By Ellison Walcott
Visiting any artists studio can be a treat. The Westbeth artist community on Washington and West Streets in the West Village is a lock for an adventure since over three hundred artists, authors and performers reside in this former Bell Labs building.
Take one recent stop to the apartment/studio of multimedia artist and entrepreneur SuZen. The occasion: A nascent exhibition titled Scared Journey, a Multi-media interactive installation & photography show that is up at Westbeth Gallery until July 12.
What you first notice about SuZens apartment is that its filled to the brim with the artifacts of her well-lived life. Every wall and shelf holds items that are signposts for the icons she has used as subject matter in her over 30-year career as a visual artist. Look a little closer and the red thread that ties all these relics together is photography.
SuZen has simultaneously lived in the moment and has been able to remain introspective throughout the years, both spending solitary time in the darkroom, as well as serving as facilitator and collaborator for performance art pieces.
In 1982, she founded a performance group called Art For the People, which brought together dancers and musicians to create public performances at Battery Park, the TWA Terminal at JFK, Central Park and several other venues.
I really love the idea of collaboration, said SuZen. Its about taking my photography into another form; its very exciting for me.
The light spills through the windows of her apartment falling between the vines of philodendron and oxcellis that line the sills, creating little shadows everywhere. Her work is sameplanned, deliberate and multilayered. Not much is left to chance.
As SuZen describes the trajectory of her career, shes often surprised by the fluidity that has taken place as she has advanced from the montages of landscapes and cityscapes, to the photos taken through Venetian blinds, to the images of fireworks and flowers, and even for a brief period, cats.
Life takes you from one place to another, said SuZen. In 1995 and 96, I lost both my parents and I lost my passion. I stopped doing everything. Thats when I started my spiritual journey.
Sacred Journey is indeed a defining moment in SuZens career. The process has always been important, but it is here that all the media and multitudinous subjects she has delved into have finally synthesized.
One might consider this a mini-retrospective since it is a culmination of her experiential and technical expertise. The core inspiration occurred during a seven-month sojourn mostly spent in South East Asia, where she recorded 35 hours of the sights and sounds that she witnessed on what amounted to a pilgrimage.
During and after the trip she experienced a spiritual epiphany, which, as luck or fate would have it, spilled effortlessly over into her artistic endeavors. The exhibition will contain both moving images from her trip as well as some of the familiar characters from her previous bodies of work.
As in her earlier oeuvres, the montage is pivotal. Some of the newer iconography includes Buddhas, white scared cows of India, the spiritual teachers she met on her quest and veiled women bathing and doing their laundry by the Ganges River. Hollow footsteps, chanting monks, birds, the gamelan all figure into the sights and sounds she collected. She has distilled the harvested material into a taut 11- ? minutes.
Many of the images will be projected on large white gauze, so that the light pours through it, spilling the images onto one another and the walls that surround it. SuZen has presented images the way they appear in memory: random words and quotes, vignettes of moments in our lives, never fluid and rarely chronological.
Memory is indeed like a montage. We see things through the filters of our experience. Here it is filtered through SuZens experience and she serves as an omniscient narrator and editor, guiding usto where is undefined.
This exhibition for me is really like a teaching, said SuZen in her studio on a sunny June afternoon, Its my art, but it contains elements from my spiritual teachers.
The photos and random objects of Suzens apartment that first appeared to be just décor, began to inflate with details as the interview continued. Every photo, every pillow, even the cats had a story.
There are two fortunes that are tucked in the frame of a Venetian Blind Series photograph that hangs on a wall next to her. One says, You will have a bright future. The other states, A Surprise treat awaits you. The former might aptly apply to the artist and the latter seems salient to any visitor of Westbeth Gallery in the coming weeks.