As the end of the academic year approaches, the time has come to turn a very messy art school studio into as good an approximation of a white cube gallery space as possible. I love the process of making the end of year exhibition but I’m not so keen on the construction part of it. All that filling, sanding, cleaning and painting is stupidly tiring – even for me, and frankly I mostly direct proceedings while others to the actual work – and pretty stressful. We always get it done but there’s always a point where it seems like we won’t. Which brings my thoughts to work that reminds me of the tools we need and the work that needs doing.
Susan Collis’s work fits the bill perfectly. After all, her exhibition Don’t Get Your Hopes was basically a gallery in need of some art, right? Well, appearances can be deceptive.
Don’t Get Your Hopes is effectively a simulation of many of the things that have been occupying my mind in the run up to building the exhibition: ways to fix things to walls, to clean floors and so on. Jean Baudriallard argues that the simulacra is not merely a copy – a simulation – of the real but has a truth of its own. The idea of the simulacra is that it is a simulation on the surface only: an image that doesn’t mimic the behaviour of that from which it is copied. Collis’s copies look like the objects they mimic – at first sight Made Good is a screw held in the wall by a rawlplug – but its function is not to support art but to be art. Furthermore its value exceeds the value of a screw and a rawlplug not simply by having been designated art – Collis’s is not adopting the strategy of Duchamp’s readymade – but by virtue of the materials she uses. The materials used in Made Good are listed as coral, black onyx, 18-carat white gold, diamond, silver.
Waltzer is, at first sight, a fairly ordinary broom propped against the wall. But again, all is not as it seems. Here the blobs and splashes are more likely to be pearls than paint; in addition to the broom Waltzer is made of Opals, turquoise, garnets, seed pearls, mother of pearl, black diamonds, white diamonds, fresh water pearls, coral, black onyx, marcacite.
One of the things I like about Collis’s work is that it’s beautiful and precious but easily overlooked or at least misread. It would be perfectly possible to leave an exhibition which included Collis’s having failed to see it; even knowing what one’s looking for, it’s all too easy to miss things, indeed I’ve seen people miss Rock Bottom Riser – which is permanently installed at Seventeen Gallery in London – when walking in to the space. This series of drips of paint on the floor must be a familiar sight to everyone who’s ever decorated not just to those in art schools and galleries, but on the floor of a gallery one’s first reading is of carelessness and something missed when the space was cleaned rather than carefully inlaid mother of pearl.