The Body Electric; An Interview with artist Suzanne Walsh – Part 3
by Marie-Louise Blaney.
Marie-Louise Blaney is the Education Curator at The Model, Sligo.
Today Suzanne Walsh talks to us about AE Russell, the strange doings of Aleister Crowley and some thoughts on philosophy.
MLB Suzanne, are you there?
SW I think so.
MLB In The Body Electric, you chose to respond to AE Russell’s works in The Niland Collection. AE was a contemporary of Aleister Crowley and both would have transgressed divisions between this world and others. What are your thoughts?
SW I think they were quite different characters? It’s a very long time since I’ve engaged with his work but from what I remember Crowley seemed like such a larger than life character, becoming notorious as the ‘wickedest man in the world’, and attracted a lot of criticism in his time, some of it probably was justified. He seemed to have pushed himself and his followers to the limit in seeking magical knowledge, even forming his own religion of Thelma. I’m sure he did succeed in some way to move between worlds, although I don’t know what it cost him. I read recently that W.B. Yeats kicked him down the stairs once, because he was trying to wage a magical battle against the Order of the Golden Dawn members, which I find amusing. I know some people who follow his systems very strictly. I met a Crowleyian magician from L.A. once who said he wouldn’t ever read W.B Yeats because of this feud. He’s still carrying on their battle, which is amazing!
With AE Russell, I’d say he adopted a less extreme and gentler approach to engaging with the spirit world. He was a Theosophist, and he developed his own mystical writings. I’m not sure about transgression, but he seemed to definitely transport himself somewhere else in his work and thoughts, he saw himself as clairvoyant. In a way, I think his ideas really condense into his paintings and poetry, and are somewhat animistic, there’s light and spirit in everything. But it’s interesting that he was also a very earthy person, and a caring one, as well, a political commentator with strong sympathies to workers, an economist, the editor of the ‘The Irish Statesman’. He was a fascinating combination of elements.
MLB The philosopher Georges Bataille considers the categorisation of art very problematic, as categories can impose form on actions and ways of making. What do you think?
SW Bataille’s essay ‘The Cruel Practice of Art’ is very interesting in thinking about what art does in society, and how it stands in for the idea of human sacrifice. But yes, I think the categorising of art forms can be tricky sometimes, especially if you work between art-forms. For example writing is always seen as something secondary in the art-world (to support art). However, for me it’s a material of its own, as is audio. I think really exciting things can happen between art categories though, or between different practitioners. I’ve collaborated with filmmakers, musicians, other writers, and made and performed work that has been dispersed in the art, music and literary worlds. It’s really for me about what makes sense for the work as well as what excites me.
But I think people can be really into one form and that’s ok too. Dividing art-forms can make sense, organisationally, but it also causes problems sometimes too, for example making applications when you’re a more hybrid artist, which box should you apply in?
MLB Are you there? Are you still there?
SW Was I ever?
MLB Great, I can hear you now. On the subject of art and it’s materials, do your ideas come from the materials you use or do you think that materials are excess?
SW Maybe ideas are also materials? With Bataille his idea of ‘excess’ roughly means expending energy for luxury sake, or in a non-productive way. Some people find art can be a form of that, it’s not for everyday consumption. Which is what has always given it a special or sacred dimension. Or on the other hand something for collectors to demonstrate wealth. For me, I feel the poetic world is important for life, so I will gladly ‘waste’ energy on it. But I also feel in general that we need to rethink what is of value in the world, or what value means.
To name a work is a tricky exercise. We catch up tomorrow with Walsh in the final installment to hear their thoughts on naming work, their views on deep time, time travel and otherworlds.