Critical Reflections: Susan York: 3 Columns: Graphite Sculpture by Susan York

The Lannan Foundation<br /> 313 Read Street, Santa Fe

Date July 31, 2008 at 10:00 PM

Publication THE magazine

Categories Performing Arts


Shape articulates space, whether one is consciously thinking about this or not, and one of the reasons to purposefully install sculptures at all is to provide an intentionally thought-out environment where you can discover the subtle majesty inherent in circumstances where "rightness"€ has been attained. Susan York's installation of three cast-graphite columns has achieved a two-fold rightness: the right placement of the columns and the feeling that the columns themselves are proclaiming their rightness, inhabiting their spaces with humility and decorum, almost like sentinels. Highly polished-days and weeks of hand polishing have a part in the histories of these graphite sculptures, truth be told-the columns' surfaces have so much character and visual depth that their luminously opaque properties beckon you to come forward, to witness your own reflection emerging out of the pillars' obsidian depths. Stand in front of one of them long enough, particularly one of the shorter ones (six-feet tall) in the corners, and you might feel a certain voluptuous, sentient quality emerging from it, one that envelops the viewer. Somewhat totemic in feeling, the columns reveal no great mysteries, just transcendence, a deep, meditative gaze, and visual quiet.

Everything we say or do, or even think for that matter, could be described as an articulation of space, an imposition of some kind of form on an open expanse, be it of beneficent, harmful, or neutral consequence. I imagine that the placement of these three columns might have involved a long, thoughtful, even agonizing process for the artist. Suspending an eight-hundred-pound, fourteen-foot column from the ceiling, a vertical cylinder that floats several inches above the floor, is not a casual gesture. (Indeed, York worked with a structural engineer to ensure a stable installation.) Maybe even an inch or two of difference in the placement could have made the whole exhibition appear "off"€ and just a little nervy, even as a contrived nuisance. So, how do you find the "right"€ place, discover an exact relationship of rightful placement of three objects, to begin with? Might it be a little like a pig snuffling for truffles, employing a pre-conscious, sensing intelligence to arrive at the desired spot? To get there, the artist must have started off being willing to engage in some uncertainty and unpredictability, and the payoff is that a certain kind of viewer (one who can bear to be perplexed on emotional and intellectual levels, simultaneously) might be willing to give up his or her habitual disbelief in simplicity and carefully attend to how one perceives these graphite pillars.