Essays about the striking effects of succession and repetition in visual objects come to your mind while standing in front of Suzan Drummen's installations. The artist's works with those multi-coloured crystals, chrome-plated metal, mirrors and optical glass, instantly attract the visitors' eyes producing powerful feelings and impulses, a full gamut of impressive effects for the senses and the imagination.
Admired from above, some of Drummen's larger installations look like static fireworks, intricate lace or elaborate tapestry. Yet there is more behind the colours and the symmetry: the artist employs indeed her pieces to create illusions and optical effects, question the space that surrounds us and spark a dialogue about key dichotomies in art and life, such as beauty and terror, seduction and repulsion, clearness and obscurity.
In many ways Drummen - who has extensively lectured in fine and visual arts, working with a variety of media including painting and photography and creating fascinating installations in public spaces and museums from Amsterdam to Hong Kong - seems to tackle through her pieces the core themes of Edmund Burke's philosophical analysis on the sublime.
The curiosity that attracts viewers through the light and colour refraction of Drummen's installations also lures them into a rather confusing world, overcharged with visual stimuli and sensory information, as their attention is suddenly engaged and strongly affected by everything they see. Interpreted in this way, Drummen's irresistible Wonderlands have the power of turning into Darklands of the mind, into a splendid confusion that whirls round the visitors' brains, till they become dizzy and confused.
When did you first start working on temporary installations and what inspired them – fractals, mosaics, ornate architecture?
Suzan Drummen: I was collecting glass and shiny objects for a long time, for no particular reason, just because I liked them, so they were around me in my studio all the time, as a kind of inspiration. One day, in 2003, I took part in an exposition with my paintings and there was a big empty space in the middle. I just added some shiny objects and played with them in the space. And then this very intuitive start went a little out of hand...
Your kaleidoscopic installations look very precise: how do you go about working with them, do you have a mind scheme or a drawing and then you transfer it on the floor?
Suzan Drummen: No, I never have a plan. The specific site guides me; I check the light, the route of the visitors, the colours, the height etc, on spot. The whole atmosphere actually guides me. Every space requires something else and the installation grows slowly. Often I change the work gradually, a round work can become a square one in the end. This is obviously not the most convenient or clever way of working, but, in the end, in this way I reach the best and most surprising result. To estimate all this, the work must actually be seen in real life.
The colours are also very beautiful - does it take you a long time to device the colour combinations you would like to use?
Suzan Drummen: It is extremely time consuming and for every installation I make different choices.
The materials you employ look simple and playful but they create visually striking effects and at times you feel like kneeling down to look at the materials from different angles or getting closer. Do you use mirrors to give your pieces a sense of infinity?
Suzan Drummen: I never think of it in this way, first and foremost I would like to share my own amazement and astonishment. When you see a space in a convex lens, you will see this space differently. In many convex lenses together, however, the space becomes staggering. The reflections can no longer be 'read' by the eyes. Automatically the eyes focus differently in an attempt to see the whole. I am constantly studying this moment of simultaneously grasping and not grasping.
Some of your installations look very complex, how long does it take to come up with them?
Suzan Drummen: Mostly I work with a team of 6 to 10 people, and then it takes 1 to 3 weeks to build it up. It depends on the scale and the location.
Which was the most labour intensive installation you did?
Suzan Drummen: I think the one in Museum Valkhof in 2012 as it was changing all the time during the set up.
You also created artwork for a metro station/shopping mall in Hong Kong, was it temporary or permanent and did you enjoy working in such a space?
Suzan Drummen: This temporary work was one of my greatest challenges until now. Very difficult, but I managed to do really new things.It is much easier to work in an empty museum space, but I learnt a lot from this Hong Kong adventure. Of course I am aware of the tension between decoration and meaningful image, but the more I study this, the more the two become interwoven. The one does not seem to be able to exist without the other. I value the aesthetic experience of looking and feeling and an increasing responsiveness to beauty, even if this excludes all purpose. And, at the same time, I am fighting it. It is this struggle that keeps me going.
What's the reaction of visitors to your installations, do they ever try to play around with your pieces?
Suzan Drummen: People always kneel down and want to touch it. They move one little part, and then they get very excited when they realize that every single part is just loose on the floor. The manual labour is so impressive that it becomes part of it all. I hope that my work offers more than the visually perceptible, but that is the starting point. Looking at art is a complex process. The first uninhibited look is quickly replaced by a search for meaning. We try to understand and give meaning to what we see. In our daily perception memory plays a major role: without memory we wouldn’t recognize anything. I would like this open-minded uninhibited moment preceding the attribution of meaning to last as long as possible. This open-mindedness, the openness of that first glance, are essential for me: being there and looking! I do not understand the world, am amazed, again and again beguiled and enthralled. I want to condense and accentuate.
Some of your installations look like lace or textiles - would you ever collaborate with a lace or textile artist?
Suzan Drummen: Actually I did so in February 2014. I had a show together with Christie van der Haak in gallery Maurits van de Laar in The Hague. She is a great artist and she developed some fabulous fabrics and patterns. It was a challenge to relate my material to her astonishing fabrics. I got many new ideas from that and the work looked really different. I would love to work with her again and I have a lot of plans for collaborations like this in the near future.
Do you also do permanent installations?
Suzan Drummen: Yes, of course. I did several permanent commissions in public spaces that offer opportunities I lack in my studio or in an exposition, because of the scale or the available budgets, and because they form a permanent part of our surroundings. The restrictions in a permanent situation are very different. By realizing commissions at varying locations, I have come to see how space works and how I can manipulate it. I learned so much from this! A work can change a walking direction: you can direct the view upwards; you can double the space of a room with mirrors; you can refine a monumental space with painted details and give it back its human scale. By stressing some architectural elements and making sensually stimulating combinations, I can intervene in the urban space.
Do you have further exhibitions lined up for this year?
Suzan Drummen: I have so many plans to make new works and installations, but I also want to spend more time in my studio to develop completely new methods of working. Slowly but surely my newest work will get more violent and less innocent. Just wait, you ain't seen nothing yet!
With many thanks to Suzan Drummen for breaking her busy schedule to answer via email this Q&A.
Image credits for this post:
All images courtesy Suzan Drummen
1. Installation on a cloth of Christie van der Haak in Gallery Maurits van de Laar, Herderstraat 6, The Hague, 2014.
Photography by Eric de Vries
2. Detail of installation at CBK Amsterdam, 2011.
Photography by Hugo Rompa
3. Floor installation, Amstelveen, 2011.
Commissioned by Jola Cooney and Steve Brugge Kunstcommissie SVB.
4. Detail of installation on a cloth of Christie van der Haak in Gallery Maurits van de Laar, Herderstraat 6, The Hague, 2014.
Photography by Eric de Vries
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos