Selective Focus: Susanna Gaunt

Susanna Gaunt is an artist who creates installations and draws on her background as a photographer. She works with paper, dimension, transparency and light to combine 3D structures with 2D layers and textures. She currently has work on view at the DAI until August 11.

SG: For 20 years, I worked primarily in photography, both exhibiting photographs and teaching at a private workshop school in Montana. In 2013, our family landed in Duluth and I decided to learn new mediums by enrolling in the BFA program at UMD. It was there that I began focusing on installation pieces that incorporate drawing, printmaking, collage and embroidery alongside the photography. The common denominator with all of these is paper – I love working with different types of paper textures and exploring the possibilities of creating layers of both meaning and visual interest. Experimenting with multiple finishes, such as shellac and encaustic wax, allows me to find the right amount of translucency to both conceal and reveal content. 

Coffer (Installation view at Kruk Gallery, UWS, Superior, WI)
Materials vary within the different wooden drawers but include photographs cutouts, entomology pins, thread, Duralar and etched glass.
Notes: Coffer is a set of nine wooden drawers of varying widths and depths. The drawers protrude off the wall and the audience is encouraged to view them both from afar and up close, where they can open each drawer to reveal its interior. The drawers can be installed in a variety of ways to fit the gallery space.

When creating work for an exhibit, I start with an overall theme to create cohesiveness and then set in to produce two-dimensional and installation works for the show. As a photographer, I often worked in series and so this has translated into the new larger-scale mixed media pieces that are an assemblage of multiples, or repeated parts that make up the whole. I like this process a lot because it allows for an overall view of the installation, then encourages a closer look to pick out the details. More conceal and reveal, I suppose.

Coffer (Detail of Drawer III)
This drawer includes photograph, cutouts, entomology pins and Duralar
Drawer dimensions: 16” (w) x 2.5” (h) x 12” (d)

You can say I’ve worked with paper for a long time — from developing my own black-and-white photographs, to printing digital inkjet prints. Adding the other elements such as drawing, collage and thread really started in the past five years. 

Inventory (Panoramic installation view at Kruk Gallery, UWS, Superior, WI)
Inventory includes over 500 photographs printed on transparency film or photo rag paper and then cut to the dimensions of toe tags. Hung with black thread, they are pinned to a support with entomology pins.
Dimensions: Approximately 30 feet by 6 feet but can vary depending on shape and space. 

Inventory (Detail view of installation at Kruk Gallery, UWS, Superior, WI)
(Looking through the tags on one side to the other. Folks were encouraged to walk around the entire piece and view the details)

Creating installations is still a new method for me. When possible, I aim to include an experimental element to the piece: drawers can be opened, buttons pushed and tags turned over to reveal another layer of information to the viewer.

The main challenge for me is time. I am the type of person that wants to experiment and try everything (thus the mixed media!) and yet, it is difficult enough to carve out time to focus on existing projects. As a result, I find it crucial to both be flexible but disciplined about making work. Schedules, deadlines, and routines help me to adapt to the distractions and interruptions of life outside the studio.

Fade (Detail view of installation at Duluth Art Institute, Duluth, MN)
Mulberry paper with encaustic finish, hat pins, thread, and cut outs of wasps on Duralar and inkjet transparency film. Dimensions: Approximately 8’ (h) x 5’ (w) x 4’ (d)Note: this is a detail shot – a hint at what they can see if they pop over to the Duluth Art Institute now until August 11.

The other main struggle is space – I have a pretty small studio/office in my home. In many ways, this is why I have worked in multiples – creating an installation in parts takes up less space when making and while being stored. If I am making more than one piece, it becomes more complicated as things have to be broken down and set aside to make room for the development of a different piece. A small space also makes it more difficult to get as sense of how it will look installed in a gallery. Fortunately, I’ve recently started working in a shared space at the Duluth Armory Annex in addition to my home studio and this has helped me spread out a little, as well as visualize larger pieces in a larger space.  

It is all very much worth it. In many ways, I see the challenges as rewards in of themselves. I’ve been making long enough to know that the struggles yield better work, even if it is frustrating at the moment. I believe this why I am attracted to installations of late. The logistical puzzles of hanging and displaying a piece in a given space add another layer to the creative process. I have had to reach outside my comfort zone and also collaborate with others, both of which have helped my art to grow and evolve in positive ways.

I currently have an installation piece called “Fade” in the Strata exhibit at the Duluth Art Institute. It will be on view through August 11. Recent work can also be seen at my website: which includes a link to my Instagram and Facebook accounts. 

I am at the early stages of developing new work that aims to be more three-dimensional. Throughout the last decade I’ve worked to move from two-dimensional, traditionally-framed photographs on a wall to adding a more sculptural element to my work. I still struggle with letting go of the wall! While I am in the research and experimental phase of the project, the goal is to produce an exhibit of new pieces by early Spring 2020. This is all part of my receiving an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board this year.


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