What are you curious about? Susan:
The truth, in all of it's various forms. Erin:
Describe your art and describe your process. Susan:
One particular truth I explore in my work is how complex structures are built by applying simple rules. So I make Bits. A Bit is a unique object that is outfitted with a magnet on the back. It can exist as it’s own independent work of art, for it’s really quite lovely all by itself, but Bits are intended to be grouped together so as to create something larger, something with a life force. The idea is that it’s a flexible system for manipulating artistic information in a very concrete and physical way. Bits are not meant to be static, they are indeed meant to be perpetually deconstructed and reconstructed. It’s the whole point.
Susan working on her piece titled Tease
Your work is so unique. How did you come to create Bits as your medium? Susan:
In 2003, I was wandering the streets of New York pondering just how many bricks there were in the city, in all five boroughs, everything above and below ground, including all the buildings that have been demolished and rebuilt over time. It’s staggering, isn’t it? Bricks are just simple building blocks, but look at the complex urban organism that has evolved. And the more I looked at the world around me with this in mind, the more I saw this theory happening in everything, everywhere. Life is not rigid, so why should art be? At that time, I was at my previous studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on N. 10th Street, and there was a dumpster right outside of my door that belonged to the wood shop upstairs. They would discard the most amazing scrap, and I would take it, actually hoard it. I didn’t know just what I was going to do with it, but it was free and money was tight. Needless to say, it got a little out of control, and at some point I had to figure out a better way to manage the materials. My solution was to cut it all up into equal sized “bits” for more efficient storage, and since most scrap was under 3”, the standard unit of measurement ended up being 2”x2”. It was a random choice of size, but the Bits fit in my hand nicely. I figured I would make art one “bit” at a time, and see what would happen.
A camera obscura effect plays out on Susan's steel canvas through her magnifying glass
We, like the rest of the world, LOVE magnets. Tell us how magnets and steel canvases entered into your choice of artistic materials. Susan:
Another truth that interests me is the abstract concept of potential infinity. There were other explorations in how to properly display my Bits, but magnets offered the perfect mounting system for infinite possible configurations when placed en masse on a steel surface. It was the obvious answer I had been searching for, no question. I also have a deep love of architecture and a background in set design, so I’ve always found steel sexy. Who doesn’t? Especially raw hot rolled steel, dark with its gorgeous imperfections. It was a perfect surface on which to mount the other materials I was working with, and it also gave the work a serious presence in the room. The choice of steel ended up being a direct result of the magnet solution. Erin:
When you complete a work, the arrangement is now left in the hands of the viewer. What does this passage of control mean to you and how do you enjoy this interactivity? Susan:
I don’t mind giving up ownership at all. In fact, I desperately need the viewer to keep the collection of Bits in motion in order to fully explore all the configurations that might be possible. It’s absolutely essential if I’m to discuss the potential infinite. I love knowing I have art moving all over the world.
Works in progress in Susan's studio
Susan's studio at Industry City shot by Bill Brady
You leave NYC for the summer to work, create and play in your Big Blue Barn on the Delaware River in NY. How did you build your barn and what’s this summer retreat all about for you? Susan:
We wanted the polar opposite of our life in the city, so my husband and I bought undeveloped land in Sullivan County. The Big Blue Barn was built with our bare hands, literally, and also with the help of a few generous friends and family members. It was a steel fabricated kit delivered on the back of an 18-wheeled truck, and it came with an instruction manual. That’s it. Honestly, we ordered it online. We really had no idea what we were doing, but we did it. It was constructed with blood, sweat, tears, and Gatorade. I long for access to the sky and to silence, two things I just can’t get in New York City. And let’s not forget oxygen. I think that’s why I sleep so soundly out there, because it’s a joy to breathe. This particular summer, I’m looking forward to designing new shapes. It’s time to open the floodgates. Now that I’m using stronger magnets, I’m able to utilize larger objects which is really exciting. Erin:
Most of your work is custom for specific clients, how do you approach each new piece and relationship? Susan:
There are many variables to consider. Even though I work on distinct collections, I ultimately consider my Bits as one epic work of art with interchangeable parts where anything is possible, so I’m able to tailor each situation accordingly. Sometimes the client purchases an existing collection of Bits, and sometimes they come to me with a specific idea that we brainstorm together. I’m comfortable collaborating. The steel is another consideration altogether. Sometimes the client simply wants a steel canvas, sometimes they already have an existing steel structure, or sometimes they have a designer or architect that I work with in order to realize a unique steel environment. I’m continually trying new combinations to see what happens when vastly different Bits are introduced to each other, sometimes even years apart. Collectors have come back a few years after purchasing a piece to ask if I could create more Bits in order to “grow” their existing collection. This thrills me to no end, allowing my work to expand over time.
Susan caught in the reflection of one of her bits
What's the best thing about being an artist? Susan:
I feel like I have x-ray vision. Erin:
What's the worst thing about being an artist? Susan:
It’s impossible to get away from being an artist. Sometimes it’s an affliction and I feel possessed, which is not always pleasant. It can get pretty dark sometimes. Erin:
If you could speak to someone who is no longer alive, who would it be and what would you say? Susan:
I would ask Sergei Rachmaninoff to play the piano for me. Erin:
If you could collaborate with absolutely anyone who would it be and what would it look like? Susan:
Oh my, that’s a tough one. I guess God. We would make a living thing.