in my house 5 susan plover 15/6/20
With Susan Plover's solo show being the fifth instalment of In My House, i was aware that with each exhibition and with viewers becoming more familiar with the space, that the limitations of the house would start to become evident. I didn't want every show to look identical to the one previous, and whilst the artists' work would aid in ensuring a visual and subjective diversity, i realise the identity and layout of the rooms would create a familiar or maybe repetitive perspective viewpoint.
When corresponding with Susan prior to this show, I emailed her pictures of the house so she could create something that directly responded to the rooms. With this information, she designed five digital collage pieces that responded to five rooms in the house. With her previous experience writing for stage and screen, she also included short prose texts to accompany each work and create a surreal narrative structure, also including an overarching narrative introduction to advertise the rooms. She shared with me her ideas about wanting to do more than just presenting her work in a space and leaving it at that. Because her collages were so detailed and had so much visually to digest within them, i agreed that a lot of the impact would be lost or not visible unless seen in person. Whilst print can be an effective display method for some artworks, i felt something a bit more exciting could be done with her concept, given it is so narratively rich. Susan mentioned how she had been looking into letting agent speak, and considered the language used when a house is presented or pictured when it is on the market when writing her accompanying texts. I thought this was an interesting avenue to explore with her work; re-imagining the house as if it were on the market, and staging the rooms with the consideration of 'advertising' them to match Susan's descriptions.
With Susan's practise being focused on collage and the process of digital manipulation, i thought it would be interesting to explore digital manipulation as an installation technique. What if i didn't actually install anything in the space at all, and made it a simple matter of post production? What would this do to the authenticity of the work, how would it affect the space ? It could invite ideas about presence and explore the physicality of the collages and how images or more specifically photographic images aren't accurate depictions of real spaces. For example, a person taking a photograph of something has chosen a perspective viewpoint, the angle and the content of the image carefully. It is highly staged and curated, much like Susan's collages. This show highlighted to me the possible relationships between image and object(space). By both of elements being digitally represented for this show, i can explore the capabilities of both and create a physically present but virtually depicted reality.
Building on this, I ran with the idea of the staged photograph, using the image as an objective foundation on which i would then overlay Susan's work. I photographed each room as if it were being pictured for sale, trying to capture the overall scale and feel of each room so viewers can imagine living or existing within it. When photographing for previous shows, i often crop things out or choose angles that are better for the work (so they are still staged to an extent). For this show, i was actively considering the room as an entire space and not just a vessel for work. The choosing of the rooms was less about a relationship i can perceive between the artist and space, but more so a relationship and narrative Susan has seen and depicted within her work.
The medium of collage is also something i wanted to delve into a bit more. Susan uses found images. She mentions in her artist statement on her website; "selected images are juxtaposed with re-contextualised art historical references to drive new narratives". Collage is essentially a process of assembling component parts together, and in a way i am assembling this show by digitally assembling my photographs and Susan's work. The finished images can perhaps be seen as digital collages in this basic sense.
This idea of keeping everything digital also made me think about how artists or companies often promote their work or products online, particularly painters and interiors websites. The process of setting a scene and introducing an atmosphere through the composition and features in a room that is a familiar yet surreal idealised version of reality is a device often used in advertising. I've seen many painters photoshop their art onto 'stock images' of a living room or dining room. By advertising to customers the idealised home interior in this way, the viewer or customer is able to visualise the product in their own home. Of course there are physical examples of this as well, with home-store showrooms and IKEA bedroom displays.
Online space has to remain innovative with digital software so customers are able to still visualise objects they want to purchase if not seeing them IRL. As an advertising strategy, curating a space around an item to be sold makes the process more experiential than just a simple scroll menu of items with their written dimensions and prices. A different version of reality is created by doing this. With this show (albeit this project) the finished images border the line between physical and digital.
When photoshopping Susan's work onto my photographs, i didn't want the images to be perfectly homogeneous with the space, (and i don't think i would have achieved that with my editing skills anyway) I wanted them to look photoshopped or collaged and like they didn't quite fit in the space; that there was an incongruous aspect to the work. I changed the colouring of the images slightly to match the palette of each of Susan's pieces and altered the contrast to match the harsher lines within them.
As a series of works, the pieces all retain an atmosphere of the male gaze and voyeurism. Each piece is composed of some female figure or body part assembled with domestic furniture or objects, each providing a varying perspective and tonal atmosphere. This is an interesting subject to focus on when i consider that the initial premise of this show was to imagine as though i were advertising the rooms. There is a juxtaposition between this intent and the presence of the female nude figure, which can invite connotations into how the female body is often used in advertising.
With 'Whore in the Bedroom' there is a clothed mannequin, a naked couple and an undisturbed bed amongst a forest background. Susan describes this piece as a diptych, and there certainly is a contrast between the two parts of the collage: a primal vs proper. The representation of men and woman as nude figures in art is historically very different, and with emphasis on the word 'whore' in the title this distinction is evident. When considering painting in particular, men are usually depicted in positions of power and women are often nude as way of being looked or seen as vulnerable; gawked at in an often derogatory way. Presenting this work in the bedroom space, i would usually have edited out the hand-print on the grey throw, but i felt it worked well with the image and gave it a more visceral quality, suggesting that the bed isn't unused as it appears to be in the collage. The crouching statue on the bedside table reminded me of 'The Nightmare' by Henri Fuseli. Whilst an incubus creature sits on the woman's chest in this painting, the crouched stance of the statue in Susan's collage reiterated this idea of the gaze or of being watched. Berger talks about this idea that in terms of the female figure, the 'ideal' spectator is usually considered to be male. And to test this notion he suggests replacing the nude females in famous paintings, like Trutat's 'Reclining Bacchante' for example, with a nude male to explore how this might change the assumptions of the 'likely' viewer. It makes me consider who the ideal spectator of Susan's work is.
A similar atmosphere is conveyed with 'All Washed Up'. We are presented with the voyeuristic perspective of a female figure gazing at her reflection in a mirror. Susan directs this composition so the viewer becomes a voyeur, witnessing a vulnerable and intimate moment. She is nude, and the presence of the mirror invites a theme of vanity, but also suggests the role of sight and seeing in this image. The viewer is seeing the figure, and the figure is also seeing herself and becomes aware of being seen. Susan describes this image as based on the work of Gregory Crewdson's 'Woman in Bathroom'. Crewdson is arguably the master of the staged photograph. He often portrays figures gazing dejectedly into spaces, out of windows or into mirrors, and his work is often an unsettling and ethereal view into capturing the intimate and more vulnerable events in familiar environments. This coupled with the varying perspectives within Susan's collage, and the crudely matched perspective of the bathroom space in the house creates a perspective that is reliant on the viewers gaze.
In 'Domestic Goddess' there is a recurrence of the use of reflective objects with the spoon, an engagement ring and other domestic objects such as a washing machine. These items coupled with the bust and the golden gift bow is allegorical of a woman's 'ideal purpose' in a domestic home, an old fashioned expectation. The kitchen exaggerates this archaic ideal.
With 'Last post' we see a figure draped in a red coat, sat in front of a red curtain and next to a red post box. The bright colour indicates drama and theatrics and also typically emotions of love. Susan centres this collage around a Dear John letter. With the large horn in place of a head, the piece is metaphorical and exaggerated. The office is typically a space designed for correspondence and focus, which contrasts to the image but provides a connection between the postbox, the calendar on the office wall and the bookshelves which all convey ideas of the passing of time and a constructed fiction reliant on enhanced emotions.
Parlour games is presented in the dining room, and depicts a 'magician' bust figure. There is an interesting perspective with the confined hallway space that seems ominous. The chair in the image looks unwelcoming with the spikes on its seat. The patterns on the walls mimic the filigree designs on the dining room furniture. The dining room is traditionally a space for entertaining; for collective consumption and conversation. The 'magician' depicted in the corner of the room matches this atmosphere. However the surreal composition perpetuates the sense of unease. The legs dangling in the top of the collage seem out of place, and the liminal quality of the space in the image suggests that there is a facade within the piece; a sensory threshold that captures the viewer in a limbo like state.
I found the experience of installing a strictly digital show very interesting. Whilst i expected there to be hindrances, i instead found a lot more room for experimentation and development of concepts that extended beyond the rooms as physical spaces. With each of Susan's collages, there was an abundance of concepts to discover, and it was exciting to explore each work in the series and how they would communicate with each room. They almost exist as treasured literary pieces and I notice new elements every time i view them. It was also insightful for me to see how someone else envisions this space and the visual responses Susan was able to generate from this project. The realisation of this show was very reliant on myself and Susan's collective collaboration. I am reminded about the capabilities of this house as an exhibition space, and value greatly the opportunity to collaborate with such talented artists and develop my curatorial practise.
John Berger Ways of Seeing pages 45-64