One More Thought About Intentionality: Susan Collis

Susan Collis uses a variety of techniques and strategies to investigate issues concerning interpretation, craft, value and labour. Everyday objects are presented etched, splattered and stained with marks of work, wear and tear. At first glance, the marks seem to be the accidental results of normal use, and as such seem meaningless and not worthy of examination.

Collis is interested in the shift of perception that takes place upon discovery that they are, in fact, careful, intentional acts, and that the materials used are traditionally valued for their financial or decorative properties. A tired stepladder covered with paint drips from years of use has been simulated by the meticulous inlaying of diamonds, pearls, opals and other prized materials.

“Made Good”, 2007 could be overlooked, confusing the viewer who sees only a Phillips head screw sticking out of the gallery drywall. It is, in fact, white gold, reclaimed coral, silver and diamond.

“Better Days”, 2006 looks like a simple paint drop cloth lying on the floor, except that the paint splatters and drips are actually embroidery.

A bucket catching a drip from the gallery ceiling may not be the result of neglect, rather a complex staging of pumps, water-tanks and false walls to artificially create the scenario. Typically works involve momentous amounts of often hidden labour to create an object that may easily go unnoticed, but is replete with value, be it material or conceptual. Much of Collis’ work can go un-noticed and this visual gamble results in a possible conceptual pay-off that rewards concerted investigation by the viewer.

She once carefully, in pencil, drew a delicate crack on a gallery wall. What gives that crack value? INTENTION. This is something art can do: take the mundane, imbue it with intentionality and therefore value, and therefore beauty.

She says, “I’m drawn towards work that offers two opposing features or truths”.

Her practice brings together extremes: the cheap and throwaway with the highly precious, the casual and instantaneous with the meticulously laboured. The precious materials she uses have no symbolic value but raise the status of everyday objects. Collis also questions her own identity as an artist, juxtaposing the hero figure of artists such as Jackson Pollock (paint splashes) with a figure who is instead involved with mundane and painstaking craft processes.

What interests Collis was how desirable mass produced objects such as trainers have no history of their making, they have a “kind of aura” as if they have “just appeared from heaven.” Not only do we as buyers have limited information of how they are made and the conditions of their production, but that they appear to be made without duration, to be instantaneous. Collis’s work “highlights the hidden labour” that goes into the process of making.

Collis sees her works as “being like ghosts of other works that have taken place.”

I think this is what I was trying to get at towards the end of my last post, and it follows a conversation I had last night with my friend Louise, who turned me on to this artist. Beauty can be more than just visual WOW…an idea can be beautiful. Intentionality, craft, labor, and the celebration of the overlooked mundane can elevate these random moments into incredibly subversive acts of love and awareness.

She says (speaking of intensive labor and intentionality, and how that imbues her objects with meaning): “time is a material.”

In fact, it might be that in the age we live in today, with advertising and movies going ever more complex and visually stunning in an attempt to grab our attention and open our wallets, this may be the last hiding spot for beauty. Possible. Interesting to think about!


Recent solo exhibitions include The Price of Nails at Meessen de Clercq, Brussels; Since I fell for you, Ikon, Birmingham; Twice Removed, Espacio Minimo, Madrid.

Group exhibitions include Lifelike at Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, touring to New Orleans Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego and Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas; The Workers at MASS MoCA, De-building at Christchurch Art Gallery, New Zealand; La Vie Mode d’Emploi (Life a User’s Manual) at Messeen De Clerq, Brussels; MYSTICS or RATIONALISTS? at Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh; False documents and other illusions, Portland Museum of Art, Maine; Bizarre Perfection, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Apparently Invisible, The Drawing Center, NY; At Your Service, The David Roberts Foundation, London and Out of the Ordinary, The V&A Museum, London.

Collis was selected as the Commissioned Artist for The Armory Fair 2010 and published three charity editions to benefit MOMA, NY.

Susan Collis CV

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