The Body Electric; An Interview with artist Suzanne Walsh – Part 1
by Marie-Louise Blaney.
Marie-Louise Blaney is the Education Curator at The Model, Sligo.
Suzanne Walsh is an intriguing artist whose work encompasses writing, performance, and music, as well as a whole host of other creative techniques. Walsh is a passionate performer, with an ethereal approach to language and expression. Invited to participate in The Body Electric, I caught up with Suzanne over the last few weeks to discuss their creativity, interests and life passions.
MLB Are you there?
SW We are.
MLB Are you? OK, I can hear you now. I am curious about the places where you have lived. Recently you have been living in an old house in Dublin, which dates back to the early 1800s. The sounds and atmospheres you experience in this place have inspired the writing and sound compositions for The Body Electric. Do you think that these ethereal planes of existence you connect with in this house will continue to inspire you?
SW Yes. I’m renting a room in an old Georgian house, built in 1842. It’s very atmospheric, so it’s possible that more work will come from living here. I think I connect to those planes no matter where I live, but there is an atmospheric undercurrent in general around here.
I’m currently trying to make a ‘Phibsboro trilogy’ of short stories based in the area. I've already published one, this was for Chris Steenson’s ‘On Chorus’ project in 2020. I’m also currently working on an essay about the area for Architecture Ireland.
Phibsboro has so much richness and history, from 1916, for example. I live on a road that was once a branch of the Royal Canal, it was filled in in the 1930s and turned into a park, so now it’s a kind of ghost canal. James Joyce and Austin Clarke lived nearby, Iris Murdoch was born on Blessington Street. Albert Power’s sculpture yard was up the road too, he made Michael Collins’ death mask, along with many national monuments, as did his son. At the moment Phibsboro is struggling with developers trying to bring in co-living housing, which I’m against, so I’m also concerned about the present, while I’m here.
MLB You have an interest in the supernatural, paranormal and the metaphysical. These different states are important for you. Do they influence your work?
SW I definitely have those elements in my work, while I also enjoy leaving question marks over what could be a manifestation of the mind, or else something happening outside of it. But that’s the question really, isn’t it? The mystery is that we can’t really tell what’s in our minds from the outside. And we don’t know everything about reality, physics constantly demonstrates that. But I do feel something ‘else’ is going on. In my work I often like to play between scientific and esoteric ways of thinking, as well as considering how poetic thinking loosens our state of mind.
MLB That is an interesting idea about the mind. The poet Keats was very interested in the concept of the ethereal which he considered the result of a heightened imaginative perception of the outside world rather than a state from within. Perhaps we are the creators of our own relationships with the paranormal and supernatural.
SW I think we all have complex relationships about what we consider ‘normal’, some people fall more easily into the categories society rewards and supports. I think even those people might deep down have question marks over some things, though. For others, it’s an ongoing negotiation, not only to think about what’s less ‘normal’, but to figure out how to live in a world that is less supportive of that. For me this also includes excluded and marginalised people and life-forms. But yes, with Keats, that Romantic idea of the world outside acting upon us, I think I often have that element in my writing. I feel an invasion of something from the outside, another intelligence. But on the paranormal level, it seems to be a symbiotic relationship, something that is inside us as well as outside. I think in a way we close things down when we ask what is ‘real’ and what is not. Is the imagination real? I think so. It comes back to what is valued in our society, and even involves how we see mental health, for example.
MLB Thinking about what is less normal, or even referred to as abnormal, when Mary Shelley wrote the novel Frankenstein in 1818, organ and tissue transplants were beyond the realm of possibility. Both a science fiction novel and a gothic horror, to think it was written by a 21 year old woman over 200 years ago is quite incredible. Do you relate to this story?
SW Yes, I relate to Frankenstein’s creation, in fact monsters of all kinds, in literature or films, have my sympathy. There could even be a queer reading of this, about desire and transgression. Frankenstein creates and then rejects his creation, there are many layers there, including a possible fear of the other.
MLB I really like the work of the writer Marina Warner. She wrote so many brilliant books on fairy tales, monsters and on otherness. She describes her writing as “often drawing on mythic or imaginary predecessors to bring them into contemporary significance.”
SW I’ve never engaged in fairy tales directly in my work, I mean, not the classic kinds. I remember being very into a Marina Warner book in college, called ‘Phantasmagoria’, which is a book on nebulous forces and how they appear in art etc. I’m very interested in folklore though, these strange tales, traditions, leftover knowledge. And fairy lore, for example the ‘stray sod’, which causes you to become confused in a familiar landscape. This has happened to me twice before.
MLB Did you turn your coat inside out to escape?
SW Unfortunately it was summer so no coat! Following the strange croak of a bird on a dead tree snapped me out of it.
Join Marie-Louise again tomorrow, when she discusses with Walsh their interest in rewilding, the Burren and writers who inspired them.