Suzanne Husky planted herself in San Francisco after spending much of her life in Bordeaux, France. She is known for her delightful recycled fabric trees, but she has also documented people living off the grid, and made marmalade for the masses. Recently, she even created a musical project that helped set our troubled environment back on course. Emmanuel and I invaded her Dog Patch studio to find out what's next for this artist who is doing her part to make things right with the world.
Tell us about the different mediums you work with.
"I'd say there are three major ones. One is sculpture with textiles, which I've done a lot of, and I always go back to. And then I have a documentary practice that I'm leaning more and more towards. I've documented a lot of environmental activists, first in the East Bay and then in France -- people who sculpt their houses out of recycled materials. I use recycled materials to sculpt, and they sculpt their homes out of recycled material. So for me, they are continuous things that feed one another. Also because I spend a lot of time in the studio, I need a lot of outdoor time, or I go nuts. It's a balance. And then sometimes I do actions."
When you say "actions," do you mean performance?
"I prefer calling it "actions." Right now I'm working on a few things -- I'm trying to have choirs sing in the forest. I did it recently during a residency where we worked with scientists specializing in global warming in the Pyrenees Mountains. One of the facts that the scientists were telling us is that the leaves stay on the trees longer because of global warming. The summers are extended, so the leaves just stay. But by staying, they also contribute to global warming because they're holding the heat underneath the forest; it's a vicious circle. So I asked a choir to sing winter songs to the forest, just to give it ideas of losing the leaves. I really enjoyed working that way because it's like blowing in the wind, or just doing something really stupid. But at the same time, the choir was super motivated to do it, which was weird because asking a random choir to just go in the forest and sing is kind of bizarre. But they were really excited, and it froze the next morning. It's funny to entertain the idea that there's potentially a communication with plants and nature like that."
Does all of your work address environmental issues?
"In a broader way -- those people who decide to live off the grid and sculpt their houses with recycled material -- what I want to highlight is the philosophical choice of living with almost nothing, and being happy with almost nothing. It's the aesthetic of simplicity and poverty that I like to highlight as well. So that's probably more the social aspect of globalization, or one of the choices of how to respond to globalization, more generally than just environmental crisis."
Selection from Modernes Vies Sauvages series
"I love to spend time with those people. After I studied art, I studied horticulture in order to put my actions where my words were. They're not people who talk about making change, they just do it. And most often they do it in very solitary ways. I do make the parallel between an artist's isolation, and living out that philosophy in a solitary way. It is socially alienating, but ethically right."
Selection from Modernes Vies Sauvages series
Tell us about the fabric people you made with the photo faces -- are those people you know?
"Yes, I started with friends and artists' friends. I made a lot of them. I did a whole installation with them called, You Make Me Make You. In a lot of ways I think sculpture is like drawing and for me, there's not really a bridge. For example the drawing that's at the SF Arts Commission Gallery right now is something that's going to happen in 3D soon."
Selection from You Make Me Make You exhibit
Will you build that scene similarly to the way you make the recycled fabric trees, but with little structures hiding among them like in the Sleeper Cell Hotel drawing?
"No, it would be human size. Ideally it would actually be a hotel."
Sleeper Cell Hotel
See Suzanne Husky's work at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery's Chain Reaction 11 exhibition through May 16, 2010 and at Intersection for the Arts' Spare Some Change group show opening April 21, 2010. She will also be an artist-in-residence at the San Francisco Recycling and Disposal Center from October 2010-January 2011.