Susan Stockwell is an established international artist working across sculpture, installation and film. Her practice is concerned with examining social and colonial histories and engaging with questions of social justice, feminism and materiality. Susan's art employs the material culture of everyday domestic and manufacturing products, such as toilet paper, recycled computer components, maps and money and she transform these seemingly banal products into compelling artworks. In seeking to reconnect an object’s past, its related history and materiality with contemporary issues, her practice underscores these materials’ urgent interconnection to collective memories, desires and ecological shortfalls; aspects that evoke, expose and challenge inequality and injustice.
Susan’s interest in the politics of feminism and the body has led to a series of dress sculpture, the most recent of which is Territory Dress, 2018 commissioned for the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. Maps that reference Dutch colonial history are fashioned into the shape of a regal dress, and small model boats and maps of significant territories are concealed inside the neck, womb and train. In 2019 Susan made a film from Territory Dress that explores the sculpture and juxtaposes it with archival film of past seafaring imagery. It is as if the figure is remembering her history and making imaginary connections. This work is featured in two recent books 50 Women Sculptors and Provenance.
Sail Painting at the Royal Shakespeare Company (Stratford Upon Avon 2015) was a large scale site-specific installation that hung in the front of the theatre atrium spaces. The result of Susan’s year long residency there, it consisted of 32 appropriated and hand crafted sails, made from old plastic food sacks, which hung at various angles in the multi-level building. Seen from different vantage points the viewer felt they could be walking inside a three dimensional abstract painting.
Sail Away in the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall (Hyperlink Festival, London, 2013) consisted of hundreds of small boats made from old paper currency, travel tickets and maps, forming a large flotilla that snaked along the floor of this voluminous space. The used money notes had been handled by many thousands of people over their life spans and the scratches, pen marks and rubbed away textures all contributed to the piece's sense of collective social history. During the exhibition 800 people came and made and added their boats to the flotilla.
Flood (York 2010) was made from four tons of recycled computer components that were arranged in a huge cascading conical shape inside the alter area of St Mary's, a de-consecrated 13th century church in York. The computers were dissected and their innards were exposed revealing the underbelly of the machines we take for granted; an autopsy of our consumer society. An important element in the large scale installations is that the materials are often borrowed to make the work and returned to the recycling company/ sponsor once the exhibition has ended. Susan chose these everyday 'commodity' materials because they contain 'stains of existence' and act as ready-made signifiers, which I sculpt and interweave in ways that delicately reveal their obscured politics, environmental harm and hidden beauty.
The Curator and Architect Grace Chung describes the work's gently revealing nature - "Accumulation, transformation, detritus, debris, everyday materials are all recurrent themes in Stockwell's work. Meticulously hand-crafted, the benign sublime beauty in the work belies the devastating effects of our culture and our role in shaping it. Look more closely, and one is confronted by a cultural urgency of global-proportions. Political and cultural colonisation, globalised waste and consumption are reconfigured by Stockwell's work into a new festering eco system of meaning that slowly seeps like the rising ocean level.” From the text for the exhibition 'B-side Ecology', MIMI Space at the Hong's Foundation for Education and Culture, Taipei, Taiwan, 2008.
Gallery owner Patrick Heide, who regularly shows Susan’s work, describes it in the following way: "Su has become a central position in the program, despite and I assume also because many of her projects are so courageous that they are more suited for institutional exhibitions. What I admire most about Su's work and her approach is her integrity. Su tackles very diverse and controversial contemporary topics such as gender issues, wounds of the colonial past, immigration and civil liberties, yet manages to remain sincere and balanced, even fair. Su's choice of medium and process is usually complex and carefully considered, often historically charged; the message is always calm and powerful.”
Susan is best known for her site-specific installations and dress sculptures that have been exhibited widely, including; Warrington Museum and Art Gallery (2020/2021), the Royal Shakespeare Company (2015), TATE Modern (2013), the Katonah Museum of Art, New York (2012), the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2010, 2005, 2001) and her work is held in international collections including; the University of Bedfordshire, Black Rock Investments (Courtesy of Tag Fine Arts), Yale Centre for British Art, USA, the National Army Museum, London and the Stichting Museum van Wereldculturen & Tropenmuseum Amsterdam, NL. She has also taught extensively and taken part in residencies and projects in Europe, America, Australia and Asia. As well as working regularly with Patrick Heide Contemporary Art, Susan is supported by The Artists Agency and also works with Tag Fine Arts. She gained an MA in sculpture from the Royal College of Art in 1993 and lives and works in London.