Susan Norrie

Susan Norrie, ERR: Element one & Element two (installation view), 1999

Susan Norrie, ERR: Element one & Element two (installation view), 1999

Susan Norrie (b.1953, Sydney) has consistently explored states of mind through her use of materials and space. In her first critically acknowledged paintings in the late 1970s she developed her earlier collaged abstractions into deep relief compositions based on paraphernalia from a woman’s dressing table. These images were intensely claustrophobic, the familiar forms of powder puff or pearls slipping all too easily into a queasy semblance of flesh. In subsequent paintings the material excesses of these compositions gave way to a fascination with memory, which became the repressed presence in fantastic and often grotesque images. These forms served as metaphors for psychic states in which consciousness begins to slide out of control, dissolving the corporeal boundary between a claustrophobic interior and a monstrous exterior landscape.

In more recent work, Norrie has used installations to stimulate responses and associations in the viewer. Her objects animate their environments like furnishings in a domestic environment, yet defy the logic of such functional objects. Black, shiny surfaces and frames, or cabinets that can have no access, transform these locations into blank, mnemonic sites waiting to be filled in with unacknowledged memories. Norrie has recently been working with films that are edited and slowed down to intensify the visual and atmospheric effects. The rooms in which the films are shown function as installations.

The claustrophobic presence of the image is an effect of its relative scale, while the furnishings of the space further enhance this impression. A powerful theme linking all these works is the generation of profoundly disturbing psychic experiences. Norrie often explores states such as epilepsy and trance, triggering our own latent terror at any slippage between consciousness and the unconscious.

Susan Norrie presented a new film installation in which there were two images. One was projected and was large enough to allow the viewer to experience a bodily sense of compression in the space. The other was shown on a smaller screen set into the wall. The room was painted gloosy brown, again to produce a sense of claustrophobia while emphasising the uniformity of the space. The images – which combined archival footage with fictional material – dealt with human tragedy and personal trauma.

The wall projection included footage taken from films and documentaries that dealt with Chernobyl and other nuclear disasters. The small monitor set into the wall showed a slowed down sequence from the scene in Woody Allen’s Interiors where the mother is taping gaps around the windows before attempting suicide. She is both sealing herself into her tomb and desperately trying to keep out whatever constitutes her greatest fear. When the film is slowed down, the sound of ripping tape became ugly and threatening. As symmetrical images of entrapment, both films linked life and death to the obsessive preservation and rupturing of spatial boundaries.

Susan Norrie at Liverpool Biennial 1999

ERR: Element one & Element two,
Manipulated video records
Courtesy of the Artist and Mori, Sydney