Perfume Island

Newbury Weekly News

Searching for Order in a Senseless World

Solo show for winner of Greenham Common Open Submission

In this show, Perfume Island, Susan Sluglett, the Exhibition winner of the 2014 Greenham Common Open exhibition, displays new work, in which she considers questions of war and peace; never more apposite.

A theme of the essential permanence and goodness of nature and the natural world set against man-made horrors runs through the show. Sluglett appears to be searching for an elusive order in a senseless, violent world, often seeking an ungraspable solace in the written word, where human beings attempt to leave a permanent expression of their thoughts and existence. In three large-scale paintings (oil and graphite on canvas), a grid, recognisably Excel, is the ground upon which elements of human life and knowledge, and the natural world, is imposed.

However, the hand-rendered grid has by definition lost its inhuman, uniform, computerised provenance, and the objects painted on to it - bees, roses, domesticated animals, letters and numbers - speak of human endeavour and of a kinder, personalised world. Just as the artist plays with the scale of objects here, so the viewer's eye and mind wander, reflect and ruminate over the canvas.

Three smaller oils on canvas, painted in a restricted palette of green, grey, pale ochre, black and white, with strong mark-making, are more unsettling; connotations of violence and chaos here. Again playing with scale, there are dismembered or contorted human limbs and elements of human life and knowledge, suggestions of armaments among other, more abstracted passages. In two of the works, oversized black crows preside, intimations of malevolence and danger.

Disquieting crows also dominate two linked works (ink on paper), the birds vigorously drawn over printed pages of Shakespeare, rendering his sublime words semi-legible, destroying their power. Each work has four non-sequential pages, some overprinted and out of register, so there is no discernible narrative: again, human presence and witness are foiled.

Positions, a poster series of 18 acrylic works on brown cardboard with brass eyelets, are hung in a formal horizontal and vertical grouping, part paintings, part wall-pieces. On each piece the artist has painted formal grids of letters, relating to chess themes. Here the attempt to impose order is disrupted - and disarmed - by superimposed painted motifs: a bunch of beetroot, benign birds, sheaves of corn, uprooted flowers. These objects, redolent of the continuous presence and beauty of the natural world, suggest hope and the possibility of peace.

An Outline of World History is a wall-hung arch, collaboration between the artist and schoolchildren. Constructed from hundreds of paper flowers made from withdrawn library books, it is interspersed with messages written by the children. The cultural importance of words and books is again emphasised, but here the whole has a gentle innocence.

Stone Curlew, a poem by Fabian Peake, is hung as part of the exhibition. Each stanza talks of a different bird, while simultaneously referencing the horror and destruction of the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts: Homs, Palmyra, Madaya, Mosul, Kobani and the rest. The words are deeply disturbing: '... do these plovers still nest where blood stains the sand...?!;. ... a basra reed warbler glances in the mirror...'; ‘is this where the stonings take place?

Lin Wilkinson, Newbury Weekly News, 2016


19 February – 13 April 2016

New Greenham Arts is pleased to announce a solo exhibition of recent work by Susan Sluglett. The exhibition is accompanied by a newly commissioned poem Stone Curlew by the artist and writer Fabian Peake.

'We're all against war. But what are we for? Peace, we say. What is peace? Nobody quite knows.' - Robert Filliou

‘Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made.’ - Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

For the past year Susan Sluglett has been making work related to the subject of war and peace. Sluglett worked with children to explore radical French fluxus artist Robert Filliou’s question, what is peace? The arch entitled 451: An Outline of World History refers to Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451 - the temperature at which book-paper catches fire and burns. The collaborative project involves 451 flowers made by Sluglett using withdrawn library books combined with flowers made by the children using heavier non book publishing paper with their personal messages attached.

New large-scale paintings incorporate the universally understood excel spreadsheet as a formatting device related to finance. Seemingly random and wayward elements demote its structure, rendering it useless as a backdrop for order - it is now a place for reverie.

The poster series Positions employs abbreviated chess themes as a ground. Part of the secret of winning chess is to realise when conventional values can be overturned and a sacrifice can be made which will achieve victory in spite of giving up material. Chess players recognise where standard material values can be disregarded in the quest for a higher goal, such as checkmate or otherwise shattering the enemy position. In Positions neutralisers are planted on top in the form of recurring examples of natural and constructed emblems.



We see the extraordinary value of peer and mentoring relationships through projects that the Jerwood Charitable Foundation is involved in not just within Jerwood Visual Arts, but across our work supporting early career theatre directors, composers, writers and more. It requires a certain kind of individual to respect the responsibility and potential of an artist-mentor relationship. It is an exchange. The themes arising this past year through the Jerwood Painting Fellowships are brave ones; of risk, challenging habit and expectation and what has come before. But the careful founding of each of these relationships by each individual has meant that those Fellowships have been undertaken in an environment with just the right blend of support and challenge. It’s an alchemical mix, and one each participant can take credit for creating.

Anthony Faroux, Susan Sluglett and Sophia Starling are the second group of artists to undertake a Jerwood Painting Fellowship. The initiative launched in 2010, designed to provide crucial time and support for artists at early stages in their practice. The Fellowships offer three artists in each intake a bursary of £10,000, coupled with a year-long mentoring relationship with an established practitioner and an exhibition at Jerwood Visual Arts. Through an open submission process, we received more than 300 applications in this round. Each artist was selected for the outstanding quality and potential of their work, by mentors Fabian Peake, Marcus Harvey and Mali Morris RA, who respectively partnered the aforementioned Fellows. The works they have produced for exhibition have benefited from an intense period of focus, conversation, reflection and making. And they have risen to that challenge.

Anthony, Susan and Sophia should be recognised not just for the work you see here, but for their commitment to this opportunity, which they have each taken seriously and with consideration. We would like to thank mentors Fabian Peake, Marcus Harvey and Mali Morris RA for the complete generosity they have shown, understanding the significance and subtlety of the opportunity. The Fellowships process and exhibition has been deftly managed by the excellent team at Parker Harris and, from Jerwood Visual Arts, Sarah Williams and Oliver Fuke.

We are curious here, and always seeking to learn and grow. The Fellowships model has been subtly refined and, I believe, enhanced through the collaboration of both Fellows and mentors from its inaugural round, for which we are grateful to Clare Mitten, Cara Nahaul and Corinna Till; Paul Bonaventura, Stephen Farthing RA and Chantal Joffe. It is our delight that 2010’s Fellows remain close friends, and our intention and hope that the Fellowship should grow in this way across each year.

- Shonagh Manson
Director, Jerwood Charitable Foundation