New Haven artist Suzan Shutan spoke with 2Life Magazine about the Orchard Street Shul and her project.
How did you find out about the Orchard Street Shul project and what motivated you to participate?
I received an exhibition call for artists by a colleague who knows that I happen to live in the town where the exhibits central focus would be local, Orchard Street Shul, and thought my community based artwork would be appropriate. I replied to the call with interest and attended a meeting at the Shul site. When I walked inside, it was as if I stepped back into history. At first glance the interior was magnificent, full of intimate details and symbolism and at second glance I noticed sections of ceiling that had fallen through onto hand carved benches and walls that were rotted and exposed amidst beautiful hand stenciling. That is when I understood the gravity of the call and knew I wanted to be a participant.
Can you explain your contribution to the project and its connection to the shul?
My contribution to the project was a video installation called “Stomping Ground” that is part street map, moving pictures and personal stories woven together to examine community as a cultural construct and system that transcends its people. The title references the neighborhood and Orchard Street Shul as sites of congregation and desecration where boundaries and interactions blur, shared beliefs intermingle, and transformation is the outcome of heterogeneity. The installation consists of a geometric wooden relief grid work that references an aerial map of the neighborhood. A video screen is mounted in its middle like a courtyard, where action and congregation take place. The video is visually constructed like a grid of four panels that uses assembled photographic images combined with moving video to build a collective recollection of "place". I interviewed six individuals who reside/d in the community. They represent three generations and four different cultures. Each story told focuses on a universal issue, the immigrant experience (home ownership & business), spiritual experience (the role of religion/the Shul) and community experience (how we connect to each other). Stomping Ground is about preservation stimulating sustainable neighborhood development so that cultures are retained, views are celebrated and streets bustle with life.
How does this work fit into the context of your other art work?
Much of my work is rooted in socio-political content be it obvious or more subtle. For example, I have been working on a series about Pheromones- art and science. The work visualizes patterns of attraction or repellent that happen within our body chemistry. The idea is abstract and its message is subtle, but you certainly get the feeling of a sexual reaction...particles blown away or drawn in like a magnet, the work spreading across 20 foot walls. Last year while on a regional grant to Argentina, I created an entire exhibit based on traveling, how we glean information... developing a preconceived notion about what a place is like before we arrive. My sculptural work, often combined with large projected videos, is at first glance abstract until you spend time with it to identify its deeper meaning ... in Argentina, a glacial drift was based on a small mountain of ice that dislodging itself in Patagonia due to our climate crisis. Stomping Ground fits into the context of my other work in that it is based first on an investigation of ideas, in this case being, how can we live well with each other to survive in the world.