Suzan Shutan is a multidimensional thinker who works naturally with geometric space, being able to visualize the possibilities and limitations within unique installation areas. “Where Waters Meet” a tar paper landscape that meanders across the two walls and the entire floor, that was on exhibit at Kaneko in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2016, and “Slicey Dicey,” a three-dimensional math inspired arrangement featuring “pom poms,” that will be on view at UMass Amherst this September, are examples of her signature process: creating first in the studio and then taking the various components into the gallery architecture to problem solve and arrange the pieces into a site specific sculptural installation environment that is open to flexible interpretation.
“My work is as much about process and visceral transformation, as it is driven by a conceptual exploration of our human condition,” she explains in her artist statement for the exhibition.
The human condition — what people are — is what’s ultimately important to Shutan as an artist. The experimentation and shape construction of the physical installations are the tools that enable her to engage and encourage people into conversation. For Shutan, people come first. But to get to people, she utilizes her own observations and experiences as a unique human. “I would be mesmerized by millions of tiny particles of dust floating and shimmering through a streaming light,” she notes. “Collectively they were voluminous and vaguely shaped, yet morphed by the second like clouds often do.”
Her interest in physical matter and its solid and changeable properties is also a key theme. “My starting point is what the material might suggest. The work is tactile and vacillates between abundance and simplicity, ebbing and flowing into organic or geometrical patterns.” With these playful elements anything can happen to achieve engagement and honor place; like a dance, her process and materials moves and change to fit a situation. Her web-like structures, for example, serve as metaphors for human interactions and connections. When exhibiting in Nebraska, she transformed her versatile pom poms into a river and waterways map of the state to highlight the beautiful lines of the river system that would normally go unnoticed.
Along with “Slicey Dicey” and “Where Waters Meets,” her individual installations, Shutan curated “Materialized” an exhibition featuring 18 artists from across the country: Sarah Braman, Carolyn Clayton, Jaynie Gillman Crimmins, Karen Dolmanisth, Lorrie Fredette, Carla Goldberg, Sean Greene, Bob Gregson, Ruth Hardinger, Susan Knight, Michael Kukla, Laura Moriarty, Helen O’Leary, Antonia Perez, Judy Pfaff, Patricie Yourdon, Jayoung Yoon and Derrick Velasquez.
With “Materialized,” Shutan engaged her problem-solving skills again and experimented further with assembling diverse elements within the same theme. Each brings a new perspective, as Shutan explained: “New forms and material properties create intersections of constructed and found, two and three dimensions, painting and sculpture. (The) Work can be both deliberate and random.” The idea of chaos and order is the main theme of all the materials’ juxtapositions. How to control and place the materials together in such a way in which it appears natural and flowing and still be organized and complete is quite an achievement.
Formally, Shutan works with many craft, collage and assemblage methods. Her website features views of the construction and assembling of the “tar roofing paper” installations in which colorful paper cut into ribbons is gathered into open lace-like arrangements. The “pom poms” installations vary in arrangement from one site to the other, but what is the same about each one is the attention to order alluding to precise scientific chemical, biological and physics-based structures. Because the work touches both craft and contemporary conceptual sculpture, it exists as the ultimate in relevant visual communication.
Shutan honors fundamental and basic sculpture making, reaching back to materials that are childlike and innocent. “Who doesn’t love pom poms? They are fluffy and soft, colorful and joyous,” she declares. The same blend of minimal structural compositions and playful organic layering is also seen in her earlier paintings, such as “Tic,” 2014, seen on her website. In her public art/earth art installations, her signature process and style is seen again: geometric forms and compositions blended with organic imperfect framing and settings. “Ultimately my work is about joining together a variety of elements that advocate transformation. The work is inherently imbued with meaning beyond the planned and researched,” she explained.
Shutan’s individual installations, as well as her curatorial project, offer viewers an opportunity to discuss the power of minimalist art sculpture: Why is simplicity complicated? Why are basic materials interesting? Why does geometric space, line and color have the power to influence our moods?