More than ever, we live in a culture of disposability.
In the past, most things that you owned were made to last. Household goods were expensive, and you took time to look after what you had. Restoring and maintaining them. Disposability has become the norm of most things. Think for a moment, about some of the things that are made to be thrown away- water bottles, eating utensils, shoes, clothes, each with an expiry data. Products are used, tossed, and then replaced (Zambon 2012) (unless they’re seen as a commodity with appreciating value).
London-based artist Susan Collis is known for crafting everyday objects from valuable material. “I’ve always wanted a creative life,” (Mulrooney n.d) she says. Using diamonds, metals and embroidery. Collis meticulously creates overalls and step-ladder, with their actual functionality hiding their value, labour and craftsmanship. Her practice around the subversion of structure and visual observation of everyday objects is to make the condition of the piece appear deteriorated (Artnet 2015) , as a result of continues usage.
Collis’s exhibitions looks at series of installation that adapts this theme to accidental and neglected objects. Predictable objects such as dust sheets, overall, step ladder and screws are successfully conceptualised in detail.
Susan Collis, 100% Cotton, 2004
Susan Collis, The oyster’s our world, 2004
Calling attention to ‘The oyster’s our world, 2004’ and ‘100% Cotton, 2004’. Collis’s flawlessly conceals the modification to make them appear superficially worthless and disposable with the wear and tear. This shifts the viewer’s perception by simulating their sense of awareness. Getting them to linger and lean towards the tired step-ladder (The oyster’s our world, 2004) and the lonely pair of functional overalls (100% Cotton, 2004). Each covered in a pool of thoughtless splatters and stains as a result of the many years of activities. Inlaying diamonds, pearls, opals and precisely embroidery gestures to replicating the accidental and natural movements of the person’s activity/job and ultimately to raise the status of the object. Also, precisely thinking about the quantity, size and colour of the valuable material to give it the realistic effect.
Working with traditional craft techniques, Collis’s installation also highlights the importance of how handcraft objects are lost within society by mass produced products. She has said “Production is art’s dirty secret,” (Artspace 2013) emphasizing the hidden labour that goes in to making these mass-produced objects. As consumer, we have limited information on how these products are produced. Her work questions the speedy process and the condition of the labours. As a result, Collis’s practice these notion in her work with huge amount of handcraft labour, expanding over months to manufacture these priceless, but useless objects.
Susan Collis, Installation view at IKON, Birmingham, 2010
In relation to the craftsmanship, Collis’s concept comes together by the placement of these objects. It would be perfectly possible to leave an exhibition which included Collis’s creation and fail to see it; even knowing what to look for, it’s too easy to miss things. Her skills in masking these pieces as an ordinary tool (used for constructing, cleaning and hanging), allows her to artificially create the scenario in the exhibition. Where, upon recognising the unconventional materials, the viewer becomes aware of the object’s underlying physical and conceptual value. In an exhibition where it is centered on the idea of finding value in the disposable.
So what can be done? Use the things you have as long as possible. Recycle, repair, sell or donate things and only buy object that last. The action of re-purpose the disposed, or construct something new out of something old. Clearly shown in her work. As a whole, it rises interesting questions about how we assign value to things, be it through function or age.