Susanne Strassmann - In situ
3 April- 18 May, 2019
Preview: 30 March, 2019, at 6pm
(Note, we are closed over Easter 19th- 25th April, 2019)
Painting as a means of community and self-expression.
When Art, and the process of making it, steps out of the gallery and the studio, it can have an unexpected power. Susanne Strassmann brings her art into the spaces where we spend our days: pubs, offices, canteens, schools. Unlike other artists, Strassmann does not depend on technical devices and confined spaces to create and exhibit her work. Sitting with ordinary people in ordinary spaces she opens up the usually private dialogue between artist and sitter to the public. This creates an exchange which is both intimate and public; private and unguarded. Using her status and skill as artist, she engages with people from diverse worlds, transgressing the hierarchical power structures that usually underpin the creation and consumption of art. Her paintings, and the creation of them, are acts of inclusion which are opened up often invisible, minoritized identities and voices. Like an anthropologist, Strassmann brings her gaze to the behaviours and living conditions of different social groups. In each project she is inspired by the particularity of the location and the uniqueness of the individuals within that context. There is no political or ideological purpose in this approach, only the desire to create art that doesn’t stand apart from everyday life but rather illuminates it by becoming part of it, a new encounter, a fresh conversation about and within the public space. The works that ensue from these encounters are then reintegrated into the gallery space where they serve as both records of past encounters, and stimuli for new ones.
In this exhibition we see the record of Strassmans encounters with people from the North East who in some way identify or align to the categories of LGBTQ+. But part of the impact of this work is that as we encounter these figures staring back at us from the wall, we are forced to question the adequacy of any societal label to capture the uniqueness and multiplicity of the identities on show. This work also makes us question our own presentation of self in everyday life. These paintings are records of a process where both painter and the sitter were performers in a public space. They were painted in full view of the passing public, often in the middle of the day. As people rushed by the window, on errands of commerce and consumption, two or three people sat in patient and intimate communion, an exchange of trust and humility in full view of a curious public. In an era where the presentation of self happens through instantaneous processes of exchange, an identity captured at the pace of painting forces sitter, painter and viewer to consider with more care and compassion the acts of vulnerability and affirmation that happen every time we really open ourselves up to being seen.
This approach has been brought about by a series of coincidental encounters, creative conversations and a long awaited for opportunity for Globe Gallery to work with Strassmann. In June 2018, and just one day before leaving Newcastle for Basel Art Fair, Globe director Rashida Davison was introduced to queer academic Gareth Longstaff, and the work that he leads on relating to LGBTQ+ histories and archives in Newcastle. This encounter opened a new dialogue around art, archive and identity. At the Basel Art fair Rashida met Susanne and both of these meetings – with Gareth and Susanne – came together and resonated with the aims of Globe which is a space that presents contemporary art practice to a public who have had little or no access to this sector. So, through these encounters of ideas, people and places, the current exhibition was born.
Over the time scale of one week, the Globe was transformed into a working artist’s studio with the live painting occurring in the front of the gallery facing onto a transient and ephemerally busy Pilgrim Street. The intention of this was to share the painting process in an accessible way with the general public. Passers-by viewed the subjects as they shared their story in the same moment and context as the artist against the backdrop of the city that they call home. The way that the models dressed or looked was not important in this case, they were free to pose and dress as they pleased, appearing as they wanted to. In this way this exhibition focuses on the sitters and Strassmann as public performers; creating a dialogue in front of a passing public and developing a connection and awareness of each other through an interchange of spoken and embodied trust.
This interplay has transformed the project and the space of Globe into an intersectional site of experience, exchange and emotion where individuals and communities speak and share individual and collective stories about their LGBTQ+ lives. Here silences have been transformed into speech acts and so begins a way of building an LGBTQ+ archive and community space built on trust, sanctuary and integrity. During this time and in this setting artist, curator, sitter and public created the loosening of socio-political ties connected to LGBTQ+ life in the region.
The individuals who participated in this project all identify and exist within an LGBTQ+ nexus of identity. Aligning this to Strassmann’s practice they performatively and through their own dialogues open up their LGBTQ+ sense of self, in the particularity of this time and this region. This project aims to encourage us all to reconsider descriptions and ways of identifying with one another. In this way there is always another encounter and conversation waiting to happen.
Thank you to Dr. Gareth Longstaff, Dr. Vincent Deary for their contribution throughout and to editorial, we would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the sitters: Paola Ciarska, Jonathan Clapam, Jay Davison, Vincent Deary, Phil Douglas, Adrian Gadd, Oonagh Hegarty, Sunny Howlader, Curtis Nash, Paul Shannon, Paul Stone, Jade, Amy Jones, Danny McGlen, Beatrice Grace Frost and Paul Ward.