By Susan Luss
Imagine being unexpectedly struck by some large, heavy weight. Maybe you hear thunder rumbling off in the distance. It is subtle, familiar. It reminds you to be prepared. Momentum builds, unseen, and unnoticed in some far off place. And then, like an avalanche that has been activated, slowly, but inexorably, gravity pulls the accumulation of snow down until the full force of the mountain is upon you.
This summer, with all that is going on in our world, I have been more keenly aware of the life I have lived, the trajectory it has taken, the choices I have made and how I have transformed over time to be where I am now.
While taking some down time in New Mexico recently, I found myself remembering a pivotal experience from the fall of 2015: I was visiting El Museo del Barrio with friends. We were there to see “!PPRESENTE! The Young Lords in New York,” an exhibition that explored the legacy of the Young Lords.
Afterwards we had a group discussion, talking about the accomplishments of community members and activists that had struggled to create and transform a space like El Museo and how a history of marginalization and exclusion led people to take action so they could control their own narratives. We considered how we might transform current and future communities, recognizing the diversity of our own group.
The discussion was complex and powerful. It activated unforeseen memories from my childhood of feeling different and alone after my parents’ divorce when I was five. In those moments of private self-reflection, it felt like I had been struck by this unexpected weight, this avalanche. But, it was the far off thunder that became clear and present.
It was then that I realized I had been carrying around a weight, not struck by it: the weight of my life experience. In that moment of self-awareness, I was able to perceive myself differently, in a new light. It was transformative. I understood that regardless of my background, I have the opportunity to participate and contribute something to the experience of who we are now. I began to comprehend that my past experience did not remove me from opportunities in the present, nor did it bury me under the metaphorical avalanche of the weight of that accumulated life experience.
Now, reflecting on the weight of experience, I am reminded of the monumental steel structures of Richard Serra, of my own experience confronting them, walking around them, through them, in them. It is a reminder of how fragile we are. How delicate relationships are. How important it is to have balance. Support. The literal strength and weight of the steel enables us to perceive ourselves, different, in the moment. Serra did not obscure the material, he used it, transformed it through process and time.
Not all material has the kind of recognizable physical weight that Serra’s work does. Some material has a different kind of weight. The weight is subtle, even unknown, but it is there. The weight of feeling. Some things that are not even materially perceptible have weight. Light. Just by virtue of having energy and momentum, light participates in gravitations forces.
The weight of awareness of ones’ identity in a new way. Apperception. The weight of being present. Texture has weight. The weight of color. The weight of walking. Of experiencing ones’ body as it moves through space, the constant repetition, boom boom boom.
The weight of recognition. Of noticing something previously unseen. Simply acknowledging another person. Feeling similar in difference. Connecting. Contemplating how life fits all together in the assemblage of creating something visible to others that was formerly private has weight.
The weight of beauty. The weight of freedom. The weight of grief. Impermanence. The weight of talking about things that are hard to understand or even have words for. Love. Joy. Despair. The weight of actions. Aspirations. The weight of history. Of others. Relationships. The weight of transformation. Time.
Have you ever investigated a shadow? It is not just a dark area, but also a volume of space shielded from the light by an opaque form, normally invisible and unnoticed, but when enough particles are present to scatter light from it, the shadow’s three-dimensional character is transformed and revealed.
I came to see things previously unnoticed by investigating shadows. Originally it was with paint, but recently I have been using the weight of sunlight passing through transparent colored gels taped to windows or installed outside. The gels would not cast a shadow per se, but the projected light would become the color of the gels individually, or a mixture of the different colors layered together.
I am exploring how light and space in time, in collaboration with the sun and the rotational force of the earth, might create a moving painting. But, as various and sundry things I collect accumulated and were assembled in my studio, something unexpected happened.
When the sun was shining and streaming through the windows, the cast colored light transformed this assortment of found and rescued ephemera. It imbued these things with a previously unseen beauty and presence. A rusted rigging hook hanging from a bungee cord transformed into a multi colored sculpture. Twisted wires arranged on the ground resembled letters in an alphabet transformed into colorful drawings. Piles of gloves took on the quality of a rich and textured landscape.
They all became something different, contributing to the experience of what they are. The whole space was transformed by the weight of light and color. Its volume was revealed in the particles of material. It became a place. I felt the weight of beauty, of being present, in a previously unknown way.
I chased it, feeling beauty, while the sun was shining and then it was quiet when the sun was gone and then there was the memory of it inside of me that accumulated over time as a desire to experience, how something different is not to be cast aside, unnoticed, like a dark shadow, but through seeing these things in a new light, beauty is revealed in an unexpected way. The weight of transformation.
I am nowhere if not where I am now: transformed though process, over time.
Susan Luss is a transdisciplinary artist living in New York City, maintaining a studio in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Luss works with a range of found and other materials. She intermixes and assembles these, creating site responsive, yet adaptable, works that incorporate the architecture of space, the outside environment, and changing light. She has exhibited her work at various venues in the New York area and beyond, such as Chashama-470 Vanderbilt, Brooklyn Waterfront Artist Coalition, The Knockdown Center, The Old Pfizer Factory, The Hole, Haverstraw RiverArts, Garner Arts Center, among others.
The images included with this article, taken by Susan Luss, are variety of “Light Installations” she has created for exhibitions, as well as her studio work.
Learn more about Susan Luss on her website at www.susanluss.com.