Artist Statement 2019
I make sculpture, installation, collage, film and drawings. I have exhibited widely in the UK and internationally including at the Royal Shakespeare Company (2015), the TATE Modern (2013), the Katonah Museum of Art, New York (2012) and the Victoria and Albert Museum (2010, 2005, 2001) among many other places.
I am best known for my site-specific installations and sculptures shown in galleries, museums and public spaces like tube stations and churches. These works employ the material culture of everyday domestic and manufacturing products, such as toilet paper, recycled computer components, rubber, tea, maps and paper currency from around the world and I transform these seemingly banal products into compelling artworks. In seeking to reconnect an object’s past, its related history and materiality with contemporary issues, my practice underscores these materials’ urgent interconnection to collective memories, desires and ecological shortfalls; aspects that evoke, expose and challenge features of social, racial and gender inequality and injustice.
The work also arises out of my interest in the political forces that have come to shape our world from colonialism to the social movements of the 19th and 20th century. This has led me to research international trade and cultural mapping and I have made artwork in response to this. I have also linked this research to the politics of feminism and the body. An example of this is 'Territory Dress', 2018 a commission for the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam where 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 of the dress.
As stated, the work consists of manufactured domestic products (carefully sourced from around the world). These materials are often organised into monumental shapes like stacks, cascades, seas and windswept constellations. The display of large quantities of this material invokes a notion of collective history and memory. Three examples of installations where I have sourced pre-used materials that hint at this sense of collectivity are 'Sail Painting', 'Flood' and 'Sail Away’:
'Sail Painting' at the Royal Shakespeare Company (Stratford Upon Avon 2015) was a large scale site-specific installation that hung in the public atrium spaces in front of the theatre and was made as a result of my year long residency there (2014-2015). 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 (London 2013) consisted of hundreds of small boats made from old paper currency, travel tickets and maps that formed a large-scale 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.
'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 or sponsor once the exhibition has ended. For example I made a body of work from industrial scale toilet tissue (1990's)-sponsored by Kimberly-Clark, which was returned to them to be recycled. I 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 describes my practice 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.”
I gained an MA in sculpture from the Royal College of Art, London in 1993. My work is held in international collections and I exhibit in galleries and museums all over the world (see CV). I have been awarded scholarships, grants and commissions such as a Visiting Arts Taiwan-England Artists Fellowship and commissions from the University of Bedfordshire, Black Rock Investments, the National Army Museum and the Stichting Museum van Wereldculturen & Tropenmuseum Amsterdam, NL. I have taught extensively and taken part in residencies and projects in Europe, America, Australia and Asia. I teach part-time at the University of East London am based in London, UK.