SUSAN SILAS
     

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© 2011 by Susan Silas
           

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As a child, my bedroom was covered with reproductions of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, torn from an art book in my parents library. It seems to me that at an early age, two of the core values that would inform me throughout my life and career had already established themselves—a love of beauty and love for the female heroine at the center of meaning. Later there were ample quotations from writings and rock and roll lyrics added to the walls. For me, image making and writing remain intertwined.

I received an MFA from California Institute of the Arts in 1983, just in the wake of the Pictures Generation. I was included in some wonderful group shows early in my career at: White Columns in New York, Margo Levin in Los Angeles, The New Museum in New York, New Langton Arts in San Francisco, and The Renaissance Society in Chicago among others. I had three solo shows with José Freire in New York, a solo show with Stephen Wirtz Gallery in San Francisco and a solo show with Galerie Antoine Candau in Paris.

My project, Helmbrechts walk, 1998-2003, was a turning point in my career as an artist. In 1998, I retraced, on foot, the steps of a group of women prisoners who, at the close of the second World War, were marched from a satellite concentration camp in the town of Helmbrechts to a town in what is now the Czech Republic 225 miles away. After 22 days, with the allies at their heels, as they neared the town of Prachatice their guards abandoned them. 95 women died along the way. My project is a non-monumental memorial to these women created by the act of using my body to index the space they had occupied, suffered through and died in, during April and May of 1945. This work has traveled all over Europe and has been shown in the United States and Canada and is the subject of a chapter in two books as well as several dissertations and scholarly publications.

I was very conscious of the fact that I was using my body as an index in Helmbrechts walk. My next body of work used a surrogate for my body. I was not conscious of this slippage at first, but after a while, looking at my own images, I understood that these dead and decaying birds were stand-ins for the bodies of the dead that were discovered rotting in concentration camps all over Europe. Those images were so deeply lodged in my memory from childhood that I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about them. Here they crept out slowly in the form of new images meant to connect the present with that past. This connection, between my ongoing series found birds and the Holocaust was astutely analyzed in an essay by G. Roger Denson titled Holocaust and Redemption in the Photography of Susan Silas, that appeared in Huffington Post, on April 5, 2011, the eve of my first solo exhibition with CB1 Gallery in Los Angeles.

As the portfolio of found birds expanded I also started to use my own body more directly again. love in the ruins; sex over 50, was begun the year that I turned 50 and my husband turned 62. This work is an ongoing diary of aging and sexuality and new images are added to the project regularly. Around the same time I began working seriously with images of myself. This body of work is titled the self-portrait sessions. I feel the urgency of this work increase as I see myself and my friends aging because the representation of aging, especially of aging women, seems so limited and tied to outdated notions of the possible. This project includes works of video, the yearly casting of my face in plaster and the creation of bronze and beeswax sculptures from those casts, ongoing portraits in front of the mirror, photographs of myself in 3D space taken from a full body scan and the creation of a life size classical marble sculpture, titled Aging Venus.

Part of my project as an artist is to raise the visibility of other women artists. In February 2012, the artist Chrysanne Stathacos and I launched the artblog MOMMY. The idea was to create a platform, in an interview format, that functions as an appreciation of women artists who have been working for at least 20 years. To date we have interviewed Linda Montano, Cathy Busby, Betty Tompkins, Barbara Yoshida, Robin Kahn, Alison Knowles, Bharti Kher, Judith Braun, Arahmaiani, Silvia Kolbowski, Bettina Lockemann, PerryBard, Carla Gannis, Judith Bernstein, Nancy Friedemann, and published a letter from Ida Applebroog.

I am an essayist and in keeping with this same commitment to give women artists more attention, I have been writing for Hyperallergic online since 2012. Nearly all of the exhibitions I have written about have been by women artists.

I have been interviewed by the Yale University Radio, Rabble magazine, the BBC, ArtonAir, Adult Magazine and Digital Dying and my work has been featured in Anti-Utopias, Camera Austria, Fotómúvészet and Artnet Magazine and reviewed in Artforum, Art in America, Village Voice, The New Yorker and Hyperallergic. I have been awarded fellowships at Everglades National Park, New Space Arts Foundation in Hue, Vietnam, The MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Ucross Foundation. 

I am a dual Hungarian and American national living and working in Brooklyn, New York.











 
the self-portraits sessions_Yaddo session, 2011