Terrain Exhibitions was founded in Oak Park, Illinois by artist Sabina Ott in 2011 with a spirit of profound generosity, and community building. Over the course of seven years Ott invited over a hundred artists to exhibit site specific works in her front yard and on the porch at her home in Oak Park that she shared with her husband and author John Paulett. In 2013 Ott created the Terrain Biennial. Ott staged the month long public art event asking her neighbors to host artists she invited to exhibit in the biennial. The 2015 and 2017 Terrain Biennials grew to include host locations all over Oak Park and Chicago with many national and international locations as well.
In the summer of 2018 Sabina Ott passed away leaving behind a legacy of radical energy, caring magic, and deep community. Terrain artist Iris Bernblum wrote this love letter to Sabina Ott published in Newcity which we have reproduced in memory of her.
Sweet, wild friend, saints have never interested me. I love the wild. I’ve always looked toward the creatures on this earth with our pain, sadness, joy, reckless desire…all of it. For me, you were an artist who embodied just that: a deeply human, passionate, quick-witted, fierce woman who always spoke her mind. You were the loudest and most clear through your work, as an artist and educator, full of vulnerability, love and wild impulse. You made magic and through your magic you made community. How were you able to speak to so many? To love so many? If you ever had any doubt as to your influence, I hope you can feel it now. You’ve shown me that putting yourself out there, even when it hurts, is worth it. Giving love and support is just as important as getting it. Even in the face of disappointments, when you felt hurt, looked over, the things we all feel at times, you never lost faith. You always had love. You were a fighter, not just for yourself, but for everyone. You were one of the greatest supporters I have ever known, always giving what you could. When you saw a spark in someone, with your deeply sharp, critical and true eye, you made sure they knew their worth. You made absolutely sure of it. I wish I could tell you all these things now… I will always carry you inside me, as I know so many people will. Sabina Ott, don’t think for a second that your spirit has left us, your mark is permanent and we are forever grateful. Eventually, my sadness will pass with the strength you’ve given me. Thank you my friend, thank you so much.
I asked some people close to Sabina for 5 words that they felt described her. We formed small mountains (a nod to her show ‘Who Cares for the Sky’) out of the words for each of them:
There were many tributes to Sabina Ott published after her passing, here are a few of them.