SCARECROW EXHIBITION CATALOGUE
Text by Claude Gagnon 1991
SCARECROWS are guardians: they are the keepers of troubled memories, of favorite images, of haunting dreams and cherished fantasies. They are the wardens of the artist's inner world, of magic and creativity. Their function is twofold: they guide and they ward.
Susan Edgerley's work is richly textured, both physically and metaphorically. 'Nest/Flight/Bird/Me' is a SCARECROW posed as a ballerina, Edgerley's most direct reference to art history. On its rigid, metal structure, this elegant sculpture is draped in a dress of gauze and barbed wire. The cold rigidity of the support structure opposes the rhythmic qualities of the dress: these create a sculpture that is both delicate and strong, tough and elegant. Contrast is Edgerley's most powerful tool.
The ballerina is, to say the least, the unusual motif. 'Pattern' also features a gauze-draped dancer with fused glass, bamboo and paper dress-pattern, a juxtaposition which reveals the artist's sense of humour. Ironically, both these dancers seem frozen in early modernist expression. Removed from the studio or the stage, these SCARECROWS, parodies of the dancer/performer, invite us to conclude that the CROWS may be both critics and public alike.
In the sculpture entitled 'Inside/Out', barbed wire, glass and copper are combined to create a structure which is almost entirely draped. It is therefore the dress that becomes the point of focus. The brittle, sugar-like 'pate de verre' and the rusted wire, the curved forms with outreaching metal projections create a harmony that is strikingly contemporary.
The SCARECROW designated 'My Shield' is at once contemporary and primitive. In this sculpture, the structure and the dress join forces to present one of the most successful pieces of the entire series. Again, in proper SCARECROW fashion, 'My shield' performs a balancing act on delicate point. Glass, paper, copper and natural fibers cover the steel structure and the movement is dependent on both the support and the dress. The particularly successful interplay of old and new materials also adds to the appeal of the piece. There is no doubt that this SCARECROW cuts a strikingly contemporary figure, yet its dress evokes all the trappings of remote and unknown primitive worlds.
'Élan' and 'Pierced' both use the shield to create SCARECROWS that are primitive and warriorlike. Graceful structures support large protective armours made of paper which has been coloured with deep black ink; the ornamentation of twigs, thread and copper underscores the primitiveness. The shields are a metaphor for protection; however, these sculptures have a rhythmic quality which conjures forth images of dance. It is typical of Edgerley's work to oppose images of dancing warriors to static ballerinas. The dancers of 'Nest/Flight/Bird/Me' and 'Pattern' rely on the dresses for movement, whereas it is the very structure of 'Élan' and 'Pierced' that create the movement.
'Shhh' also uses the shield but here Edgerley presents us with the image of a wind-blown sentinel. 'Shhh' is a sculpture which speaks primarily about the structure in that its dress coverings are minimal and the rhythm of the piece is created by ribbons of twisted steel. The fan-shaped shield is not a piece of defensive body armour; rather, it is an adornment which protects the SCARECROW in its solitary and muted existence. The shield is made of glass, a fine measure of Edgerley's sense of humour.
'Meandering' breaks the verticality of this series with a horizontal support structure on the upper half of the SCARECROW. Emphasis is placed on the shoulder apparel, a contraption not dissimilar in function to the wings of Icarus. If dance and flight are the two predominant motifs of Edgerley's recent work, much of the strength of the flight motif is due to the presence of 'Meandering'. The gliding movement is light and lofty: this SCARECROW is a true guardian of freedom and joy.
Susan Edgerley's method of operation is direct enough: she constantly opposes forces of equal strength in order to create a tension between the structure and the dress, between the support and its embellishment. Cold, hard metal structures are opposed to warm flowing dresses or dramatic and improbable shields. The strong geometry of the new materials is always opposed to the recycled or manipulated materials of the dresses. Nevertheless, a dress does not a SCARECROW make, or vice versa. The polarities in her work underscore the tension between the intellectual and the emotional, as well as highlight her clever understanding of artistic manipulation, and her awareness of when to let the materials speak for themselves. Favoring none, she emphasizes that the dialogue between the parts is a necessary postulate for the understanding of her work. Edgerley achieves a unity of form and content: each SCARECROW both protects and inspires in its juxtapositions of the logic of the structure to the fanciful nature of the dress.
There is no denying the sensuousness of Edgerley's work: the predominance of curves, the richness of her materials, and occasional exuberance of the pieces accentuate this striking quality. That she has a remarkable affinity with the materials used in her work is obvious, as their treatment is always meticulous. Although paper and glass shields might appear incongruous, they reflect the transitory nature of the SCARECROW itself; nor does this transitory nature deter the artist from a treatment of embellishment that is painstaking, a scrupulous attention to detail. The overall effect is one of tactile richness. Edgerley discusses her love of materials with expressive terminology and the SCARECROW series is an excellent translation into sculpture of her remarkable eloquence.
Claude Gagnon 1991