Kaleidoscopic installations by Dutch artist Suzan Drummen are luminous, colourful and short-lived, like rainbows.
Suzan Drummen’s flashy floor installations initially hit you between the eyes with a ‘Rangoli-meets-Vegas’ kind of impression. The polychromatic, ornamental forms splattered on the floor and their pleasing symmetry is all too familiar to the Indian eye and yet Drummen is a Dutch artist occupied with examining the relationship between decorative and meaningful art.
From a top view, Drummen’s installations appear more as bright, reflective optical illusions. Come closer, or better still, view the installation from eye level, as many visitors prefer to, and you will come away struck by the many layers and sheer number of tiny crystals, beads, mirrors and chrome-metal surfaces that are manually arranged, piece by piece, to create the kaleidoscopic work.
The most amazing feature of the installation is the loose and free-standing nature of all the components and hence their vulnerability to attack from the environment. Drummen recalls, “Once there was a little baby who fell into the work, but then we immediately fixed it back. It is really important that everything is just loose on the floor, as it deals with vulnerability.”
The Dutch artist’s preference for such kind of ephemeral art is fascinating especially since the installations are so labour-intensive and take two to three weeks to complete.
Interestingly, Drummen arrives at the site of installation without any detailed plan in mind and allows the design to grow organically. “I just start; I never make a plan. The work is very site specific and so for every space the work is different. It grows while working.” She starts laying out the installation without the help of any tracings or guide marks making us marvel at the perfect circles and precise symmetry.
The installations are labour-intensive and require Drummen to enlist the help of a few volunteers. “Usually I have a group of ten students to help me. They all like to help as it is not difficult, and in fact very exciting to do. After a while though your knees hurt…. and sometimes they have to redo things as I am not easy on them. It has to be very precise.”
During her student days, Drummen studied painting and monumental design at Kunstacademie Maastricht, but says she began working on temporary installations in earnest only in 2004.
Her own reaction to her first installation was one of amazement and discovery. “When you see this space with a convex lens, you will see it differently. In many convex lenses together, however, the view becomes staggering.
The reflections can no longer be ‘read’ by the eyes. Automatically the eyes focus differently in an attempt to see the whole. I am constantly studying this moment of simultaneously grasping and not grasping. The material helps me in doing this.”
In Drummen’s art, the circular form rules. She clarifies, “The circle is an open form. It invites one to come inside. Coming closer or looking at it sideways, you see that it is just material, there is no illusion. This is what I also want to show. Life as it is. The circle helps me and I can play with this form endlessly.”
When the time comes for the installation to be cleared and all the pieces put away, Drummen admits to feeling a tinge of sadness but then reasons by saying, “After a few weeks the mirrors become a little bit dusty and of course I cannot clean them whilst they are a part of the installation. So after a while I prefer to take away all the material, clean it and use it again in a new installation in another spot.”
There’s another significant reason why she continues to subscribe to the temporal experience. “When people see my work for the first time they always want to touch it. They move one little part, and then they get very excited when they realise that every part is just loose on the floor. The manual labour is so impressive that it becomes part of it all.”
Drummen’s art is full of contradictions: It is attractive yet also over the top; it is simple to look at but complex to create; it is randomly laid out yet very precise; it invites touch but also rejects it. And let’s not forget – now you see it, now you don’t.
Text By Christabelle Athaide
Photographs Courtesy Suzan Drummen