The Art of Suse Stoisser: Mediation between Worlds
WHAT DO WE TRULY SEE? WHERE HAS SEEING TAKEN US?
Suse Stoisser’s art is rooted in opposites. Trained as both a painter and a sculptor, she refrains from favoring either medium. She deliberately combines such media as photography, video, prints or painting with such three-dimentional elements as stone, metal, glass or plastic. These unexpected combinations, result in spatial arrangements that allow art to be conceived as situation beyond the exhibit. A viewer is led from one context to the next and must study and observe the work with greater attention than is common with traditional categories of painting or sculpture.
_rosa cloud_ is the name of Stoisser’s 2020 exhibition in her hometown of Leibnitz. Stoisser has spent much of her life traveling, first between Vienna and Leibnitz during her student years, later to the United States, Mexico and throughout Europe. During the Covid19 shutdowns, travel outside her intermittent home in Spain came to a halt. But while the world seemed to shrink during the pandemic, Stoisser used the slowdown to consolidate themes and intensify her artistic language. Choosing the old cinema in Leibnitz as her exhibition venue was a way to crystallize time in place. Her early memories of her now hazy past and the vividness of the present collided and produced a visual diversity, as well as a highly subjective panorama of psychological perception.
The image of the _rosa cloud_ epitomizes this polyphony. The silhouette of a child – a black shadow – floating on a pink cloud. The indeterminate place, the undefined emotional setting amid an infinite expanse and the ambiguity of the conceptual merge to symbolize the cosmos and the multiple dimensions of reality. The lost child, with whom the artist identifies, finds herself in an equivocal position: is she being swallowed up by the pink mass? Or does the cloud stand for the promise of paradise? The clouds, the sky, infinity – all are notions relevant in more than a meteorological context or in linguistic usage. In religions, too, the indefiniteness of heaven and sky is a place of revelation, a place of bliss, the ultimate promise.
The experience of virtual reality inherent to digital culture allows for yet another interpretation of the scene. Suddenly, visual choices are set free, affecting our perception. Concepts of space and time lose their logic and reconfigure themselves. Atmosphere obtains its equivalent in the info-sphere. In which reality do we actually exist? Today, data is stored in so-called “clouds” – huge servers that archive all data material produced by humans. Hence, we can imagine that each of us now has a “cloud” constantly hovering above us, a cloud that contains all our memories and experiences.
Stoisser’s theme is that life is a journey, in which we move through different zones of space and time – and also different levels of consciousness. In this, her new work also relates to the pandemic. This sudden international disturbance created a narrowing of personal choices and options, a sense of being alone, a feeling of momentary emptiness. But it also seems to have made introspection more available. Uncertainty and hope have become palpable emotions, and “reality” suddenly is viewed through new lenses.
Her opus has been created out of the ordinary testimony of the past, while also urging us to mind the future. Stones with metal inclusions pay homage to a past culture, they are presented in display cases, as if there were archaeological finds. Every stone, every piece of wood inscribed with its own description, encodes time. The HASHTAG sign, cut out of stainless steel and fixed onto a boulder, appears as a mythical enigma – a mysterious talisman belonging to both the past and future. In a second vitrine, stones are arranged with glass plates depicting images of smoke. The fleeting state of smoke is preserved in the image (glass) and represents natural phenomenon: volcanism, explosion, moving matter. It is a declaration of both perishing and thriving. The size of a 21st century smartphone, the glass plates read as a kind of standardized language. We perceive our world in visual patterns, formats and image structures – the creative components of our visual consciousness. But on a smart phone, the universe zooms in and out – and multiplies. It transports us to realities never before available.
STILL THERE depicts blurred images of forest landscapes, each defined by a letter. Together they form the words “Forest” and “Tree.” Using photos taken from a moving train, traveling between Vienna and Leibnitz, the piece is an ode to polyphony. It represents the frequent journeys between her childhood home and her place of study – and the overlapping levels of consciousness and memories she carried back and forth between the two realities. Memories are represented by the motion-blurred images – which have been printed in the shape of bags, suitcases – “baggage” that we all carry with us throughout our lives.
WEREWOLF, THERE WOLF is similar in content, though travel is not its theme. On a polished stainless steel plate the artist has arranged images of forests. Again out of focus, again incidental, a seemingly arbitrary section of reality is presented. The out-of-focus images, in tablet formats with rounded corners, suggest motion – even as the surrounding steel plates convey stability and stasis. In fact, there are three pictorial planes that meet here. The colored forest photos, the silhouette of a wolf on the stainless steel plate, and the artist’s own reflection created by the mirroring metal plates. Thus, the composition forms a multifaceted ensemble that unites both temporal and thematic differences. The wolf, an “inhabitant of the forest” and “protagonist of numerous myths”, can also be viewed as lonely, an outcast. He also is endangered, even as he is perceived as the very epitome of danger. The forest, or the representation of what we associate with the term “forest”, becomes an ambivalent place: depicting both serene nature and potential terror – archaic symbolism intrinsic to all of us. We all can associate with the forest, the wolf, the mirror image, the levels of consciousness addressed in this piece.
SEARCH: NO TIGHTROPE WALKER, BLUE PLANET, HIDING is comprised of photographs of stone slabs on which lichens have formed. These micro-photographs of plant structures, later tinted in blue and red, deviate from their original intent and contextual signification. The close-up format means that orientation is lost and standard dimensions dissolve. The color-saturated lichens become indifferent entities that could be many things. Created during the first lock-down phase last year, the piece speaks to the way the pandemic has made us experience nature anew. Well known, already forgotten and overlaid content inadvertently pushes itself back into the foreground. Looking at these images, we do not know where we are. The micro-view provides an invitation to a surreal view. The human shadows that define the image next to the colorful lichens are aids to identification. Who are these figures, of whom only shadows are visible? Did they cause the discoloration of the lichens? Or are they adversely affected by the color change?
Experiencing reality is becoming ever more complex. We generate more and more images. Our inner images are edging their way into reality, becoming more concrete. This visual overload seems to burden us even as it provides more options. Digital culture plays a major role in making us feel alienated from the familiar. Experiencing nature is increasingly becoming a mediated experience. It is integrated into the image and is dependent on the image; in many cases, it already has become an image. We now exist in a mediated world of simulacra. The forest or the image of the forest thus becomes a poetic place, just as it has become a symbol of the wild and eerie — the cult-like and the mythical. Building on this notion, the video installation WALD.3 Dialoops turns a multi-part projection into a forest landscape. The audience experiences hiking in the forest – but objects literally fly towards the viewer, thus allowing personal experience of this space to become concrete and comprehensible. The place conveys restlessness, threat, as well as escape, redemption. Ideally, a viewer can connect with her soulscape here.
Digital reality, or translating this reality via reality, is an essential element of Suse Stoisser’s art. Reducing images to data, which today has become a matter of course, is a dynamic she continuously integrates into her work. But is it truly a reduction, or rather an explosive expansion? Perhaps we can gain more precise and diverse insights via data, for example, than via a picture of a person. The bar code contains much larger amounts of data and thus could allow a more precise interpretation than, for example, a painted portrait. However, further differentiating is called for, once again. The image itself depends on the medium at hand: an X-ray image says something different about a person than her passport photo.
In her work BAR CODE, Stoisser has created an imaginary portrait. Essential visual prerequisites are fulfilled: format, frame, passe-partout. It is plain to see that it is a matte polished stainless steel plate with a monumental bar code in the lower half of the picture. This code could offer information on what we cannot see. The encryption via the code allows the uninitiated the option to fantasize. With an appropriate reader, one could crack the code. In real life, one is also constantly faced with puzzles that require solving. The digital seemingly has a solution, the bar code is only an encryption that can be decoded – wishful thinking that fails when tested against reality. The bar code is clear in its meaning. It contains accountable facts transferred into data, which, however, become comprehensible only under specific conditions. The optical appearance of the bar code is abstract. Vertical lines merely are arranged in varying distances to each other.
Art seems to pursue a similar goal. There, too, content is condensed and comes to light in a specific form (codes). It is how content and visibility relate to each other that makes the work of art. The space between thoughts and visibility is our perception. It is this space that Suse Stoisser’s art inhabits. The result is highly subjective model of perceiving reality where introspection, poetry and longing meet the harsh reality of the visible. The narrative power of this art invites us to this process, makes us become part of the narration – and thus helps us engage reality. Our own consciousness is evoked and set in motion.
The disquieting, but at the same time often also hope-inspiring, effects that have arisen as a result of the pandemic are registered in Stoisser’s work as disturbances. They interrupt the general course of events, but also trigger novel perceptual processes. Digital reality has moved closer. The reality of the image, the overcoming of distances via technical aids, will determine our lives from now on to a greater extent than before. Our narrative has entered another essential chapter.
Guenther Holler-Schuster. Curator, Neue Galerie Graz. 2021