A new body of works from sculptor Susie MacMurray opens next week at Pangolin London.
Murmur is a compelling collection of striking, tactile and thought-provoking sculptures and installations, alongside intricate drawings, and new bronze and silver works created in a first-time collaboration with foundry Pangolin Editions.
Delicate, sensuous velvet contrasts with rusty barbed wire often reclaimed from battlefields or training grounds; soft round droplets of white wax are painstakingly placed at the ends of sleek lengths of black wire – there is no hierarchy of material in MacMurray’s work, rather a refreshing transformation.
The title work, Murmur, (detail, above) is an ambitious installation made of ostrich feathers whose tips have been dipped in wax and hang on tiny sharp fish hooks and piano wire. It will cover the entire length of the gallery swirling and changing direction like an avian murmuration, like a flock of birds being freed. Opposing characteristics play off one another: large scale yet meticulously detailed; tactile yet fragile, a contradiction, yet the outcome makes perfect sense.
Susie MacMurray is a British artist whose work includes drawing, sculpture and architectural installations. A former classical musician, she retrained as an artist, graduating with an MA in Fine Art in 2001. She lives in Manchester and has an international exhibition profile, showing regularly in the USA and Europe as well as the UK.
She is known for her major installation pieces such as Shell, where 20,000 mussel shells each stuffed with a tuft of crimson, silk velvet filled the stairwell of Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, or Echo, a work made of hairnets and violin bow hair, which hung from the ceiling of St Mary’s Church in York, like droplets forming a cloud.
MacMurray describes her creative process as a search for something she hasn’t seen or realised before. Finding that point where chaos and order are finally balanced, because that’s where energy is, where change happens and where anything is possible. Her practise is about trying to find those spaces in the cracks that are unexplored.
MacMurray has worked on a number of intricate garment sculptures, such as Widow (2009) – where she individually inserted 43kg of adamantine dressmaker pins painstakingly through a black leather skin forming a seductively glittering evening dress – on display at Manchester City Art Gallery, or her acclaimed wedding dress A Mixture of Frailties (2004), made from hundreds of rubber gloves turned inside out.
MacMurray’s work has always been a process of self-healing and a response to what is happening in her present. In the last few months of lockdown, strong feelings of being helpless and trapped have significantly influenced this new body of work. Having been starved of physical human contact during lockdown, the artist has also been particularly drawn back towards velvet – an undeniably tactile and comforting material to work with.
MacMurray’s method of making merges carefully selected evocative and emotionally dense materials. Whether working with hairnets, feathers, velvet, wax or barbed wire, the artist explores the vulnerability and resilience of humanity. The materials used are ephemeral in themselves, and she likens this to our own mortality and the transient nature of life.
Isolation has also meant that MacMurray has continued to explore the relationship between mothers and children – the joy and pride of letting children go and allowing them to take flight, and the desolation of being left behind. Soft and fulsome shapes are juxtaposed with sharp, jagged or rough forms making works that are beautiful but not entirely benign. A recurring theme throughout the exhibition, this has fed into a fairy tale sense of magic whispers, passing on both tales of caution and wisdom. Through the artist’s hands and use of materials, MacMurray wants to capture and encourage in the viewer a child-like sense of wonder at ‘our amazing yet terrifying world’.
A former classical musician and alchemist at heart, MacMurray has a talent for sensitively combining materials much as a conductor brings together an orchestra. She asks, ‘How can we be here, so strong, powerful, full of life and energy, so confident as a species and yet so desperately fragile?’
Drawing is an important part of MacMurray’s work, as a means of meditative practice and material examination. In addition to her large pen & ink work she also plays with watercolour and draws on a more intimate scale. Having started drawing as a very personal self-healing process, the first objects she responded to were torn pieces of net curtain – wounded, damaged, and coming apart at the seams. Over time, the works began to ‘take flight’ and became more about containing, vulnerability and safety.
The series of Gauze Bandage drawings in this exhibition reference dancing, wanting to fly and to be free, and accepting that things can be ragged – all the while capturing fragments of undiscovered beauty.
The artist’s musical background inevitably influences her work. She describes her creative process as being about ‘tuning’ an object, which ends up being a piece that couldn’t be any other way. She searches for a frisson between the tensions, rhythms, echoes and conversations between two materials. MacMurray’s experience as a professional musician and a member of the Halle Orchestra has given the artist an eye for materials such as horsehair from violins, sheet music, or piano wire, but also shown her the value of working collaboratively.
Collaborating for the first time with Pangolin Editions foundry has brought further diversity to MacMurray’s sculpture. Her new series of delicate carapaces first made in wax in her studio have been cast into bronze, with the smaller pieces transformed into sterling silver to create brooches.
Susie MacMurray – Murmur
21st October – 22nd December 2020
Pangolin London, Kings Place, 90 York Way, N1 9AG