When the Ceiling Meets the Floor
April 30 - June 13 2015
Susan Connolly’s practice explores the ‘extendable paint surface’ and the provisionality this causes within traditional notions of painting. Playful exploration of the mediums established traditions are explored by imposing questions derived from art historical references which are then allowed, through the making process, to find new means of capturing, sampling and constructing paint within a framework exploring notions of space, gravity and content.
In this exhibition Connolly developed work around the idea of a sitelessness of paint and how the process of making itself can be examined and proposed as a way of thinking and proposing painting installation within the gallery environment.
Using the gallery as a form of investigation, the walls, architectural features and interior become a site for ‘painting’, which will be developed and positioned directly upon, within and around the gallery space. The gallery will be transformed from its white cube status to a carefully considered (painting) installation which the viewer will investigate and activate through their viewing of the space being destabilized, doubled, suspended and as Donald Judd intended, ‘experienced as a totality’. This exhibition explores ideas within contemporary thinking of how much of installation art professes contempt for painting, but nonetheless embodies the pictorial within its spaces.
Susan Connolly susanconnolly.com is a graduate of Limerick School of Art and Design, Degree in Fine Art-Painting (1998), she holds an MA in Fine Art from the University of Ulster (2002), a first class honours MA, Art in the Contemporary World, NCAD, Dublin (2013) and is currently a PhD candidate at University of Ulster (VC Scholarship).
Recent exhibitions include a solo show at The Sunken Gallery, The MAC, Belfast (2014), a two person show Persona, at ArtBox, (2014), group exhibitions include What Is, and What Might be, Highlanes Gallery, Drogehda (2015); The Trouble with Painting, The Pumphouse Gallery, London (2014); Essays for the House of Memory, Ormston House (2013), Limerick; Three Degrees of Painting, Solstice Arts Centre, Navan; Detonate, Limerick Arts, Limerick (2013); Urban Interventions, NCAD/UCD (2012); Connections Rua Red Gallery, Dublin (2011); Airports for Shadow; The Cross Gallery, Dublin (2010); Consellations, EIGSE, VISUAL, Carlow (2010).
Awards include; Arts Funding, Kildare County Council (2014/13/11); WARP artist residency, Belgium (2010); Travel and Training Award (2009); DCR Guesthouse Residency, Den Haag, Holland (2009)
Since 2006 Connolly has lectured in the Fine Art Department at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), she formerly lectured in the Painting Departments at Limerick School of Art and Design (LSAD), 2002-2003, and Dun Laoghaire IADT, 2006-2009.
Meet the Artist: Susan Connolly – Something About Some Thing To Do With Paint (The MAC, Belfast)
The exhibition was accompanied by a specially commissioned text by Eoin Dara, Assistant Curator at The MAC, Belfast.(see below)
Susan Connolly: When the Ceiling Meets the Floor
Upon being introduced to Susan Connolly as a painter and looking at her work for the first time, I recall myriad questions tripping over one another to reach the forefront of my mind. What am I looking at? Is that a canvas? Is this actually paint? What has fallen here? Has this collapsed? Where are the supports and fixings to secure and stabilise these materials?
I think these concerns will inevitably emerge when approaching this work initially, and anyone holding conservative views on painting, and what it ought to be, is likely to be instantly alarmed by Connolly’s propositions which so flagrantly abuse the commonplace in paint and canvas.
Take R/Y/B Fluorescent as an example. Almost all the intrinsic source materials of traditional painting are in play here. However, we are presented with a canvas from which paint, once richly slathered across the surface, has been systematically stripped. Scrapes, scores and cuts seem to skitter across the work with slices and slivers of paint sparking fitfully and suggesting, but never quite offering, a kaleidoscopic prism of hazy colour. Towards the bottom of the piece, gravity enters the dynamic. With almost surgical precision, the artist has flayed a delicate membrane of deep murky hues progressively built up across the canvas and now pulled downwards, spread over the gallery floor - at once separate from but connected to the body of the painting. Such corporeal elements mean that the piece appeals not only to the eye but also to our compulsion to touch, a desire surely fuelled by uncertainty about what we are seeing. And what we are seeing is both material and indeterminate, challenging our sense of order in refreshingly unsettling ways.
I myself am still not sure if I can easily explain how these artworks are produced. This is not because I am not familiar with them – quite the contrary. Nor is it because I have chosen to overlook, or pay insufficient attention to, the artist’s own practical explanations of her approach and techniques. Rather, it is the case that my memory seems to eschew the retention of such mechanistic process information in favour of absorbing and maintaining the feelings of curiosity and knotty agitation that invariably surface whenever I am confronted by the work. Yet contemplating, even for a short time, what would have been necessary to create these (de)constructions prompts the thought as to the painstaking and intensive studio work required. Indeed, Connolly herself has commented on the long hours spent making paintings only to destroy them in order to establish the limitations of the processes she employs.
When making such work, Connolly seems to be pursuing an idea of painting as a time-based medium, exploring its boundaries and destabilising its status by stepping aside at a certain stages of the artistic process and allowing external forces beyond her control to come into play. Considered in this way, we might read her approach as, in effect, a collaboration with gravity – playing with the potential energy locked up in the materials being used, suspending or floating certain elements whilst permitting others to detach and subside, coming to rest in unpredictable and dramatic ways.
In the surviving drafts of Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Italo Calvino sought to define the virtues of the art of the past to help shape the values of the future, one particular treatise focusing on the concept of ‘lightness’. For Calvino, lightness in art is desirable, a quality to be pursued and not a defect in, or criticism of, an artwork. He describes lightness as an endeavour to subtract weight from things rather than it being a pre-existing condition.  In Connolly’s work we see this subtraction of weight manifested in more ways than one. Most obviously, there is the previously described physical act of removing layers of paint from painstakingly built up surfaces. There is also the fact that her works are often suspended in space in some way, removed from gallery walls, invalidating the very places we expect to see paintings hanging. And then there is, at times, the artist’s actual use of illumination in the form of ultraviolet light to cause certain areas of paint to fluoresce and float in front of our eyes, complicating further the interplay with gravity.
Calvino also comments, somewhat prophetically, on the developments stemming from computer science at the end of the 20th century. He speaks of lightness contained within “‘bits’ of information coursing along circuits in the form of electronic impulses.”  With this image in mind, it is interesting to consider that Connolly herself has spoken of her work in similar terms, describing ‘glitches’ to be found on certain surfaces. Glitch, of course, is a term usually associated with technological malfunctions or problems – rarely is it applied to human error or interjection. However, the word itself comes from the German ‘glitschen’ which means ‘to slip or slide’ and which, rather felicitously, accords with Connolly’s scored and scalped swathes of paint slithering off their support, leaving behind ‘bits’ pulsing on the canvas or wall.
Connolly’s practice exudes lightness as defined by Calvino. She always maintains a sense of precision and, while relinquishing some control, never quite allows the pull of gravity to get the upper hand in the completion of her work. Instead, she builds a retaining structure or framework around the paint she is using which enables it almost to luxuriate in its own physicality, its viscosity and glutinousness, often untethered from the constraints of the canvas. This framework allows for a re-imagining of the physical realities of paint – away from the notion of fixedness or solidity towards something more flexible, mutable and, in more than one sense of the word, light.
Susan Connolly is contributing to an already extensive body of artists working to unfold new methodologies within painting. Significantly, it is through her firm refusal to relinquish completely certain essential elements or actions usually found within a traditional painting paradigm that she is carving out a distinctive position within contemporary discourse. She posits a way of working which is far from restricted by certain simple or seemingly old-fashioned components: she offers a perspective in which the potential of her materials is not limited but, arguably, limitless. The resulting works defy easy categorisation – are they paintings, sculptures, installations or interventions? They certainly distort the viewer’s frame of reference. As we negotiate the gallery space, we do so, no longer in the role of passive spectators looking to the walls to deliver artworks to us, but rather as active bodies stepping into a world of new spatial relationships between ceiling and floor. We are now considering things “from a different perspective, with a different logic and with fresh methods of cognition and verification.” 
 Susan Connolly in conversation with Dougal McKenzie. December 2012. Part of the Subjects of the Painter: Interviews on Contemporary Painting series, to be found at subjectsofthepainter.blogspot.co.uk
 Calvino, Italo Six Memos for the Next Millennium (London: Penguin Classics 2009) Page 3. Started in the summer of 1985, these lectures were left unfinished at the time of the author’s death later that year.
 Ibid. Page 8.
 Interview with the artist in advance of her solo exhibition at the MAC, Belfast in 2014, to be found at themaclive.com/shows/Susan-Connolly
 Calvino, Italo Six Memos for the Next Millennium (London: Penguin Classics 2009) Page 7. Summing up some of his musings on the opposition between lightness and weight he says, “Whenever humanity seems condemned to heaviness, I think I should fly like Perseus into a different space. I don’t mean escaping into dreams or into the irrational. I mean that I have to change my approach, look at the world from a different perspective, with a different logic and with fresh methods of cognition and verification. The images of lightness that I seek should not fade away like dreams dissolved by the realities of present and future…”