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Artist in Residence

Spring, 2000

PLANS were announced in the previous issue of Sphæra for an artist in residence at the Museum. Interviews with the six shortlisted candidates took place late last year and it can now be announced that the post has been awarded to Susan Derges.

Susan Derges studied at the Chelsea School of Art and Design and the Slade School of Fine Art. Her work has been shown in solo exhibitions in Britain, Germany, Japan, Poland, Switzerland, Sweden and the USA, as well as in numerous international group exhibitions.

Much of her work is photographically based, often making exposures directly onto photographic paper without the use of a camera. River flows, melting ice and the growth and motion of tadpoles have all been recorded in this way. Such sequences of photograms take direct inspiration from nature, but Derges’s work has also been pursued in experimental contrivances more reminiscent of the laboratory.

She has produced a series of Chladni figures and, in a setup borrowed from the physics demonstrations of C. V. Boys, photographed water droplets in a standing wave. This last series – The Observer and the Observed (1991; see below) – was created by using a loudspeaker to vibrate a jet of water illuminated by strobe light.

Derges has also worked in other media: Hermetica (1993) is a video of a mercury droplet vibrating in an upturned speaker cone. A retrospective catalogue of the full range of this work has recently been published as Liquid Form 1985-1999 (London, 1999), with an essay by Martin Kemp, Professor of the History of Art and President of the Friends of the Museum.

The residency at the Museum is entitled ‘Natural Magic: Susan Derges at the Museum of the History of Science’ and will provide a unique opportunity to develop a body of work in response to the Museum’s collection, building and history.

The title evokes the Renaissance world of figures such as Giambattista della Porta, whose text on natural magic was the most famous of the genre. For della Porta the very terms ‘science’ and ‘art’ had quite different meanings from today. ‘Natural Magic’ hints at an approach to art and science that avoids the divisions which characterize so much of their recent history.

The residency begins in June and consists of six months of work spread over the course of a year. Detailed plans for the project will be developed in discussion with Museum staff and Derges will divide her time between research and preparation in Oxford and studio work in Devon.

The residency was arranged by the Ruskin School of Drawing with the financial support of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and Southern Arts, and takes place as part of the Year of the Artist.