How did you first get involved in art?
My involvement in art came when my art teacher, Gerry McCafferty, first encouraged me to take up oil painting. This led me on a path towards national art competitions and some wins along the way. However studying fine art was not an option in my family, so I had to take the long route round!
What is your academic history?
After graduating from business school in 1990, my best friend's Mom saw an ad in the local newspaper; a design consultancy was looking for a junior graphic designer. I always kept a portfolio on hand and suddenly, I had the job! My employer paid for some of my design education and then 15 years later, when I had my own design consultancy, Orphisme Design, I finished up with a degree in digital design. After I completed a postgrad diploma in digital design, I began to consider what I wanted out of life.
That's when I decided to pursue design as an interdisciplinary inquiry, one which integrated art practice as research. Back in 2010, an opportunity to join a relatively new program called the Masters in Interdisciplinary Art, Media and Design, opened up in OCAD University in Toronto, so we left our friends and family in Ireland, and moved to Canada.
It's so funny that you call your journey "the long route." I would venture to say that many artists have similar paths: a varied career that eventually led them to their art discipline. Would you say the "detours" were necessary to get you where you are now?
Yes, you make an excellent point. I believe the detours and the off-ramps are a crucial part of how any artist develops their world view. When I moved to Canada, my design discipline shifted its focus from the production of information design toward community design and urban planning. Having taken the long route, I now spend a great deal of effort reassessing the social purpose of design, particularly in regard to creating healthy spaces to live, work and play. It's not as straightforward as designing a solution to a problem. For me, it's more about raising questions and generating discussion about the kinds of spaces we want to live in. To go back to your question, I think we're all familiar with the obstacles that get in the way of artistic development and one of the books I find most helpful in this regard is Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It's a “go to” for me!
Where & from whom do you draw inspiration?
My work largely explores the potential of semiotics found in “non-places” such as parking lots, sidewalks, and other threshold areas. I draw on the tradition of conceptual art referencing land-use and architecture such as Robert Smithson's Non-Sites and Gordon Matta Clark's Fake Estates.
The social contention conveyed through my map-based work is influenced by the writings of urban planners such as Kevin Lynch (The Image of the City, 1960) and Donald Shoup (The High Cost of Free Parking, 2005). My concerns about city planning are deeply influenced by the writings of Jane Jacobs, whose book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), continues to inspire many urban planners to examine the revitalization and diversification of now dilapidated, car-centric cities.
How do you connect with people through your art? Why do you create art?
Peoples reaction to my work is usually predicated upon the scale and intensity of urban development going on around the gallery or in the general vicinity at the time. Beyond the gallery doors, people encounter urban upheaval in terms of construction noise, detours and reroutes to public transport, parking issues and limited access to public space. The work asks us to think differently about the spaces we occupy in our day-to-day lives and how we move through them.
My body of work explores physical mapping practices as a means to interpret and reflect on the design dynamics found within the urban landscape, in particular, development sites, parking lots, and public sidewalks. I confront issues brought about by the intensification of urban development, and the autonomy granted to “the Plan” to envision new communities to the exclusion of existing neighborhoods. I aim to make people think about and question the economic frameworks which underpin their built environment.
Why should we think differently about the spaces we occupy?
I prefer to put this another way: if we don't think differently about the spaces we occupy, then the movement patterns throughout our communities, particularly suburban ones, will continue to be dominated by cars, not people.
The over-consumption of non-renewable resources will continue (in terms of energy, land, etc.) on account of land use zoning, which incentivizes increased scale and physical distance between zones such as residential, commercial, industrial, and parkland. This leads to greater cost disparities in infrastructure maintenance. Right now, where I live, we have a situation where older infrastructure is underused and badly maintained, while newer infrastructure is overused.
Land use zoning works in tandem with car-centric planning to produce communities with poor physical health and soaring obesity levels, and research suggests that this situation correlates with poor mental health.
How did you discover the Foundry Art Centre?
I discovered the Foundry totally by chance. I was searching for international opportunities to showcase my work and came across the call for submissions to The Nth Degree exhibition. The show's theme was intriguing: numbers, frequencies, and mathematical patterns. I thought about how my work deals with mapping and patterns of urbanization, and how I often record physical distances or frequencies when transposing data on grid paper.
What are you currently working on?
The sculpture installation (Zoned Out, 2017) being shown at the Foundry Art Centre is part of a larger project. Right now, I'm working on a 3D artwork called Yellow Tangle. It is an aluminum sculpture comprising of clusters of clearance zones, which converge and unfold on top of one another, competing and jostling for monopoly of a finite space. The homogeneity of the forms stems from a branch of urban semiotics associated with urban planning. The actual forms themselves are mapped and modelled from clearance zones found in public and private parking lots located in Toronto, Ontario.
What do you enjoy doing aside from art?
If time allows, I enjoy getting lost in unfamiliar places, especially if I'm on a bike. I also read a fair bit. Some of the books I'm currently working through are If Cars Could Talk by architect William H. Fain and The High Cost of Free Parking by urban planner Donald Shoup.
Susan Campbell's artwork will be featured in a Going Solo exhibition in Gallery III of the Foundry Art Centre during Spring 2019. Follow her artwork and get a glimpse into her artistic process on Instagram.
Article by Jillian Schoettle.