas of a person who's found passions and explored them for a season, but has eventually found compelling reasons to move on, try something different, explore something new and consider something else.

For the last 10 years or so, Weinstock has been throwing dance parties (including the No Talking Dance Party), organizing community events (including the World Naked Bike Ride Columbus) and planning art events (a member of the Franklinton Arts District, Weinstock helped run Art for Franklinton). “I've been thinking that having dance parties was my artistic medium,” Weinstock said in a wide-ranging interview.

It was only the latest investigation for Weinstock, one undertaken when she found her previous ways of making art required justification that she could no longer provide. Weinstock switched to painting from theater as an undergraduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. In between, she developed interests in glass work and embroidery. She spent two solid years painting between undergrad and entering the Master of Fine Arts program at Ohio State, where she would give up painting after less than an academic year.

“I need to be learning something all the time. I have a hunger for knowledge that gets me into a new medium, and from there I end up doing lots of different things. You gotta follow the passion,” she said.

Two things happened then, though, that conspired to bring her traditional art-making to a halt. First, she found herself with what she described as an illogical attraction to a fellow grad student. “My brain was like, ‘This is dumb. No, no, no, no.' But my body was like, ‘We like this guy,'” Weinstock recalled.

Around this same time, Weinstock was assaulted on the Olentangy Trail.

“I got away, and it was this incredible experience,” Weinstock said. “I'd been sexually assaulted, but to the shock of my family and friends, I felt pretty excited. What I saw was my internal animal. I had an adrenaline rush that saved my life. It just swooped in. There was no conscious mind, zero thought in my head. Just some survival instinct that did what it needed to do.”

So Weinstock began to wonder, laughing at saying it out loud, “Who's in charge here?”

So she threw herself into investigations of human attraction, sexuality, psychology and evolution, and began thinking about her art in this context. “Natural selection doesn't do a super great job of explaining why we have art and music and poetry and comedy, because all of the other animal species on the planet are doing just fine without these things,” she said. “When you look at the human brain, it's like a peacock tail. We're attracted to fancy brains, and arguably it's a genetic fitness indicator, same as if we're advertising our physical attributes.”

While pondering this new passion, Weinstock set aside art-making, substituting community organizing. This worked until more recently, when she began staring her 40th birthday in the face.

“I felt like I wasn't creatively expressing myself, and that was wrong. I stopped doing a lot of the community stuff, and just decided to be irrational, to do things that interest me without having to justify them,” she said. “I feel like now I want to put up these flags and ask if anyone else is thinking these kinds of things, and to find people and have conversations, to bounce these ideas off other humans.”

And so, to offer up some of these ideas, Weinstock conceived of a series of events — a high heels dance party, an artist talk, an experimental burlesque meet-up and a “Good Touch Games and Cuddle Party” — bound together by the idea that she would gather together some of the art she's made over the years and challenge herself to make some new work.

“It was really liberating to decide to call it ‘A Self Portrait at 40.' That gave me permission to do whatever I wanted to do, and that's what I needed to stop justifying everything,” Weinstock said.

So, as it turns out, “A Self Portrait at 40” looks exactly like Sarah Weinstock, after all.