Fall 2010 Fellow
During her Fall 2010 Fellowship at the Creative Glass Center of America Draga Susanj worked almost exclusively with the theme of bees and beehives, a topic she began to explore before coming to Wheaton Arts. It‟s not surprising that this is an attractive subject for an artist who says, “I speak the language of nature but in connection with culture.” Although bees can be described as one sort of social animal, Susanj‟s interest in them has little to do with their group structure and a great deal to do with the way human society has endangered their existence. Parasites, genetically modified crops, pesticides, the relocation of bee colonies, poor nutrition, drought, and even cell phones have been blamed for the mysterious plague-like decline of the honeybee population due to something called “catastrophic colony collapse” (CCC). Several weeks following Susanj‟s CGCA residency, The New York Times reported that a virus and a concomitant fungal infection were found in all confirmed cases of CCC, but that this is only one possible cause of a worldwide decline in the bee population, estimated at 25 to 80 percent. Human society should be concerned that a critical link in the chain of pollination and human food production is threatened.
The fragility of society‟s structures is well known to Susanj. She was born in Yugoslavia. Her close childhood connection with nature in a specific location is a basis of her work today. In particular her installations reflect an intimacy with plants and other natural phenomena beyond theoretical understanding. Her interventions in natural sites are effective and original in part because they are simple — not radical, not wrenching — and because they are not intended to be permanent.
On a broad, clear field, a drawing in red iron oxide is allowed to remain in place as grass grows. In another piece, many small curving locks of grass are carefully wrapped like a child‟s hair in red pipe cleaners that can be removed later without harming the plants or masking them from sun and moisture. She wants her installation to “offer an experience, she says, “People can make conclusions. I‟m not there to do that. I‟m there to ask questions.”
Following her studies at the Art Institute of Chicago, New York State College of Ceramics (Alfred) and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, she has worked in many parts of Serbia and the US. She‟s completed residencies in public schools and in institutions related to the study of science, like the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she currently resides.
These activities keep her connected to the specificity of natural things. She also extends her senses to more abstract consideration of the meaning and manipulation of visual phenomena. A dot, Suzanj notes is a point on a line. A dot is also a circle. But, she adds, her interest in “[s]pirals probably came before I started working with circles.” Both shapes relate to natural laws and to “the language of numbers. The spiral is never finished. The spiral suggests growth. We all share spirals. Are we moving closer to the center or away from it?”
Lately, though, she has been more engaged by the circle. “The circle has the balance of perfect motion: motion and equidistance.” These two ubiquitous shapes reflect an inner architecture as does the hexagon the building block of the beehive, a shape that readily interlocks and combines with itself.
Susanj works with many materials in addition to glass including clay, natural plant materials, beeswax and paper. At CGCA, where she joked that the Glass House was itself a beehive, she made drawings composed of dots: whirling constellations or perhaps masses of flying insects — microcosm and macrocosm. “My actual process is like musical improvisation. I‟m not standing there thinking, „Where am I going to put the dots?‟ but the dots are happening.”