• kylebernier

Creator Spotlight: Susanna Gaunt


Image of mixed media piece of different pieces of paper hanging from the ceiling
Inventory

I have been making art in some form all my life (I’m half a century old!), and even when distracted by other life events, such as having kids or moving from one city to another, I found I naturally came back to making. Perhaps when I finally accepted this – that I just have to make art – I became more serious about allowing it to be my career and part of who I am. My

Creator Spotlight Icon with a square image of abstract walls with paint splatter
Creator Spotlight Icon

most recent artwork is inspired by natural history, in particular the process of collecting, classifying and displaying public and personal specimen collections. My creative process is fueled by philosophy: a desire to pose questions about human nature and existence; a desire to find meaning and joy in simple things.


For multiple decades, photography was my sole medium and I paired this with being a photography instructor. I always knew I wanted more than just a 2-dimensional image on the wall. So when my family landed in Duluth, Minnesota, I started my second bachelor’s degree at University of Minnesota Duluth, this time in studio art. (My first is in philosophy from Boston College). The goal was to learn as many art techniques as possible, except for photography. My time at UMD opened my eyes to not only new processes but also ways of thinking about art, and an art career. In 2017 my degree culminated with Taking Stock, a solo exhibit at the Tweed Museum of Art - my first real foray into installation art. In the years since, I have produced several solo shows and created work for juried exhibits throughout the country. Many of these exhibits were funded in part through regional and state-level grants.

Image of Susanna Gaunt holding a camera
Susanna Gaunt

My latest grant-funded endeavor will take me outside of my studio and outside of a traditional gallery space through a collaboration with Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth. Each month, I will be on site at the Aquarium to engage with visitors and discover the different ways they experience wonder at the museum. I will create paper sculptures inspired by visitor stories and in Summer of 2023, the completed artworks will be on display at the Aquarium’s gallery. It will be an opportunity to involve the community in the art I make while drawing connections between art and science.


My family and I still live in and love Duluth, Minnesota.


 

Gallery

Here is a sample of my work. More information about me and my work can be found on my website.


My Craft

I call myself a visual artist and more specifically a mixed-media installation artist making both two- and three-dimensional works for exhibitions. For those new to installation art, this essentially means the art is designed to be hung in a specific space.


Image of mixed media piece of Coffer at Kruk Gallery. Has drawers attached to the wall
Coffer at Kruk Gallery

Image of mixed media piece of different pieces of paper hanging from the ceiling
Inventory

 

Image of mixed media piece of nine drawers stacked up hanging on a wall
Coffer at Tweed

I love to experiment with new materials and techniques. This is a blessing and a curse as it takes time to get to know new tools and then decide the best way to incorporate them into the artwork. I tend to be slow and methodical with my process and find I need to work through every

possibility before I trust I have the final product I want. As a result, a lot of the time in my practice is dedicated to researching, experimenting and reworking pieces. The good news is that I often stumble upon new ideas or ways of fabricating a work from pushing through all the different iterations.


Paper is most often my base material. I cut, layer, weave and collage it, infuse it with wax and penetrate it with embroidery thread and pins to fit the aesthetic goals of a given piece. I tend to work in series and each individual artwork incorporates multiple iterations of a repeated element. I then design its display to best utilize the exhibit space where it will hang. One thing I like about installation art is that each new venue brings a new challenge and a new way of showing off a piece. On the flip side, this means the work tends to be larger and it often requires a complicated install process that involves adapting and re-adapting the work on site. When possible, I prefer to be the person installing the work so I can make adjustments on the fly. If I cannot be on site, it is important to develop clear and thorough instructions as part of the process.


Image of Inventory art piece by Susanna Gaunt. Includes different pieces of color and imaged paper
Inventory

 

My Creative Process

I am fortunate enough to have a studio space separate from my house. It has a mix of natural and artificial light, shelving for materials storage and a 20-foot wall. The wall provides a place to hang prototypes so I can absorb their aesthetic, make changes and begin to visualize installation designs. There are pros and cons to having a separate studio - for some, the ease of going into a dedicated room at home, at any time of day or night, works best. For me, having the space to not only make work, but clear my head, is invaluable. The studio allows me to be intentional in my making and serious about my career.


While my creative process is not linear it is easier to describe it as such. It usually begins with an idea, one that has grown out of past themes or interests. (Of late it is the relationship between humans and the natural world, seen through the practices of collecting and observing). I then simultaneously work through materials and techniques I know or want to learn while researching aspects of the topic I want to explore. I do a lot of reading and still take classes when I can. Recently, I have also been stepping out of my introverted shell to connect with the community, whether it is scientists that might have insight into local phenology or folks that experience the natural world of our region and have a story to share. I recognize that a lot of ideas can come from interacting with other people. With regards to this, I am also fortunate to have had a lifelong artist-friend with whom I share ideas, feedback and continued support.


I have been at this long enough to know that sometimes I just have to use my hands, to stop overthinking everything and just start responding to the material. When I taught photography, I often told students to just take one shot - even if it’s no good or unexciting. From there, the world will start to open up and then it will be hard to stop! I had lots of motivational tricks for my students that I still utilize to keep me going: the 100-day project, intentionally make bad art, apply to an exhibit…This last option works wonders for me. I am motivated by deadlines and accountability. So if I have a show for which I have to produce work, I get busy quick.



Tips and Tricks of the Trade

Like a lot of art forms, installation art involves a lot of trial and error. There are books available and researching how other artists install their pieces is useful, but when it comes down to it, you will be the one figuring out the logistical details of displaying your artwork. That said, it is also valuable to talk to other artists for help with your ideas. And don’t be afraid to hire an expert to contribute to the making of certain aspects of your work. For example, when I designed the drawers for Coffer, I hired a woodworker to make the actual drawers because I am no good with a saw.


Image of coffer drawer by Susanna Gaunt. Featuring a drawer with small pieces of paper people on top of image
Coffer Drawer

With installation art, it is important to be thinking about the install process as early as possible in your production. Multiple questions might arise:

  • Will you be shipping the work? Weight, sturdiness of the material and simplicity of the install design all might come in to play.

  • Where will you store the piece - while you are making a piece and after deinstallation (if it isn’t a permanent install)? I have found that making multiples of a form helps with this as the work can compact into smaller storage containers. Inventory, for instance, is stored in two archival boxes that are about the size of a shoebox.

  • What does the venue allow for hanging work? Can you hang from the ceiling? Will there be a unique hanging system in place that you have to use? Are the walls plywood-backed should you have heavy work to hang on them? Do you need to be present to hang the work? How much time do you have to install the work?

  • And from an aesthetic viewpoint, do you want the installation hardware to be visible or not? If you are hiding it behind or within the artwork, this will influence how you make a piece. For example, hanging pottery from a nail could influence where a hole will be placed before it goes into a kiln. If you are incorporating the installation materials into the artwork, then think through how it can be part of and match the overall aesthetic.


 

Where to find my work

You can find my work on my website or on Instagram. My newest project at the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, MN can be found here: www.greatlakesalmanac.com or on Instagram and Facebook at @greatlakesalmanac



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Artwork Details

For anyone interested in learning more about my work, here is some additional information:

Coffer

Coffer is a set of nine wooden drawers of varying widths and depths. The drawers protrude off the wall and the audience is encouraged to view them both from afar and up close, where they can open each drawer to reveal its interior. With a nod to natural history collections, the drawers in Coffer invite viewers to experience a different type of specimen. Each drawer offers an individual arrangement of artifacts that blends human figures with insects and birds, historical illustrations with modern photographs and paper cutouts with entomological pins and thread.


Coffer (on view at Tweed Museum, Duluth)

Date: 2017

Medium: birch plywood, cut paper, inkjet printed photos and illustrations, entomology pins Dimensions: hung together: ~ 50”(h) x 30”(w) x 16”(d)


Coffer (on view at Kruk Gallery, UW Superior)

Date: 2017

Medium: birch plywood, cut paper, inkjet printed photos and illustrations, entomology pins

Dimensions: Vary to fit space


Coffer (drawer 2 detail)

Date: 2017

Medium: birch plywood, cut paper, inkjet printed photos and illustrations, entomology pins

Drawer dimensions: 3.5”(h) x 24”(w) x 14”(d)


Coffer (drawer 4 detail)

Date: 2017

Medium: birch plywood, cut paper, inkjet printed photos and illustrations, Duralar entomology pins Drawer dimensions: 3.5”(h) x 16”(w) x 12”(d)


Disperse

Over 300 hand-sewn seeds accumulate to make up Disperse. Each seed has a photograph printed on one side - a moment, memory, joy that encouraged a pause. The flip side includes a word cut from monochrome material, often offering a reflection or contradiction to the image on the reverse. The seeds are made with either Pictorico inkjet transparency film and Duralar, or mulberry paper that has been infused with wax. While the text is cut with a die cutter, the seeds are cut and sewn by hand. A majority of the seeds have die cut figures or insects pinned with entomology pins enclosed inside as an extra surprise.

Gaunt-Disperse (at Duluth Art Institute, Duluth, MN)

Date: 2020

Medium: inkjet photos, thread, Duralar paper, fine art paper, encaustic, entomology pins Dimensions: vary; ~ 1’(h) x 3’(w) x 15’(l)


Disperse

Date: 2020

Medium: inkjet photos, thread, Duralar paper, fine art paper, encaustic, entomology pins Dimensions: seeds = ~ 1”(h) x 3”’(w) x 6” (d)


Disperse

Date: 2020

Medium: inkjet photos, thread, Duralar paper, fine art paper, encaustic, entomology pins Dimensions: vary; ~ 1’(h) x 3’(w) x 15’(l))


Inventory

In the installation piece Inventory, images of collected animal remains are mixed with details of an aging body. Hung together they document the tangible aspects of one’s life. Considered further, they represent the process of appraising life’s experiences. Inventory includes over 1000 photographs printed on transparency film or photo rag paper and then cut to the dimensions of toe tags. Using black thread, they are hung from the ceiling or to the wall with entomology pins poked into foam strips.


Inventory (on view at Tweed Museum, Duluth)

Date: 2017-19

Medium: inkjet printed photographs, thread, entomology pins

Dimensions: vary; ~ 6’(h) x 20’(w)


Inventory (on view at Kruk Gallery, UW Superior)

Date: 2017-19

Medium: I nkjet printed photographs, thread, entomology pins Dimensions: vary; ~ 6’(h) x 30’(l) x 4”(w)


Inventory (on view at Tweed Museum, Duluth)

Date: 2017-19

Medium: inkjet printed photographs, thread, entomology pins

Dimensions: individual tags ~5.25”(h) x 2.625”(w), size of a toe tag


Inventory (on view at Kruk Gallery, UW Superior)

Date: 2017-19

Medium: inkjet printed photographs, thread, entomology pins Dimensions: individual tags ~5.25”(h) x 2.625”(w), size of a toe tag


Lastly, I have included two exhibit views from my two main bodies of work from recent years. “Taking Stock” was my senior exhibit at UMD that evolved into “Reconfigure” which was on view at Kruk Gallery at University of Wisconsin, Superior and then at MacRostie Art Center in Grand Rapids, MN. In 2020, I created a new body of work called “Integument” which was on view at Duluth Art Institute.



Interested in submitting your work to be featured on a Creator Spotlight? Email me at LazyCreativity@Outlook.com or go to Contact.