Susan Collis

Lora Reynolds, Austin

Through November 15, 2008
by Kate Green

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      Susan Collis
      Installation view of Trojan horse
      2007
      Wooden table, diamond, fresh water pearl, oyster pearl, mother of pearl, conch shell, Brazilian opal, white opal, white howlite, magnecite, gold mother of pearl, cultured pearl, agate, orange calcite
      28 1/4 x 31 1/4 x 49 1/4 inches
      All images courtesy Lora Reynolds Gallery

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      Susan Collis, Fixed (detail), 2008 (for complete credit view gallery)

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      You will be forgiven if at first you miss the point of, or even the art in, London-based Susan Collis’ elegant show at Lora Reynolds Gallery’s new space in downtown Austin. The gallery is scattered with what initially appear to be leftover work tools (coveralls, screws, a broom). Closer inspection reveals the trick. Collis, whose drawings, sculptures and performance projects highlight the invisibility of labor—imagine a post-Feminist, object-oriented Merle Ukeles—has embellished these usually marginalized items with precious time and material: those paint stains are actually intricately inlaid pearls, diamonds, turquoise and so forth. The resulting pieces are gorgeous, witty, delicate and collectible to the point of distraction; ultimately, they prevent the show from provoking a truly complex consideration of the role of labor in the making and circulation of art.

      Collis’ interest in transforming the work involved in showing art into the art itself is evident in the largest piece in the show, which occupies the main gallery. Here, on a wall more than sixteen feet long, is a constellation of screws, anchors and other elements used to install pictures (Fixed, 2008). Each sparkle rewards the attentive eye: the screws are actually cast in white and yellow gold, the anchors made with bits of turquoise and coral and the holes composed of black diamonds, sapphires and other deeply hued gems. Around the corner, the back room has three works which further reify labor: an old wooden table (Trojan horse, 2007), a discarded piece of timber (The sum of my parts, 2008), and a tattered wood-handled broom (Good self image, 2008). The well-worn surfaces of each are marred with grooves, nicks and scratches that turn out to be painstakingly made of opals, amber, pearls and other coveted material.

      Though these sculptures are all handsome and well-made, the most stimulating piece in the show does not make use of jewels. 100% Cotton (2004), just inside the doorway to the first gallery, is a discarded pair of used coveralls whose paint splatters are actually composed of colorful embroidery. The less-polished, hand-made nature of this work allows it to come closer than the others to challenging the normally hidden nature of human labor. Perhaps, if the exhibition had included more pieces in this direction (such as the artist’s recently performed Sweat (2008), wherein a team of craftspeople worked in the gallery to create trompe l’oeil plastic shopping bags out of paper) and less of Collis’ bejeweled sculptures, it could have generated a compelling discussion about the invisible value of labor. Such a mixture of works would push Collis’ highly-finished, precious objects beyond the realm of the desirable and into the realm of the provocative.

      Kate Green teaches modern and contemporary art history at Trinity University and regularly contributes to Modern Painters, ArtLies and other publications. She has been a curator and educator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Dia Art Foundation and Artpace San Antonio.

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