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Susan Francis, 2020

As a continuation in the Interview Series, we interviewed Susan as part of our proposal to offer insight into how practising artists were coping with these unprecedented times. She has provided us with a window into her current practice and how she has repositioned with lockdown restrictions.

  1. Who are you? Introduce yourself

Susan Francis – artist, curator, writer. Belfast born, living in Wiltshire

2. What is your artistic practice? 

Multimedia, largely object, installation and film, but could also be drawing, painting, performance even. Really the medium is dictated by the particular piece, subject matter, or space I am working towards, I’m not keen on categories.  On the whole though it tends to move back and forward between installation and film focusing on the complex and fragmented landscape of our digital and analogue selves, where the metaphysical and the profound is often enmeshed with the mundane and the everyday. Humour plays a role, or rather poignant irony, and the playfully surreal also features in my work.

 I am also part way through a master’s degree in theology, imagination and culture, funded through an award from Sarum St Michael’s Trust, and this research is feeding into new investigations into material interpretations of the future and the eternal. Playful assemblage is an important and creative process whether that be in film, where footage of momentary acts are overlaid and mashed together to create new narrative, or in installation, where low tech and everyday materials, fragments of objects and memory are disassembled and reassembled to create new realities. I am interested in our ludicrous frailties and our irrepressible faith that we can rise above them.

3a. What drove you to work as you are now

Stupidity probably, because I think some galleries prefer consistency and a clear signature style or medium and this has never interested me, but to be truthful its curiosity that drives me, a restless desire to make sense of our experience in this world. 

3b. How has this been impacted by lockdown restrictions and the pandemic?

Everything impacts the art I make, I hold it very close to myself, but that’s not necessarily evident when I’m in the process of making it, understanding might come later. Lockdown has been an odd mix of unexpected studio time, a welcome stepping off of the treadmill in regard to the frantic demands of a large family and busy arts organisation. But this has been laced through with an underlying tension, worries of children far away, the threat of social breakdown, and the question of my own mortality as someone in a high-risk category. It is an unsavoury and unprecedented mix.

I think there has been a retreat into a more analogue making process, although digital is also involved in the video elements I am working with, a focus on ordering, balance and harmony. I am currently working from a 1970’s flower arranging book, which is strangely surreal, futuristic and yet modernist in its approach to object, colour and form. This idea of creating a harmonious, considered scene, an assemblage, or diorama, seems an innocent way to control at a time when we have so little control.  I am also working on a video piece involving a number of elements including makeup videos – the hundred layers of foundation challenge – another bizarre and slightly unsettling work. As a child of the seventies, children’s TV and imagery was often tinged with the surreal. Drawing inspiration from that, and from the games my children would play which often resulted in strange finds of dismembered toy parts under the sofa, or a pair of tiny Barbie legs in the dogs bed, the work is an acknowledgement that everyday life is peppered with the unsettling or the unsafe, despite our attempts to control and produce order.  

3c. What are you currently working on? (virtual exhibitions, creative movements, collaborative projects, maintaining production of work). 

In addition to a bit of writing for a couple of publications this year, which I am doing more of, I am working towards DoubleThink, an exhibition at APT gallery  in London scheduled for May next year with Prudence Maltby, Henny Burnett, Alex Hanna, David Carruthers and David Dixon. A show I had planned with the late Rebecca Fairman at Arthouse1, who sadly passed away just as the pandemic was emerging, I have let go of at the moment as I just can’t envisage it anywhere but Rebecca’s beautiful space and with her careful and insightful support. I’m not keen to make too many plans right now in general.

4. What is next? – How, if at all, has this pandemic inspired further progression

It has undoubtedly influenced my work, not only in subject matter, as everything filters through in art, but having those initial couple of months in the studio at the start of lockdown has given my practice a huge boost and looking back, I have no idea how I would have coped with developing work for an exhibition without that sustained thinking time. It is vital to find the thread of direction and I think I was probably drowning in over commitment at the time that Covid, ( sadly for many and I’m deeply aware of the contrasting experience of us all), pulled the plug on everything.

5- Where can we find you? Extra projects you are working on, social media, website, exhibitions you will be in, etc.

My website is susanfrancis.com

You can also find me at @susanefrancis on Instagram, twitter, and Facebook. 

Right now an upcoming exhibition, four young people to support, a Masters degree and a part time position as curator of an NPO is quite enough to cope with. But saying that, I can never resist a new project.

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