Sabio and Her Theatre of the Absurd

Sabio’s art practice is influenced by her experience in costume making, as a seamstress, co-producer at Sabio Designs, as well as by the female Surrealists. Her work has been commissioned for various creative projects, including Marina Abramović’s Private Archaeology exhibition in 2015 at Mona and the television series The Kettering Incident, 2016. Sabio and David Male are the founders of Hobart’s Dark Fringe festival.

“The greatest darkness can often be concealed by an astonishing colour palette of pinks, reds and gold.” – Sabio.

Sabio grew up in Railton in the north-west of Tasmania. The seventh of eight children, she left home at seventeen and, after having a daughter, eventually moved to Hobart in 2001. Highly talented with an idiosyncratic originality, she is often commissioned to design wedding dresses and other garments. Revelling in the irrational, in “empathetically” enhanced a pair of chairs for her waiting clients: the Codpiece chair was covered in irritating horsehair while the Witch’s tit chair was complete with pendulously sagging breasts.

Sabio attended art school at the University of Tasmania during 2013–17, but didn’t graduate. Ever restless, but always compelled to be an artist, for years she has kept visual journals: making props, drawing costumes and animating these as clips with hidden meanings, secret messages and sending them to bemused friends. Continually following her own tangent, she has occasionally had inappropriate moments, channelling these inner workings into outrageous outfits with flamboyant labial folds masquerading as frills, masks concealing the expressions of thought, puckered lips on derrières, multiple arms waving about like those of Shiva, “The Destroyer.”

In 2022, Sabio was diagnosed with a very aggressive type of breast cancer that resulted in a double mastectomy. Always resilient, Sabio still managed to stage a photo shoot after the surgery that included three costume changes. Further health complications required chemotherapy and radiotherapy that induced peripheral neuropathy in her limbs, further surgery and a cardiac event.

Despite all this, and not planning to turn her illness into art, Sabio transformed herself into Dolly Devil, staging a major theatrical event in this year’s Dark Fringe festival in Hobart called Emergency Dollhouse. Co-created with David Male, it took place in the historic CBD building at 53 Collins Street, turning its three floors and multi-room basement into an immersive and confrontational experience. Originally commissioned for Dark Mofo, which didn’t eventuate, Dolly Devil, with her red horned breasts, occupied the Georgian building along with twenty performers, and assigned the audience members, after they’d been triaged, very special treatment.

Sabio is currently working on Rattle Ground, a chaotic trip into the unconscious and its various dream layers for the 2024 Dark Fringe, which will take place at St David’s Park. The work is inspired by the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin and the carnivalesque. It will be divided into four zones: The Unconscious, Judgement Zone, Golden Zone and Nightmare Lane, each with its own personality and converging on a rotunda. The space will be the domain of the multi-legged Rattle Witch, a single character played by multiple performers like an asylum in your head. The zones will have characters, such as the Golden Bitch, overseeing mock trials and beheadings, dancing girls with red shoes and walking sticks, and Barry in gavel boots and carrying sceptres, who controls and roams the area with oversized scissors piercing the ground. There is also a haunted Hills Hoist, garnished with various creatures, bells and sound makers.

Welcome to the upside-down, inside-out world of Sabio.

This article was originally published in Artist Profile, issue 65

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