Susan Meyer - 3rd Place, ArtSlant Prize 2012
It’s somehow appropriate that we’re showing Susan Meyer’s work at an art fair inside a hotel. Hotel art fairs have a unique social sensibility to them: doors flung wide, friends and strangers alike moving fluidly in and out of what would normally be closed-off, separate private spaces. This lends the whole affair a feeling of intimacy, coupled with the slight sensation of breaching boundaries, which leads to conversations and interactions that you wouldn’t normally experience at traditional art fairs.
Susan Meyer’s installations have a similar quality. As you walk into ArtSlant’s room at Aqua Art Fair in Miami, you’ll be confronted by a large-scale architectural model of a ruined complex, with stacks of hexagonal structures built of disintegrating concrete, replete with foliage, and populated by miniature human figures. The figures in Meyer’s sculptures, however, unlike the “people textures” or “scalies” that inhabit renderings in architectural parlance, are nude. Their nakedness disrupts our view of the model, rather than seamlessly suggesting scale and habitability. Their interactions are charged with a surreal sense of otherness, and the spaces surrounding them take on a somewhat disturbing quality. It’s almost as though their behavior is caused by the architectural spaces they inhabit: the abundance of public space and the absence of typical architectural divisions of function and form.
Susan Meyer in her studio; Courtesy of the artist.
Meyer’s Plato’s Retreat and her other installations are partially inspired by her research into experimental communities, from New York’s Oneida community in the mid-1800’s to Drop City in Colorado in the 1960’s. Her figures’ nakedness, besides offering a disruptive visual effect, comments on the unconventional views towards human sexuality that were often espoused in these utopian communities. “Freedom in relation to sexuality was part of the draw of the communes,” Meyer says, “but also part of their demise.” The cycle of utopian desire to dystopian disintegration is what primarily interests Meyer: “There is something about life and civilization being a series of ups and downs rather than a steady march toward betterment—the grotesque as opposed to modernism, [according to] Robert Storr.” The figures and their environments represent, in Meyer’s words, the prospect and inevitability of “striving for your potential, but still failing a bit.”
There’s a bit of science fiction to her installations and sculptures—the unnatural, sometimes futuristic settings, the unconventional attitudes and behaviors displayed by the figures—but, just like science fiction, this is a reflection of our own civilization, brought to extremes, a way of exploring alternate realities. But unlike other artists’ and architects’ representations of utopian ideals of social organization through architecture, these are metaphorical, not practical models. Meyer insists that these pieces don’t exactly comprise a critique of architecture or society, but rather a reflection. “This is us,” she says.
Susan Meyer is a Colorado-based artist who makes fantastical environments and sculptures that explore tensions between the communal and individual. Her most recent installations explore Brutalist architecture and Corbusier’s machines for living, which are known as much for their mixed public reception as their harsh beauty. Meyer has exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, Artspace in New Haven, CT, the Islip Art Museum Carriage House in East Islip, NY and Redux Contemporary Art Center in Charleston, South Carolina. Meyer received a B.S. in Studio Art from Skidmore College and a M.F.A. in Painting from the Boston Museum School and Tufts University. She is a Lecturer at the University of Denver’s School of Art and Art History where she teaches Drawing and Foundations.
(Image on top: Susan Meyer, Plato's Retreat, 5' x 6.25' x 5.4', Concrete, cardboard, acrylic, HO-scale figures, led lights, paint, plants; © 2012.)