Sue Wrbican

Washington D.C. | by October 24, 2016

Sue Wrbican‘s studio is nestled in the Arts Walk at Monroe Street Market a project developed by CulturalDC. The studios are located in the Brookland neighborhood of N.E. Washington D.C. just steps from Catholic University. This area has experienced a surge of commercial development over the past few years not least of which includes spacious store front artist studios, cafes and shops and a huge Barnes and Noble on Monroe Street. I first met Sue several years ago when I was invited by the George Mason University’s School of Art to join one of their final semester graduate art critiques where Sue is a Professor of Photography. Her work as a photographer, she explains, “is a process of one thing leading to the next”. For example the inspiration behind an old sail that had been given to her and how it led to notions of weather, destruction, and life. These ideas then connected to more seemingly fated inspirations such as seeing a painting by Surrealist artist Kay Sage titled “In The Third Sleep” which features a folded white fabric resembling two sails of a sailboat.  The philosophical, visual and material connections began to come together in two manifestations. We sat down together — she at her desk and me on the sofa, as she talked about the development of both Biography of Catastrophe and The Eventual Outcome of an Instant.

A framed photo from Biography of Catastrophe.I enjoy working beginnings toward unpredictable endings. Biography of Catastrophe traces movement through thought, time and circumstance. This process, an incremental reverberation between fantasy and reality as conditions impinge on intentions, forms a continuous conversation with weather, force and materiality. An undertow of natural destruction creates opportunities for new situations. In her book A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit speaks of the word ‘catastrophe’ as coming ‘from the Greek kata, or down, and streiphen, or turning over … an upset of what is expected and was originally used to mean a plot twist.’ This work follows a series of rich occurrences that prompted responses furthering the initial discovery and in this case the tent in the hurricane, to another place, another time and another dimension.”

The Eventual Outcome of an Instant is an outgrowth of the work I was doing with the hurricanes and sails and subsequently led me to the work of Kay Sage, a Surrealist painter. While the sculptures draw Sage’s charged landscape paintings into a third dimension, the photographs provide yet a fourth dimension implied through the interstitial lens of time and history. In 2015 I used wood salvaged from a fire that destroyed a local lumberyard to construct a piece on the property of Kurt and Arlette Seligmann, a place she once visited often with her husband Yves Tanguy. After being offered the lumber I found it curious to learn that Sage, prior to creating her painting in 1955, Tomorrow is Never, dreamt of burning scaffolds.”

Maquettes and photos

Sue’s work does lead you to think of connections of thought and material and how they mutually influence the progress and development of a cohesive project. What impresses me the most is how this sail led her to design and build a larger than life wooden structure (after making numerous maquettes) now permanently installed at the Seligmann Center in Sugar Loaf, New York. Her energy to see these connections and to garner enthusiasm within her language and amongst other artists, students and colleagues is remarkable. It’s refreshing to see work that is inspired by issues specific to the environment — work that asks questions and exists potently present as a sculptural form and evidence of genuine in-depth research and collaboration. I asked Sue what are some of her biggest challenges as an artist?

Sue in her studio

Sue in her studio

“I guess money and time are my biggest challenges! The D.C. Metro area is not an easy place to practice however it’s inspiring and wealthy with great resources for research. I’m lucky to have a studio at Monroe Street and it’s been one of the best things to happen in my life. Space, as we know, is a huge issue for the artist community here. Considering the issue of time, though, since my practice always asks for the next step, I’m continuously looking for cues that are not immediately visible and the desire to follow them can be often curtailed by the time necessary to fully explore them. I guess that’s why it takes me so long to work through a project. There’s a positive to this though. A lot can happen between the idea and the actual work which allows different perspectives and considerations to filter through my thoughts before I can directly engage with it. To me that’s one of the greatest things about making work. By the time I get to work it’s like a giant wave of thought that picked up everything and sorted it out along the way in.”

She continues to examine these important turning points and ‘instants’ and is currently working on publishing the book for The Eventual Outcome of an Instant (as seen in photo where she is holding a book). She is also working on a project about immigration, coal and globalization that is tentatively titled “The Continuous Cast of Expendability”.

See more of her work on the Washington Project for the Arts Artist Regist ry:

And check back later on her own website:

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