01 June 2007

Interview: SUZY POLING

To me, Suzy Poling's photographic work is a refreshing blend of natural and man-made textures with obtuse narratives that hint at things both physically beyond the frame as well as chronologically outside the instant the image portrays. While there is a definite consistency in her work, it's hard to grasp with elements of the absurd, horrifying, and mysterious bundled in intriguing, sublime parcels.

I am very grateful for Suzy's participation and hope some of you might find the same kind of insight and inspiration that I have from her work. -Sioux

Working with Julia Solis on Fantastic Degradation and Wonderland of Decay/Imaginary Companions, how do you approach the collaborative effort and would you say your work is different when working in conjunction with another artist? And what have you learned while working with Julia?
In 2005, I found a picture of Julia’s in a magazine and then I looked up her site and was blown away. There was something about the way that she approached these places, namely hospitals, that was like an emotional preservation of some sort. I could see that she was looking a lot further into these rooms and hallways than most people. I was fascinated by her and noticed that she was using similar language about these kinds of places that I was using. I thought who is this person? So I emailed her out of the blue and we met once and it was total trust and we knew should work together.

"The purpose has been to channel energies and to play with remaining artifacts and forces in the space."

I had previously lived in an old theatre that I was really into and I had been seeking out abandoned amusement parks for a few years, she had responded to these photographs of mine. It made sense or seemed really organic that we would synch up and join forces or alliances to find many interesting things. I also had this project called Wonderland of Decay where the premise was about growth in decay and I had these mischievous characters covered in greens moving around and blending into this abandoned house. The project was absurd and kind of eerie.

Then Julia and I starting taking trips to more parks and hospitals and it was immediate magic. I brought in some costumes and material that fit the environments and it instantly felt like something was happening within our experiments as we moved around with the materials. The purpose has been to channel energies and to play with remaining artifacts and forces in the space. This is a shared experience has really only begun. The costumes and materials are only a bridge. Collaborating closely with someone who tunes into the same subtle vibrations of a place has been incredibly liberating and things like ego and control do not have any place.

Julia is also doing many things and has been organizing events and working on projects in hospitals for a while. Our collaborative work is called Fantastic Degradation and we have a site(darkpassage.com) and are finding ways to work on our stuff together as she is all the way in Brooklyn. It has felt like a fairly psychic relationship.

In regards to Transmutation Headquarters, you have said “Artefacts are activated to create scenarios inspired by science fiction film and found poltergeist photographs”. Would you explain how the project developed? And what science fiction films inspired this work and what do you mean by “found poltergeist photographs”? And what attracted you to these?
This project is such an unusual one to me. Part of it is about alienation and discomfort and then the other part is my attempt to make scenes like
Doctor Who. These photographs are inspired by Science Fiction movies by way of being these clunky and fairly awkward sets. The work was made in Michigan which is where I am from. The abandoned doctor’s office is this place where upon entrance it feels the exact same as always, it smells like old medicine and seems a bit dissonant.

As far the poltergeist photographs, I once saw this book of occurrences and there was one image where a pile of chairs was so deliberately placed against a wall as if someone wanted to climb the pile to the ceiling, it looked so violent and demonstrative. But it was all just happenstance. I was inspired by that type of interference with a place.

Wonderland of Decay and Imaginary Companions were created in five different mental institutions. Aside from the physical setting itself, what impact did the history of these places have on your work?
Well I don’t really indulge in the hard evidence of the hospitals as far as specifics of who the occupants were. My relationship with these places is much more surreal. I want to know how violent a place is but that is usually very clear as soon as we walk in the door. I am there to see how light moves in the space and through dark areas. I am there for the sounds and how the air moves through a place. I am looking at bits of evidence that could have represented attempts at providing happiness and escape in places that can feel so dark and full of pain. Sometimes a hallway appears as one long continuous composition with a dark end and beaming light with layers of texture in between like a cave. My interest lies in how a place can succumb to nature and how falling apart is an innate design. I guess you could say it’s a personal experience.....

"I am currently more interested in sculpture than most photographic work."

You also create costumes. Would you tell us about the importance of the costumes on your work? And is their design/sculpture stemmed from other non-photographic work you’ve done as an artist and how did this develop?
I am just using the costumes as a way to blend a figure into a space. It’s all about assimilation, mimicking and trying to combine textures of humans to textures of a deteriorated space. I am really into the
Vienna Actionists and their Material Action Manifestos. It’s about how all materials are the same. I plan to do more, more, more. I am currently more interested in sculpture than most photographic work.

Practically speaking, what have been the challenges of the environments in which you work and in what way did you overcome them? And how do you find and choose your locations?
Tons of research, driving, good navigation, clues from others and a good solid hunch. Well some of my work has entailed me to ask people nicely to get into a place or much of it is traveling and walking long distances. I usually have to overcome fatigue and some fear.

"I think of color as a potential psychological trigger in a photograph or an environment."

A lot of your collected works are created over long periods of time and at disparate locations. Is this an important aspect of these pieces? What do you feel the width of time/space adds to your work?
There has been this long period of time that expands a project. It’s usually due to rarity. I think it allows me to be patient and to think of these places as everlasting, even if they are going away fast. I have dreams about finding old amusement parks with giant wheels and tunnels that are decrepit with brightly colored spirals painted everywhere with rusted rides laying tilted in the middle of some interesting woods. For a while I had dreams about a place almost every night with kind of like the film
Carnival of Souls.

Would you tell us a little about your approach to colour and its importance to your photographs?
I think of color as a potential psychological trigger in a photograph or an environment. You are going to have a reaction if you walk down a bright pink hall vs. a blue one. In the movie
Three Women with Shelly Duval and Sissy Spacek, I appreciate how obsessed Shelly Duval’s character was with the color yellow. Everything was yellow in her life. Seeing so much yellow kind of set the emotional tone of the film. Besides, a room with everything colored yellow can be kind of disturbing.

Are there any other art forms which interest you outside of photography(and costume design) that you practice? Or alternatively, is there a discipline that you would like to learn?
Yes. I am very much into experimental sounds and noise music. I have a project called
Pod Blotz that I started in 2001. There has been a bunch of members. Mainly one person named Bobby. I would say that many of the places I have gone to inspire the music or vice versa. It’s all relative.

What non-photographic artists do you admire and/or inspire you?
As far as whom as I admire, well, where do I start? The
Dadaist, Russian Avante Garde, the Banana Splits, the Actionist, Yoko Ono, weird movies, Fluxus. As far as photographic work, Clarence John Laughlin played a huge roll in my work. His photographs of the plantation mansion in the 40's in New Orleans are completely eerie. He was said to be the Charles Baudelaire of photography. I am into Man Ray and Jeff Wall too.

What are the key events in the development of you as a photographer? And what first attracted you to the medium?
Well the reason I am attracted to photography because it is “real” and you can photograph things that look so potentially strange. The believability factor can be pushed in interesting ways. And I see photography as a great way to study something. Whether it is an experience, texture, light, etc.

Would you tell us about your work for the Snap program in Chicago and what you learned while working on the project?
This project was with city kids in Chicago where we put photography and words in a publication. I worked with all younger people my age and we all ran our own programs. It was all very raw, organic, antonymous and political. I like teaching and I also had worked with homeless teens. One of my students was dealing with schizophrenia and that was really intense and meaningful to me to try to communicate. I will be working with incarcerated youth this fall in San Francisco as well as potentially doing medical photography of the human eye with Ophthalmologists.

"The beached whale was by far the most psychedelic textured object that I have ever laid eyes on."

What do you think of the tendency to categorise art with labels like “high brow”, “low brow”, “street art”, or “outsider art”? And in general, are labels and gradations of art in any way useful?
I don’t really think about art or creativity in this way. I mean an ant farm or beehive is high art. I don’t believe in conformity, so whatever you can do to remain pure you should do. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to navigate and I believe in independence and free agents if you will. I just don’t get hung upon labels or restrictions.

What are your aspirations for the future and what are you working on now? When can we expect to see more work from Nature Mutation?
More sewing, more trips, music and video. I have a solo show this month in June at
Zg Gallery in Chicago. And Julia Solis and I are working on compiling work for Fantastic Degradation this summer. I will definitely be working more on Nature Mutation. That started with finding toxic oddities and with making swampy costumes with Loach Fillet who was a part of Pod Blotz. We did a book together and I have been inspired by his textured drawings of nature and configurations.

I am planning to get to Chernobyl and to continue exploring the coastline in California. That is where I found the whale. The beached whale was by far the most psychedelic textured object that I have ever laid eyes on. Nature Mutation is about nature assimilation as well as metaphorical ramblings about finding things. I also have a slime movie coming out soon with Carlos Gonzales. It’s all about mysteries of slime and scum. It’s taking my obsession with the color green a bit too far.

Thank you, Suzy. I can not wait to see what you do next.

suzypolingphoto.com (commercial)
Pod Blotz MySpace
ZG Gallery
Julia Solis Wiki
The Vienna Actionists
Loach Fillet

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