Susan Collis, The Oyster’s Our World, 2004
A stepladder. Every gallery should have one, of course. And every studio. And, come to that, every home. So what makes a stepladder worth writing about? Well, of course, you can analyse anything really if you set your mind to it. In the case of this stepladder, the signs are there. The traces of paint suggest it’s reasonably well used but it’s not completely covered in paint the way it would be if constantly in use for decorating. As a gallery step ladder, the odd bit of white paint is to be expected but it’s quite likely that it’s often in use for hanging work so a bit painty but not too painty makes perfect sense.
But why wouldn’t the gallery clear the ladder away when it’s not in use? That’s the question. And of course, it’s a question that makes it worth taking a closer look.
As with Waltzer, which I’ve written about here before, it’s all in the detail. And the detail isn’t paint, accidentally spilt on the ladder, it’s altogether more precious and more carefully positioned materials. The clue’s in the title, but even that only tells part of the story. The materials listed for The Oyster’s Our World are wooden stepladder, mother of pearl, shell, coral, fresh water pearl, cultured pearls, white opal and diamond; quite a list and one that tells of the visual trickery of the piece and of the labour intensive nature of its making. Collis is playing with us, demanding that we look closer and that we appreciate the beauty of the mundane, albeit subtly adorned.
One of the things I like most about this work is the ease with which it could be overlooked. It’s entirely possible to misread Collis’s work and conclude that there is nothing to see. Careful scrutiny is amply rewarded. There are all sorts of ideas to be considered here about the role of craft in making art, how we interpret what we are looking at, the notion of the simulacrum and the value of the copy versus the original; it’s the lightness of touch that is so enjoyable though. There is a lot to think about but there’s also humour and charm.