Susan Collis: Learning to Look Closer and the Magic of Minor Details

You stumble across a mostly empty exhibition space in a renowned museum. You glace around and see a dirty broom leaning against the wall, a step ladder splattered with paint and screws left uncovered in the wall…

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Susan Collis, Installation View 2010

It looks like they are setting up a new installation, or it’s the messy remnants of an old one. As you turn to leave, a small glimmering reflection of the artificial light on the step ladder enigmatically catches your eye; this is not trash, this is treasure.

Susan Collis is a London based sculptor, born in 1956, who utilises everyday objects, showcasing the detail in their wear and tear to create extremely valuable works of art which can often be overlooked unless close attention is given by the audience. In her 2004 piece ‘The Oyster’s Our World’, she altered an old step ladder, replacing what would be splatters of paint and scuff marks with pearls, opals and diamonds. According to Artspace, ‘Collins manages to elevate the mundane, celebrate traditional craft techniques, and encourage viewers to take second, closer look’. It’s by adding aspects of what we deem as valuable, such as precious gems, to appear as ‘seemingly meaningless accidents’ (Seventeen Gallery, 2010) that allow us to question why we put worth on certain objects, and not on others.

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Susan Collis, ‘The Oyster is Our World’, 2004

So often, people would not give a second glace to these spills or messes which occur during production, while Collis encourages and rewards audiences who do look closer, shifting our perception of viewing a disposable mess to admiring it as valuable art. Collis describes her practice, “What I’m mainly concerned with is all the stuff that goes on to facilitate the display of everything.” (Artspace, 2011). This can be further seen in her ‘Waltzer Wooden Broom’, where what appears as paint marks have been replaced with mother of pearl and other precious gem stones, hence now completely voiding its commonplace use and transforming it into a piece to be admired. Collis adds value which is subtle to the viewer yet laborious for her to produce, hence added value is not just monetary but also consumes manual labour and construction time.

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Susan Collis, ‘Waltzer’, 2007

Similarly, ‘The Little People Project’, a blog by anonymous artist Slinkachu, also involves the audience by affording a shift in our everyday perception of the innate behavior of grading and valuing objects. The artist sets up almost unperceivable miniature worlds, using tiny handmade people reacting to real life situations and mundane environments, such as having them interact with rubbish. They are so small, and so well placed in context that they are hardly noticed by people walking past, particularly due to the fact they are blending in with objects or ‘trash’ that we so often glace over but quickly discard in our everyday commutes. The artist’s only documentation and appreciation is by the photographs of the artwork posted on the blog, reminding us all to literally watch where we step.

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Slinkachu, ‘Why is it so hard to find a job?’, 2013

Both artists allow worth to be placed on seemingly mundane objects or contexts, creating a sense of permanence in what we would usually assume as disposable. How many ‘valuable’ things are you walking past every day?

Design can be either disposable or permanent in terms of its form, function or value. Clever design incorporates both; in Collis’s circumstance it might be by adding worth to something usually deemed disposable, allowing us question the little value we often place on everyday objects. I urge you in your everyday life, in order to not miss out on the miniscule, glance less and discover more.

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