Susan Derges

September 2020

Each month one of our Directors chooses an member to become ‘Artist of the Month’. What follows is a response from that artist to some questions and a discussion, together with some examples of their work.

This month’s (September 2020) selected artist is Susan Derges selected by Lucy Kerr.

What are you currently working on?

A group of images I’ve called Seed Constellation:

I wrote something about this current work while it was developing  – it outlines how the images came about and what was going on at the time of making them.

At the beginning of lockdown, I was caught in the middle of moving home and studio to a new location. I managed the domestic part but the studio and all my equipment remained packed away, until the removals company were able to clear their backlog. Initially I felt ungrounded, in an unfamiliar place, without a regular daily work routine to distract from what felt like an impending global storm, as we all suspended our normal lives and hunkered down into our separate ‘bubbles’. The sense of isolation and distance felt intense, so with no project on the go and initially as a distraction, I turned to food and thoughts about how I could make something good to enhance the boring weekly essentials shop. I decided to prepare for growing something edible both in and outdoors and began germinating a pack of mixed seeds in the warm and dark of a corner of the kitchen and became intrigued by the extraordinary qualities of new life emerging from the variously shaped husks of the seeds. They were so expressive of an irrepressible and mysterious movement towards growth and life that it was impossible not to anthropomorphise each one, and regard them as sharing some of the essential qualities of other embryonic life forms, including ours.

This spring was incredible for it’s abundance of everything from the natural world, in stark opposition to the absence of ourselves. I began to wonder what was germinating within this absence, as I watched the sprouting seeds, and sensed that we also, in our mostly internal, dormant states must be germinating all kinds of new impetuses to be brought into the world at the right time. I had no camera but had brought a scanner and computer with me, so began a daily process of checking and scanning the emerging new sprouts, which over three months of lockdown increased to a collection of images in the hundreds. As I worked on each intriguing and absorbing emerging form, a process of reflection unfolded, in parallel, on the people that I know, and those I was reading about, or watching on the news or through social media, or perhaps imagined. A growing sense of all this humanity forming a vast constellation of new potential began to take shape in my mind, fusing with the gestating life revealed in the scans. The decision to appropriate the Covid-19 spherical form and use it as the form into which to place this metaphorical seed cluster, seemed preferable to using a chronological or taxonomic method for displaying the collection.  The visual rendering might be seen as an overly optimistic vision, when all the evidence seems to point to extinction and an entire era coming to a close, but where there is an end, something also has to be transformed out of that energy and this cyclical process of renewal might yet include ourselves, if sustainable choices are made as we emerge out of lockdown. I see the seed constellation functioning as an emblem of that potential. 


details from the Seed Constellation series

What would you say are the primary motivations for your work?

The “Seed Constellation” image reminds me of some of the first camera-less images I made of developing frog spawn in the early 1990’s called ”Full Circle” and the motivation for that work remains the same as this new work: to find a way to make the processes I witness in the natural world fuse with internal states and events so that the visual outcome operates as a metaphor as much as a direct observation. In the early work such as “Full Circle” and “The Streens – Fir”, my preoccupation was with life and form emerging out of an interconnected and creative interplay of subtle events such as liquid motion, light, complexity, and the sense that these influences could also apply to our own physical, mental and spiritual unfolding. In more recent work like the “Tide Pool” series made around 2014/15 the motivation for making these images was a concern for the fragility of the ocean environment that rock pools seem to embody in a particularly vivid way due to their exposure to the extremes of heat and tidal movements as well as the plundering that has continued since the Victorian interest in specimen gathering. This was a period of transition for my work from camera-less methods to lens based digital composites, caused by the Ilfochrome positive paper I was using becoming unavailable. The prints reflect an ungrounded or impermanent state of change subject to wider, unseen influences.

The shell images (2016) are motivated by the threat of extinction in the oceans due to acidification and pollution and they were made during a year where political and ecological fractures became overwhelming, especially in terms of huge losses of coral reef in the Pacific and other areas. I saw the debris washed ashore from coral die back in southern Japan and decided to work with a collection of shells given to me by a friend who had gathered them throughout her childhood from a similar environment of mangrove lined coast in South Africa. The ghost like empty shells are ambiguous in that they could be read as womb or tomb and could yet be re-inhabited by new life.  This suspended potential was also the motivation for “Seed Constellation” which is ongoing this year.


details from the Shell series

from the Tidepool series

Artist’s website: