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U N I V E R S E   O F

Susan York is an installation artist whose pieces have been influenced by the emptiness and openness of the New Mexico landscape. Using steel, porcelain, and graphite as her materials, York distills space and investigates the subtle tensions that exist among the various objects she places in a given location.


The work that I did in the Netherlands at the European Ceramic Workcentre is the source for my new body of work. I went to the Netherlands because I was inspired by the de Stijl movement and particularly the works of Gerrit Rietveld because Rietveld and I shared the same question: When does flat become dimensional? In my studio at the Workcentre, I flattened his chairs and made them two-dimensional. I stacked my flat shards and they became three-dimensional. And always, in the space between, there was tension and gravity.


When I lived in the Zen Center the regimen of rising early in the morning and sitting gave me a way to approach my work free and clear of clutter. The practice of breathing influenced the work that I do today because when I work it’s quiet and repetitious – like meditation.


I am exploring the combination of ephemeral and concrete materials – translucent porcelain in conjunction with steel. What is important in these particular pieces is the relationship and tension between the two objects – the fragility of the porcelain and the solidity of the steel. The steel holds a form and a shape, and it hangs on the wall. And the angle of the steel in relation to the wall creates a tension that is palpable. A lot of my work is about repetition – over and over and over making the same shapes – and I lose myself in that repetition. My work energizes the space it occupies, but in a subtle way, similar to the way that breathing energizes one’s body. My interest is in taking two or three objects that are actually separated by distance and then compressing the space so that the information is almost layered. I determine the placement of objects instinctively. When objects exist, their mass does not manifest itself in isolation. Their mass manifests in a gravitational relationship with everything. The viewer is an equal part in this relationship. My work is an investigation of the qualities and relationships of mass, gravity, and form. I distill space and form and materials.


In making the pieces for the current show I used the ratio of the Golden Rectangle – 1:1.618. It’s a long, skinny rectangle and the outside circumference of the Parthenon was based on it. I worked with this rectangle for a long time trying to discover why this shape has lasted through the ages and why the Greeks considered it to be a divine form. What I found was that there is a balance and elegance to this rectangle that doesn’t exist in a conventional rectangle. In the Golden Mean Series I use the rectangle as a container to expand within. It’s almost like that old story of the snake and the piece of hollow bamboo, where the snake is put in the hollow bamboo and doesn’t know his shape until he can move in the bamboo. I think the golden rectangle is my bamboo.


One of the keys to looking and understanding my installation work is to be able to stop, take a breath, look quietly, and take it all in. And when one is able to lose one’s self in that moment, merging with everything then the subject and object vanish.

THE magazine • June 1999

S u s a n   Y o r k