Vivian Suter: Tin Tin’s Sofa review
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Vivian Suter’s canvases swarm across the lofty, swimming-pooly spaces of Camden Arts Centre. They hang from the ceiling in swathes, and overlap each other on the walls. In one corner, a dozen or more are suspended in a row, like plates drying in a rack: as a result, you can’t see most of them, but you know they’re there.
Suter is a refugee. Not from conflict or oppression, but from the Western art world. Born in Argentina, she grew up in Switzerland and was all set for a conventional First World career when she jacked it in and fled to Latin America. She’s lived and worked in the jungle of Guatemala for the last 37 years, producing hundreds of vivid paintings on raw, unprimed and unframed canvases. She leaves them outside in the rain and lets her dogs walk over them and lie on them (hence the title). Each show sees her works repositioned in response to the space. There’s a total lack of preciousness about what an artwork should be: the whole thing is the work, like the jungle is the jungle. Up close, it’s comprised of individual elements, but you can’t hope to see or comprehend it all.
There are suns and animals. There are black grids of branches and geometric shapes. Some of the canvases have a kind of prehistoric dynamism; others have more of a preschool dynamism. For every startlingly immediate abstract panel, there’s a muddy finger-painted daub in several shades of shit. Again, you sense that Suter is making a point about how we approach and process art, especially painting. The polite, discrete artwork is something we’ve been taught; it’s a format. Okay, Suter’s works are still recognisably paintings, but she challenges what you understand by that idea constantly.
So, in a kind of ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ scenario, I have to conclude that my failure to be overwhelmed by Suter’s maximalist scree of messy canvases is my fault, not hers. I just can’t stop myself individuating something I see as a painting, mainly because there are some really, really good paintings here – paintings I could live with and fall in love with, finding new things in them every day – and a lot of rubbish ones. Clearly I wouldn’t cope with the jungle very well