Eleanor Suess is a transdisciplinary practitioner situated between art and architecture. Her focused mediums are digital video, cyanotype photograms and installation, based at Grafton Quarter, Croydon. Eleanor explores the nature of architectural representation and the viewer’s spatial and temporal readings of such mediating artefacts. She has a PhD from Central St Martins and degrees in fine art and architecture. She has work ‘Drawing in Space, Light, Time’ in the online exhibition “Drawn to Time” with the Drawing Research Network. After exhibiting ‘The Cube at Scale’ in the Cube Gallery at ASC Art House, she is now exhibiting these works at 4M2 gallery in Peckham until August 31.
What’s your biggest influence on your practice?
My practice is most influenced by my own transdisciplinary background. I studied fine art at an architecture school, going on to produce film and installation artwork as part of my subsequent architectural studies. I now teach within a school of architecture and completed a PhD in an art school. Working and being grounded in the disciplines of art and architecture allows my work to learn from, and in turn inform each discipline.
Is there a starting point for your practice?
All my work is responsive to found conditions or objects. Even the work with cyanotypes always starts with something found. This aspect of my practice is one of the architectural elements of my process – good architecture starts with site (amongst other things), and an understanding of place through forms of documentation and research.
Does place inform your work?
Much of my practice is explicitly site responsive, and so specific places are very important to this work. I chose my studio in the Art House partly because of the views out the windows of the adjacent factories. I knew immediately that this would form the subject of work and I have made several pieces about this – a moving image installation and an artist’s digital film. It has also influenced my work with model reconstruction of places of making and exhibition – one of these is a 1:15 model replica of my Art House studio which can be placed in the real studio windows and the live view of the factory wall becomes an important part of the interior view of the model.
Tell us about a piece you are currently working on
I recently completed a piece that was exhibited in ASC Art House’s Cube Gallery last month. This piece is a continuation of my work, making model reconstructions of site of artistic production and exhibition. My work is fundamentally about the nature of architectural representation, and the perceptual construction of “space” in viewing models, model photographs and films, and the viewer’s potential physical relationship with a scaled version of the room in which they bodily inhabit.
The installation in the ASC Cube Gallery is a response to the physical artefact of the “Cube” interpreting it as a 1:1 model sitting within the Art House double-height break out space. Its status as both art object and work of architecture is then echoed in the response, and the works housed within it can be similarly considered to be an art/architecture hybrid. Exhibited in each of the Cube’s four vitrine windows is a different form and scale of architectural model reconstruction of the Cube Gallery itself.
1:5 – A large, realistic 1:5 model fills one of the vitrines, and then itself becomes a new “gallery” – in the main window sits a 1:5 replica of the larger model, and within that another replica, and so on until the model is just a few millimetres on each side. This starts to destabilize the reading of what is real, and what is model, and ultimately brings the full-sized Cube Gallery within the scope of the artwork. In the other two visible 1:5 model vitrine windows, a series of other “exhibits” are housed, all of which refer to Eleanor’s wider practice.
1:10 – This 1:10 model explores light and structure – translucent cladding reveals the timber structure, and the m2 display windows are expanded to form full cubes, constructed out of arrangements of solid acrylic blocks. The bottom lighting makes the model glow, and the acrylic blocks reflect and refract this light.
1:20 – This dissected 1:20 model sets up a relationship between solid and void. The open frame element demonstrates the tectonics of the original Cube gallery structure, its symmetry and repetition becoming an abstraction. The plaster cast model “mummifies the voids” (Whiteread) within the curtilage of the original object – this emphasises the “spire” roof, making a more explicit link back to the structure’s architectural precedent.
1:1 – The fourth vitrine contains imagery generated from the 3d digital model (modelled at a virtual 1:1 scale) which had been made to understand the construction of the full-sized object and calculate how much balsa was needed for the various scales of model. A line perspective of the model with transparent boards has been manually traced onto the glass using four line weights. From just the right spot the lines give the viewer an “x-ray” view of the 1:1 structure.
Is narrative important in your work?
The question of narrative is important to my work – we often assume that narrative means the telling of individual or collective human stories, but the concept of narrative can extend beyond the anthropocentric. In architecture, making good places for people is at the heart of the discipline, but the narratives of those inhabitants, our architectural products are formed and owned by those individuals. The architectural narratives that architects create – narratives of light, material, space, sequence, scale (and many more!) – ultimately contribute to but don’t dictate those human narratives. In my work I explore those architectural narratives, all the while remembering that they ultimately exist through the experience of a human dweller of architectural space.
What’s your fondest memory from a movie?
I wouldn’t call this a “movie” as that word assumes narrative entertainment forms of filmmaking, but seeing Michael Snow’s 1967 artists’ film Wavelength as a fine art student in Australia in the 1990’s was especially formative for me. Initially apprehensive of watching Wavelength (a 45-minute zoom across a room did not sound like an enjoyable viewing experience to someone new to avant-garde filmmaking), I unexpectedly found myself mesmerised. While appreciative of the filmic subject, I was particularly struck by the architectural experience of viewing the film, and this was instrumental in the development of my critical practice and recognition of the link between such art practices and architecture. This film has heavily influenced my practice in the years since, and I have undertaken architectural analyses of the film for several publications.
Do you like mistakes?
Very much so! As so much of my work is experimental, “mistakes” can often present new opportunities. A straightforward example is in one of my cyanotype prints of glass milk bottles – one of the bottles still has some water inside after being rinsed out and this spilled out when the bottle was inverted for placing on the cyanotype paper. The result of this was a white patch on the print where the water has washed away the chemical, making it appear as if milk had been spilt from the bottle.
What piece of music is a constant in your studio?
I vary what I play but for a few weeks at a time I will listen to the same album when arriving at the studio. Recent albums have been Laurie Anderson’s Big Science (a favourite of mine since I was an undergraduate fine art student) and Roxy Music’s Avalon. Nick Cave is probably my favourite though, and Ghosteen has been getting a lot of plays, although I have recently gone back to Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus. Often though I work to more abstract music such as Max Richter, Philip Glass, Cliff Martinez, Nils Frahms. Oh, and Leonard Cohen of course!
Do you collect anything in particular?
I collect interestingly shaped pieces of moulded cardboard packaging to use for experiments, filming these as if they were architectural models. For a while I was collecting single use plastic packaging for making cyanotype photograms.
Is your work where you want it to be?
As a fundamentally experimental, process-focussed practice my work is always evolving. While I enjoy “completed” pieces for their own sake, they are also, for me embodiments of the process that went into their making. Reflecting on that work often sparks new ideas for my practice. Exhibiting and sharing work allows me to understand how others respond to it, and how it might “speak” to its viewers, enabling them to construct meaning from their process of active viewing.
Tell us about a project, achievement or development you’re proud of.
Perhaps the best answers to this relate to education. My recent completion of my PhD, largely undertaken while working nearly full time as a lecturer is a personal achievement – taking up my Art House studio was fundamental to the evolution of the practice that was at the core of the thesis. However, I write this having just concluded the end of year assessment processes for our architecture students, and I was astounded by the quality of work, especially given it has been such a tough year for our students. So, I am immensely proud of them, and of having contributed a little bit to supporting them in the making of this work.
Is there any advice you were given that you would like to share?
I think the advice that impacted me most was about taking responsibility for oneself. While many things in life are out of our control, we are non-the-less active agents in our own lives. Mistakes or “failures” can be reflected upon and learnt from, and restrictions in our circumstances, while frustrating, can also be seen as opportunities.