Susan Collis

Source: Susan Collis, Since I fell for you, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham 2010

Collis' exhibition consists of numerous representations of everyday phenomena made with "an astonishing technical virtuosity and precious materials." A central part of each of the pieces is the notion of the double-take, or the trompe l'oeil that requires us to look again more closely at Collis' work, only to be resolved through the confounding of our expectations.

"At first glance, the exhibition appears empty, not yet ready for visitors, but through closer inspection it discloses subtle interventions, objects and artistic gestures, betraying Collis' preoccupation with the processes of production."


A large part of Susan Collis' practice plays on our visual perception through the manipulation of everyday objects, replicating accidents with craft processes and precious materials. An excellent example of this is 2008's Our appetite for lies (see above) which on first glance appears to be a dusty paint splattered stepladder, yet encorporates diamond, topaz, picture agate, white opal, Brazilian opal, fossil coral, freshwater pearl, cultured pearl, white mother of pearl, gold mother of pearl an white howlite. By using these materials Collis elevates the perceived value of the stepladder, and in doing so makes us questions the system of "valuing" an object itself. Is a mistake outlined in pearl more valuable than an intentionally accurate painting? By posing the question of material worth versus the notion of craft and objects within the craft process, she is able to subvert the viewer's expectations and causes their real perception of  value to be challenged.

100% Cotton (detail) 2002

Collis aims to achieve a balance between the relationship of materials employed and the objects that are made; a juxtaposition of something quite beautiful and yet quite ordinary. She states: "I have always wanted my work to bring together two different opposing terms, like tidy and untidy, clean and dirty - to bring them together and see what happens. I think this ties into my feelings about craft. Craft in my mind has that 'good' label and that's what draws me to it; to make something look bad, dirty or stained using these processes that are usually deemed good and worthy, to jumble up the two."

This can be seen in her earlier works; especially 100% cotton where recreation through an intensive period of making is complemented by the random or instant mark it mimicked, in this instant paint splashes via paintstaking hand embroidery. Such emphasis on process and particular media gives rise to the notion of workmanship and by extension craft.


Since I fell for you, 2009 (detail) -Walnut, mahogany,iroko, white walnut, sycamore, maple, pear wood, lapis lazuli, silver, bronze and silver leaf.

Overall, I think Collis' work links well to Mona Hatoum and Ai Weiwei's in her ability to elevate ordinary objects into a state of 'other-ness', in this case through heightened value. She demonstrates a similar attitude to the notion of 'craft' as Ai Weiwei, and immortalises household items as painstakingly beautiful artworks. I want to apply this approach toward the "everyday" to my developments for the Human Being/Being Human project, focusing on domestic items and rituals that go on within the household itself. Her work made me think about adding value to everyday objects through craft and material, and led to my embroidery experiments with J-cloths that I carried out in my book.

© Molly Jaqueline Lea Turner, all rights reserved