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Limb to limb: Sticks and Stones



Ciel Gallery's newest exhibit is getting back to the basics via Mother Earth. Each of the pieces in the Sticks and Stones National Juried Exhibition is created from natural materials by a variety of artists from across the United States. This includes New York resident Susan Springer Anderson's torso pieces. The exhibit continues through May 1. For details, call 704-577-1254 or visit

Creative Loafing: How long have you been an artist?

Susan Springer Anderson: I guess I've always sort of identified with art, even when I was growing up. In terms of professionally, it was 2004 when I started showing work.

You've got three pieces in the Sticks and Stones exhibit, is that right? Also, are they all torsos?

Yes. That's the main form that I work with -- I build wire torsos that are then dressed or covered in a variety of different materials.

What are some of the materials?

In the show, one torso is covered with grape vines and sticks. Another is woven with jute, twine, cotton string and manilla ropes. The third piece is all made out of ornamental grass. I've used a variety of materials in other pieces, such as coffee filters, paper towels, vinyl table cloths, dried flowers and seed pods.

How do you come up with ideas for materials?

It varies. Sometimes it's seeing a material that sparks an idea. Like the coffee filters, I noticed that when you have a group of them together, they make this really lovely ruffle form and it reminded me of a flamenco dress and that inspired my piece. Sometimes the piece starts more from a specific idea, which is what happened with the "Coming Into Being/Coming Undone II", which is in the Ciel show. I knew I wanted the condition of the piece to be obscured and have it be difficult to decipher whether the woven structure was on the brink of completion or is it coming undone and unraveling line by line. I then had to search for the right materials to really articulate the idea. The rope and twine seemed to be the perfect solution since the fibers separate and untwist so easily and show their wear and tear.

What specifically drew you to torsos?

I started using the form when I was in college at Anderson University in Anderson, Ind. I realized that I had actually been using a dress form quite a bit in my work. It showed up in still life drawings and it became a subject in my photography. Eventually I started sculpting torsos out of wire that mimiced the dress form in their anatomy. It eventually became a form that allowed me to use it as a self-portrait of ideas, memories and feelings. The construction of the forms has refined a great deal over the years, but the initial idea is still there.

What do you hope viewers get from looking at your pieces?

I always hope there's an appreciation for the materials being used and getting to look at it in a new way. That definitely applies to materials like grapevine, sticks and grass, which are materials that you cut down at the end of the season to go out in the rubbish pile. I hope my pieces allow viewers to think about what we're so prone to throwing away and how quickly we can dispose of things, without really thinking about them in the first place: why we had them, why we're getting rid of them, or if there's more use or more beauty that's still there. A lot of my work deals with the idea of rescuing materials that are being thrown out and giving them one more life or re-examining the disposability we assign to many of the items around us.

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