Susi Cora’s May 2018 show Highwire at the Touchstone Gallery at 901 New York Avenue, Washington DC is a study of the impact of memory on one’s physical presence. The show features ceramic figurative and coneptual work, and composite photography.
Susi Cora’s art practice comes from a lifelong interest in the natural world. Her childhood in a rural dairy-farming community in New England brought her understanding of the work of one’s hands and the knowledge gleaned from observing nature. “Our eyes watch the skies for changing weather and scan crops to know when to harvest. The soil tells a story as does the behavior of animals. Our hands plant seeds, harvest hay, shear sheep and give a friendly scratch to a passing cow. It is a visual and physical life bound to nature.” With her art, success is contingent on the interaction of a myriad of components as well—from concept to clay, organic matter, minerals, and fire.
Cora sees herself primarily as a sculptor and focuses on the conceptual nature of art: the planning, thought and ideas that go into each piece drive the making of her work. Her intuitive union of the concept and the artwork is on display in her solo show. The work explores memory as a burden that manifests itself in the human body, effecting the way a person might stand, walk, lean or stoop. “Some of the sculptures represent a metamorphosis of someone sitting in a defeated place and then rising up from that defeat,” she says. “My focus was on the sheer weight of memories and the physical impact of this self-imposed burden. We have the choice to jettison it all and stand tall, but that act is terrifying when these memories are a part of our daily script.” Cora says that “my art gives me the opportunity to look at the vulnerability in our lives. We wrestle with our oppressive memories.”
Process Is Paramount
Cora’s work is process driven. She begins by sketching out ideas to explore how to best communicate the concept to determine how a piece will be supported; whether it will stand independently, be attached to the wall or sit on the floor. These considerations include what type of clay is to be used, construction methods, whether to glaze the piece, and how to fire it.
If the sculpted work is to be pit-fired, as is often the case, Cora forms a pit in the ground, then carefully lays a fire and positions the work. Igniting and tending the fire requires vigilance to keep it from burning too fast or too slowly. She generally does not glaze pit-fired pieces, instead including minerals such as copper carbonate, salt and fertilizer, and organic materials, such as coffee grounds and banana peels, as she builds the fire to impart color and texture to a piece. If the work is to be fired in a conventional kiln, she formulates glazes for the pieces, usually choosing a matte or crackle finish. “You have to be a chemist as well as an artist to do this work,” she says.
Highwire includes both pit-fired and kiln-fired pieces. The smaller kiln-fired Emerging Figures sculptures are not glazed. “I was looking for simplicity, and I wanted the form to guide the discussion, rather than an applied decoration,” she says.
Inspirational Artists and Nature
Cora draws inspiration from the work of Polish sculptor Alina Szapocznikow who said “My gesture is addressed to the human body. I want to exalt the ephemeral in the folds of our body, in the traces of our passage.” The constructed, eroded, and decaying surfaces of Italian painter and sculptor Alberto Burri are another influence. “These artists engage intellectual and physical senses and then leave space for personal contemplation,” she says.
TFA Emerging Artist
The Touchstone Foundation for the Arts awarded Cora an Emerging Artist Fellowship for 2016-2018. “It has been a great experience to have the mentorship of a large group of artists all doing very different work. I have also benefitted from the opportunity to learn more about how the gallery operates and to talk to people when they come into the gallery,” she says. She is currently serving as co-president of the
Touchstone Gallery board of directors. --Susi Cora and Patricia Williams
Susi Cora is a visual artist who works in Alexandria, Virginia and Washington, D.C. She trained as an architect and is a graduate of the School of Architecture at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She completed the Master of Fine Arts program at The George Washington University in 2016.
See Cora's Highwire exhibition at Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave NW, Washington DC. Opening Fri May 4, 6-8:0 pm; Meet the Artist Sunday, May 20, 1-3 pm.