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Susan Collis: When we loved you best of all
- 22 August 2017
A constellation of work representing the evolution of a continuing, two-decade career, including new drawings and work previously unseen in the UK, is gathered in Susan Collis’ first institutional exhibition in the North of England, When we loved you best of all opening at Touchstones Rochdale, Greater Manchester. What seems left behind, inconsequential and worthless – an abandoned ladder, paint splattered overalls and misplaced screws in bare walls – are revealed to be replicas, painstakingly made, often with high-worth materials, to question what is and isn’t of value.
Working across a substantial three-gallery floor plan, Collis has taken the opportunity to present a range of object-based installations and works on paper that both challenge the nature of drawing and give retrospective pause for thought on the artist’s consistency across both 2D and 3D formats. The largest of the three gallery spaces provides a home to a concentration of monochromatic pieces, including new work, ‘Remainder’ a collaged graphite rubbing of a section of a destroyed domestic space. The two-piece ‘Each to Their Own’ finds an apparent paint drip realised in pencil, breaching the gap between frames to make its way through the paired drawings.
Collis’ questions of perception extend to working with the fabric of the Touchstones building, built in 1884, creating ‘Something Between Us’, a delicate pencil drawing an internal wall that apes a hairline crack. Such works symbolise Collis’ constant enquiry into how and where a notion of ‘worth’ is ascribed, both in material objects and labour, and the balance between the work of the artist and that required of the viewer. The challenge to the public persists in gallery spaces where Collis has seemingly installed no, or very little, artwork at all.
A left-behind, paint-splattered chair is no accident, purposely placed and each stain meticulously designed, cut in vinyl and strategically placed onto the wood-veneer surface, while a set of overalls left hanging with the marks of a lifetime of manual labour are less a chance encounter than another, potent voice in Collis’ debate around the theme of value. On closer inspection, every stain is embroidered with detailed precision in cotton thread in a cunning act of artistic sleight-of-hand. Tightening her grip on the theme, the artist installs apparently abandoned screws in walls, cast in white gold and inlayed with diamonds, while blankets left forlornly on gallery floors are meticulously fabricated in mohair, cashmere and gold thread.
The skills, nature and work of craft sit centrally to Collis’ practice, with a collage work, ‘Bespoke’, featuring items commissioned from renowned makers – from a tweed mill to a ceramic studio and bespoke wallpaper maker – pieced together in a way that, in a rushed glance, would belie both the skill of the maker and the industry of the artist
This extensive representation of Collis’ retrospective and current work follows the artist exhibiting in many of the world’s major galleries, including at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, Portland Museum of Art and the V&A Museum, London. Collis was also selected as the Commissioned Artist for The Armory Fair 2010 and published three charity editions to benefit MOMA, New York.
Mark Doyle, Art Gallery Curator & Collections Manager at Touchstones Rochdale said:
“The Contemporary Forward programme intends to be provocative, exploring challenging ideas that affect society today, through the practice of leading, female artists. This exhibition of Susan Collis’ work, questioning the fundamentals of human and material value and teasing out possible contradictions and mistruths, are potent examples of the type of debate Touchstones hopes to stimulate in visitors and other artists. When considering issues of labour and how work can be exploited, themes central to Collis’ work, it is here in Rochdale and the surrounding areas where changes in labour models have been acutely felt, from the boom of the industrial revolution to the drastic unemployment of the eighties and a modern age of computerised mass production and distribution. Collis’ puts the spotlight on modern materialism, hard work and artisan crafts in a place that has been periodically reliant on all three to flourish or survive.”
When we loved you most of all is part of Touchstone Rochdale’s Contemporary Forward programme and is presented in association with Seventeen Gallery.
Touchstones Rochdale is an award winning Arts & Heritage Centre with an art gallery, museum and Local History Centre. It has a regular programme of contemporary visual arts exhibitions.
Showing until Saturday 30 September 2017.
Touchstones Rochdale, The Esplanade, Rochdale OL16 1AQ
Admission FREE. Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm
Telephone: 01706 924492