Return to Articles


by Shirle Gottlieb

(Huntington Beach Art Center, Orange County) Some art is crisp, clean, cerebral and intellectual. Other art is emotional, expressionistic, full of feeling and inner longing. Both can be exceptional; either can excite and engage us in dialogue. But rarely do you have the opportunity to experience powerful art that speaks to us discursively, touches us on many sentient levels, and communicates subliminally all at the same time. Such is the stunning effect and our overwhelmed response to Suvan Geer: Inaudible Whispers.

Consisting of twelve, large-scale installations that occupy all three of the Center’s spacious galleries, this outstanding survey of Geer's ongoing work demonstrates her deeply held concerns during the past 18 years. Namely: The impermanence of time, the power of memory, the pain of loss, the inevitability of death--all of it underscored by her firm belief that life, itself, is an integral part of Nature. Indeed, a reverence for life and an aura of spirituality hovers in the air as we contemplate such works as With Mother's Milk, Swallow/Tales from the Dinner Table, Moving in Amber at the Speed of Sound, and Milk & Soot: Wet Milk Hare.

Geer's art, together with its intrinsically potent message, is never preachy, didactic, or force-fed. How could it be when it is we, the viewers, who variously respond to her symbols and signifyers; we, who interpret them for ourselves; and we, who make our own connections.

"Milk & Soot: Wet Milk Hare,"
installation with newspaper/
rope/powdered milk, 1997.

"Moving in Amber at the Speed
of Sound," stump/ground corn/
paper/recored sound, 1989.

"Coverup," installation with
beeswax/pine cone/bark/
recorded sound, 1992.

"Coverup" detail, "Beekeeper's Helmet."

All good art and poetry are built on metaphor, and metaphor abounds in Geer's poetic artmaking. Constructing her work with such common-place, everyday materials as salt, soot, powdered milk, rice, cornmeal, egg shells, beeswax, bark, pinecones, and grass, she creates stark, dramatic scenarios--much like theatrical stage sets--then she leaves it up to us to supply our own metaphors.

If we've read Melville or Thoreau we bring certain perspectives to her work; if we know Grimm's instructive fairy tales we bring others. If we're conversant with Kant or Taoism we broaden the spectrum; even if we're as innocent as children, it doesn't matter. Whatever the connection: everything is right, nothing is wrong.
Wild hares hang from the ceiling by their feet; pools of powdered milk spell out words and parables on the floor; aprons with multiple pockets are stuffed with food fragments; a sewing machine sits coated with cornmeal; the smell of beeswax permeates the air; recorded sounds of wind, whispers, heartbeats and breathing pulsate through the gallery--all of it evokes the imagination and prods our memory of things past.

How we respond to this flood of sensual stimulation depends on who we are and what experiences we've had. Life is ephemeral, time is ephemeral, the work seems to say. Nature moves in ongoing cycles that continuously begin, grow, transform, decay, die. We are ourselves a part of Nature, not separate or removed from it.

Everything in life is precious and none of it is permanent. From a philosophical point of view, and considering the human condition, it seems that we and those snared hares have much in common.