Susan Luss at the Museum of Art & Culture in New Rochelle

Artist in Residence Susan Luss highlights her installation in House 4 MAC Gallery and windows.

Partial installation view, today, I am…Photo credit: Susan Luss

In 2019 Artist Susan Luss was invited by the New Rochelle High School to be their first visiting artist working on site responsive installations. The school has its own museum and cultural center on its campus, called The Museum of Arts & Culture, which is the only Regents-chartered museum inside of a school in the state of New York. This collaborative project became a formative experience for the artist. Susan Luss describes the ways she formed her ideas, her collaborative work with students and faculty, as well as her takeaway from this multi layered project overall. The exhibition runs through Feb 13th.

AS: Tell me a bit about the venue and what it means to be an artist in residence there.

During the summer of 2019, Alexi Rutsch Brock, artist and educator, invited me to be a visiting artist-in-residence during the fall/winter session at New Rochelle High School (NRHS). I would be the first visiting artist working with architectural space and installation.

Within the school, The Museum of Art & Culture (MAC) comprises two galleries. They are both located off House 4 bridge, a long windowed hallway which is a traverse linking the Performance And Visual Arts Education (PAVE) wing with the rest of the high school.

The main MAC gallery, which is where I installed my site responsive solo exhibition today, I am . . ., is not at all what I consider a “white cube” space. It has unique architecture and symmetry relying heavily on the grid. And while challenging to work with, it is exactly the kind of space I find compelling. The 19 hallway windows where I designed and installed my #lightpainting work are also unique, with the grid a prominent component of the architecture, but not symmetrical.

Being the artist-in-residence at NRHS for the last few months has been transformative. I have seen and experienced first-hand the dedication of the PAVE teachers. They welcomed me into their classrooms and supported me in the realization of the projects we completed. I had the opportunity to present my work and collaborate with students from the classes of Alexi Rutsch Brock, Scott Seaboldt, Moira McCaul, and Joanna Schomber. In addition, I mentored two students, Molly Weckesser and Maura Kelly-Yuoh, in realizing projects that were part of the larger student projects: #lightpainting and #asphaltforenscis.

Being a part of what happened day to day at NRHS, whether peripherally or directly, helped me to see how important it can be to have even the slightest impact on the life of another person.

AS: What is the genesis of your current site specific installation in New Rochelle High School?

The thing that was immediately thrilling was the chance to create new work for the eastern facing windows using the colored film I had started working with in 2014. At that time in 2014, as I had been developing my window and outdoor installations using colored film, I realized that through this medium I was collaborating with the sun and the rotational force of the earth, creating light paintings that transformed space/place over time.

Although the original idea at NRHS was for me to create a found object installation and for the students to create another one based on my ongoing series, These Are a Few of My Favorite Things, instead we decided that the found object installation would be a collaborative student project in the smaller MAC gallery.

When Alexi and I first discussed a solo show back in June 2019, I had no specific work in mind, as I was recently back from 2 weeks in Venice, Italy, and I was just beginning a residency working outside in Harlem. While in Venice, a grid with constant visual displacement where everything works in concert and nothing is superfluous, I was struck by the relationships of architecture, light, people, and time. Back in my Brooklyn studio I continued my work folding, bundling and dying canvas to create a grid.

During my residency at El Patio de mi Casa in Harlem, I made a ritual of setting up a small space on a tile patio as my studio. Here I worked on the ground, drawing the moving dappled light of wind blowing leaves. The grid formed as the imprint of tile underneath the canvas came through under pressure as I constantly moved over it. What emerged was the importance of combining the structure of the grid with the gesture into one form. The results were transportable bundles that I could take with me, making public installations by unfolding and attaching them to ready-made architecture like fencing along the Hudson River for example. Ultimately these performative actions were the source for the title of my solo exhibition, today, I am . . . a river, a bird, the wind, a building. This led me to use video in my NRHS installation as a new medium.

I utilized this new work, along with some recently finished large scale landscapes and other materials to create the site responsive installation at NRHS.

Partial install view of today, I am . . . with view to House 4 hallway. Photo courtesy: Susan Luss

AS: You are dealing with color and sunlight in your work. Can you elaborate on the idea behind and the process on site?

For a while now I have been working with light, canvas, dye, and found materials. All these elements coming together in various form depending on the site of installation.

I have always had a visceral response experiencing environmental light and the colors of light in changing seasons and nature over time. Only through creating visual work these last 5 years though have I understood how important it is for me. Originally, I used paint as a medium for light and color. That fell away after a fire in 2013 consumed three years of my work when I was a senior at Pratt Institute.

It was during the recovery process we experienced at Pratt that dye replaced paint as color and light. And then in 2014, when I started my first semester of grad school at SVA, I was assigned a small studio along an open hallway with windows adjacent. I had been wanting to explore transparent color with light so I used colored film, normally applied in architectural rendering, as filters in this public window. When the sun was shining and streaming through the windows, the cast colored light transformed my colleagues walking by and the assortment of gestural works on canvas and other found ephemera collected in my studio. Light transforming space/place over time became fundamental in my work.

New Rochelle offers a very similar situation on a much larger scale. Here I responded not only to the scale of a large public space, but also to the interior and exterior architectural forms along the asymmetrical hallway; the window framing, the exterior architecture, the tiled floor grid, the interior lighting, among other things. I used all those elements to expand the drawing into space.

Mid-morning House 4 hallway in between classes. On the right my #lightpainting casting light with the paper line drawing integrating the installation. On the left 2 student #lightpainting installations along with other students #aphaltforenscis documentation. Photo courtesy: Susan Luss

AS: You worked in collaboration with students. What would you like to share about this collaboration?

While I have worked in educational settings before, I had not worked with high school students in a mentoring/guidance role. The collaborations took on different forms. The initial presentations I prepared and made to several classes were broken down into my work with light and color, #lightpainting, and my work with found material, #asphaltforenscis. The teachers gave their students homework assignments created by Alexi to prepare them for my presentations. For example; looking at the portions of my website that relate to the topic, then giving them specific questions that would integrate into the curriculum.

The collaborative student projects for the windows and found object installation were focused through classroom work. For the windows, I introduced a plan I had previously used at Pratt in the Foundation department and I collaborated with Alexi, tailoring this to the needs of high school students. The work with colored film integrates well with the color theory she teaches. To get started on the found objects I provided material documenting the way I organize and install my found materials. Alexi took that and created the classroom work for how the students would execute their project.

Technically not collaborative, students, teachers, and others moving back and forth through the hallway all day long as I installed my #lightpainting informed how that work evolved. It was like drawing from life, making the work at the same time others are experiencing it was deeply meaningful.

AS: What is your takeaway from this show and experience and do you think it will impact your future projects

Students from Scott Seaboldt’s early morning class experiencing my exhibition, today, I am . . . prior to our conversation about the work. Photo courtesy: Susan Luss

An immediate takeaway is how vital arts education is for young people. How important it is to have dedicated teachers committed to building on existing structures in learning that support the students throughout their whole lives. If my participation as a visiting artist at NRHS had even a minute impact on that process, I am ever so grateful for that opportunity.

These engagements are what complete the work for me. Even though it was my intent to activate the space, I had not realized the full potential for the unique architecture of the school and museum to become the work too. The environment is now one, all the relationships essential. Everything working in concert, nothing superfluous. That will go with me into future work.

Finally, there is a reflective process I will go through over time revealing things yet unknown for me from this invaluable experience.

You can read more about this projecthere.