May 19 through August 27, 2016

The ZMA recently spoke with artist Sue Cavanaugh, whose work Suspended Gathering will be exhibited in the museum’s Golden Gallery this spring. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How do you describe your art to other people?

Hmm, that should be easier, shouldn’t it? These days I’m saying that I’m a two-, and three-dimensional, and installation artist. I work mostly with cloth, but I occasionally do mixed media.

How long have you been working in these media?

It began almost three years ago when I had a residency in Dresden, Germany, through the Greater Columbus Arts Council and the Free State of Saxony. I was there almost three months, and I had a place to stay and a studio. The studio was in a building made to repair railroad cars, so it had this soaring area in the center that was used as a gallery. My studio had interior windows that looked down on that gallery, and I found the space intriguing and wanted to create something big that would soar up into the ceiling area and kind of drip down into the gallery itself. It inspired me.

What did you make?

At the end of the residency, I was able to do an exhibit with a painter from Rotterdam, and that was the first time I started taking my fiber pieces off the wall, hanging them three-dimensionally, adding wire to give them some form. The biggest piece that I did was made of an old theater curtain. It was white. It had been in really bad shape, and then another artist used it for a drop cloth. And I’d been working primarily with cloth for years and wanted to do some huge stitching. I formed a needle from an X-acto knife with a loop I could put twine through, and I was stabbing it through the cloth. I created this large piece, and I found that very exciting and came back wanting to do more.

Is there a thematic relationship between your art and the space where it’s installed?

Yes. There certainly can be. My studio is in a hundred-year-old factory that now has studio space for over one hundred artists, and there’s this creative spirit I feel the minute I walk in the building. The roof would leak a lot, so I wanted to make something for that space that would relate to the water dripping in the building but also to ideas dripping and creativity dripping from the studios. I created some pieces where cloth was oozing out of the cracks in the building. If there’s something about the space I can relate to, I like to do it.

Do you improvise during the installation process, or is it a matter of executing an already-formed plan?

There’s a pre-formed plan, and then I have to let go of that during the installation. Certain things aren’t obvious until you’re actually installing. But I do think about it a lot ahead of time. In Zanesville, I’m planning quite a few pieces that will hang. After the first piece goes up, the next piece needs to relate to that. While I might have a notion of how it’s going to be, it’s not set in stone until it’s actually up. Looking at the Golden Gallery, I was really drawn to the soaring quality of that space and the open quality of that space as it relates to the outdoors. I hope this work will take advantage of that and relate to the outdoors.

Many large-scale installation artists employ assistants, but your website says that you do not. Is it important to you that a work is created by the artist’s own hand?
In some ways it is. When people ask me that, the bottom line is that I couldn’t afford to hire assistants. But if I weren’t working directly with the material, I wouldn’t have come up with various ways to make it. I can think, “What if I did a little different stitch here?” I can be somewhat improvisational with the work as I’m doing it.

Does your work call attention to the material’s original purpose or does it completely transform it?

It does relate to the original material. If you looked from a distance you wouldn’t know, but as you approach it yes. I had a piece last year where you don’t see these things right away, but as you approach it you begin to say, “That’s a men’s shirt.”“That’s a pair of pants.”“ This is a drapery.” I like this historic reference within the piece. Just a year ago, I started working with parachutes. I like the notion that these are army surplus, so the original purpose relates to war, and now they’re repurposed to these amorphous amusing pieces. It’s kind of fun. 


Join us for the ...
Exhibition Opening, Thursday, June 16, 2016.
Live music, light bites, and a cash bar at 6 pm. Artist's remarks at 6:30 pm in the Golden Gallery.

Free and open to the public.