12 July 2011

Susan Jacobs, Gertrude Contemporary, Fitzroy

 Jake Walker: The first photos I took of you at work were of you and assistants removing a plaster wall in the studio 12 exhibition space, what was your thinking behind this piece and its relationship to your studio across the hall?

Susan Jacobs: I've often found there to be a tension between the nature of the studio and gallery contexts, which can raise some compelling problems, basically in relation to the way things evolve and the space they inhabit.
For the studio 12 project, I wanted to use the fortuitous location of my studio directly opposite the gallery to look for a latent potential and sort of fuse the two zones in some way.
Also, I've been thinking a lot about documentation and how spatial work and objects become framed from an idealised perspective. Inevitably they can only be accessed as a flattened image in the future. I find this both fascinating and frustrating and this work came to embody something of that.

Taking out the end wall happened in response to the stifling feeling of studio 12 - dead end, creaky floor, intense fluoro- light symmetry. It was a way of letting the space extend from itself. The lights were left off and there was nothing 'in' there, but it was very active.  It was like a maximum effort towards a minimal state.
The exposed window revealed the archive cabinets stored in the space beyond, which are packed full of catalogues and documentation from 20+ years worth of past exhibitions.
In studio 11, the work evolved sporadically and was a kind of visual blockage, which seemed to counter the stillness and extended vision in the space opposite.
For me the work came to access several types of history and energy at once.

JW: The exposed window did open-up the space and yet somehow made me feel more claustrophobic, I guess because when you look through a window you hope/expect to see the outside world and yet in this case the view was into a windowless room.
Across the hall you have built a false wall and blocked the windows, which I guess is the opposite move. In a way you have invited the viewer into you space only to block their path, on top of that you proceeded to roll ball bearings through a crack down a ramp fashioned from fluorescent tubes into the space.
Did you consider this to be an act of aggression in any small way, or were you just letting the audience know they were an audience?

SJ: There is a tendency towards inversion that occurs through my work. It's not consciously sought, it is just something which persistently occurs through various forms and ideas.  
I don't feel that the construction of that small space around the studio threshold was an aggressive gesture at all, but I can see how the sense of standing in that confined space might make a viewer become more self-conscious or aware of their surroundings. It was a similar feeling for me on the inside of the studio.
I was thinking about levels of observation and focused vision with that work, so i guess that heightened sensory experience correlates.
I have been fascinated with the way that passers-by respond to a working studio with an open door. It can either strongly attract people or they seem to pretend that you don't even exist. I wanted to make a physical space (which i guess operated equally as a sort of metaphorical space) to that fleeting engagement.
The ball shooting mechanism essentially transformed potential energy into kinetic energy. I was thinking of this as a parallel to the sporadic nature of making things, so the balls only rolled when I was working in the studio to trigger them. I was responding to the sound of visitors footsteps and the balls gathered in a dip in the floorboards like a growing drawing.

JW: So I guess if the balls are making a drawing, then visitors are offered a chance to watch you work without feeling too invasive. This piece employs gravity to create form, your drawings are often depicting its effects. You remind us of its constant pull and then with the use of magnets, or a well placed screw turn things upside down. I often feel my mind scrambling to make physical sense of what is in front me when viewing your work. When did you first utilise illusion in your practice?

SJ: I'm glad this conversation has raised the possible duality of that situation... I'm drawn to things that have this sort of ambiguity and that might trigger vastly different associations depending on a psychological or instinctual response.
I've recently been using magnets and other materials like graphite and bismuth which can be used for diamagnetic levitation experiments. I am by no means an expert..It's very hokey actually! but there's something in the language and geometry of physics that is very sculptural, at times poetic and that seem to offer analogies for ways of life.
If we talk about 'energy' things can swing between the esoteric and cold hard scientific fact. I'm interested in how things might move between such extremes or oscillate around each other.
Its interesting to me that you bring up illusions - as far as I can recall, I have steered clear of smoke and mirrors. I have made some things that could appear to be illusional, yet they employ very practical means (like the magnetic levitations) albeit having a quasi-magical air about them...its like mysticism-meets-hardware. That potential is a great motivator. I'm interested in dealing with the stubbornness of matter and how it's latent potential that can be teased out occasionally. It is a good lesson in patience.

JW: Teasing out potential is a nice way of describing your working method. You appear to stay pretty open about direction of an object or installation until your well into making it. Is this true? or do you have from the outset a concrete vision of the finished work?

SJ: It's fairly intuitive most if the time, especially with work that happens in the studio, which means there are often a lot of half-things that sit around until they find their place. Sometimes bigger projects in other locations have had to become more concrete before action, like with working in institutions. Those kind of constraints are probably good for me to come up against at times or I would possibly just never stop moving things around. I like to try to make one way of working inform the other.

Susan Jacobs is Represented by Sarah Scout