“As humans we are so clumsy,” says Susan Calza, “[but] we also have this incredible influence. “In a recent phone interview, the artist from Montpellier shared information about her current exhibition,” DON’T PRETEND, It’s Ordinary Gold “at Axel’s Gallery & Frame Shop in Waterbury Using gold as a central metaphor, the interdisciplinary artist has designed a delightfully peculiar personal installation featuring recent works of sculpture, drawing, painting and textiles. It is a portal to a vast career guided by enchantment and intuition.
“A lot of the work is about deception,” Calza said. The title of the exhibition is an amalgamation of two of his works; “LET’S NOT PRETEND” is a soft sculpture of Harris Tweed jackets that the artist found in thrift stores. After hoarding the high-end coats but unable to find wearers, Calza explained, she found herself cramming them into each other.
Back then, she said, she had thought about the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State (Jerry Sandusky) and the multiple layers humans put together to cover up often ugly realities. On the left side of the outermost jacket, she embroidered the words “Let’s not pretend”.
In the other work referenced in the exhibition title, “It’s Ordinary Gold,” Calza again uses reused materials, but they serve as talismanic accents in a larger installation. Nine walls surround a small, inaccessible room, visible through three windows.
Calza specifically chose an odd number of sides for the artwork: “When you open a door, you never see a flat face,” she said. “I didn’t want your eye to rest really comfortably. I wanted you to have to move your eyes to shake your brain a bit.
Small objects adorn the exterior walls of the nonagon; Calza selected them to sort of match the wallpaper on the other side of the panel. Among the objects are a spinning top and a micrometer, both gilded with gold. The visual confusion suggests not only Calza’s elevation from the humble toy and tool, but also his challenge of gold as a symbol of human power: “Gold is really ordinary,” she said. . “It’s just a fucking mineral.”
Calza’s penchant for sometimes cheeky recovery is evident throughout the exhibition, from an oversized ball of wool on a pedestal (“Happy Medium”) to the inflated hanging sculpture titled “Mama”. Calza made the latter using a 12-foot-long handmade Afghan blanket that she bought from a thrift store for a dollar – she couldn’t leave “her” behind, she said. To breathe new life into the stereotypical matronly household item made from grandma’s squares, Calza threaded strips of golden yellow paper through the knitted yarn.
Another large sculpture, also made from recycled textiles, hangs in front of “Mama”. Calza created “9000 Is Enough” by tearing his collection of vintage handkerchiefs and other white and cream linens into strips, then knotting them 9,000 times. “All of my work is pretty obsessive,” she admitted.
However, unlike many artists who express a sense of longing and love for salvaged objects, Calza seems to reject preciousness. She did “Black Box Dramas”, sumi ink drawings that line the gallery walls, using her non-dominant hand. “I found I was getting too tight, too controlled,” Calza said. “I wanted to access a deeper emotional and psychological level with [these drawings]. ”
Depicting a variety of figures – a baby and its mother, children, floating demon heads – the works have a fluid, fragmented and dreamlike quality.
A deep political and at the same time more intimate anguish underlies this spectacle. During a conversation, Calza speaks about a global awareness, from the exploitation of South African gold miners to air pollution in Beijing. His “Middle East Series” – clay tabletop sculptures sprinkled with gold – distinctly mimics family structures, referencing the widespread violent destruction of communities in this region. “Gotcha, Election 2016” is almost hiding in the gallery window. In it, a vaguely menacing, jack-in-the-box-like figure stands above the doorway of a small, square paper home.
Calza shows a supernatural talent for turning highly political matters into highly personalized protests. There is nothing on the nose. There is no moralism, only the conscious creation of objects which can be both frustrating and user-friendly. With genuine awe, Calza has formed a poetic puzzle that invites viewers to navigate human contradictions, consumerism, and the bewildering question of how we construct beauty and value.