Upon entering The Artery Gallery in the River Arts District, Susannah Zucker’s large scale ceramic and mixed-media sculptures command the viewer’s attention immediately. The work doesn’t sit passively on the walls, but occupies the whole of the gallery, functioning almost like an installation. The result, “Life Support,” is a compelling show that invites viewers to experience engaging textures, skill in craftsmanship, and emotional connections to human and equine figures.
Zucker’s work consists of a variety of materials: ceramics, metal, glass, but also bones and antlers from horse, cow, moose and elk remains. A human body may be fitted with antlers for wings, or a missing limb may be replaced with an animal bone. Surfaces shift from a rich waxed ceramic finish to harsh rusted metal or wire mesh.
While the contrast in textures is intriguing enough, the content of Zucker’s work pulls the viewer in even further. She writes of her work as “expressive of desire for flight, power, magic and transformation.” While her sculptures may initially be disturbing to some in terms of their disfiguration, Zucker states that “trauma itself bestows the power to grow wings or cultivate liberation,” provoking the viewer to look beyond their first impressions and see the power and beauty inherent in each figure’s plight.
“Life Support Series #6” is a ballerina-inspired figure, hanging from the ceiling, prompting the viewer to look up as well as out. The pale pink figure’s legs are wrapped like a dancer, and bones appear where arms should be. She gives an impression of struggle in holding onto the wire that supports her by chomping on a bit, yet her physical presence that looms overhead strikes a chord of reverence in the viewer.
A male figure morphs into a bicycle-like structure in “Life Support Series #4.” He wears an oxygen tank on his back, cast in glass, built with a tube that reaches around to his mouth. The smooth ceramic flesh mingles with mesh, punctuated with bolts, which serve as a visual transition into his metal cycle appendage. The figure seems both hampered and empowered by the structure at the same time.
“Life Support” deserves some quiet contemplation on behalf of its viewers to better understand each figure’s struggle and victory. The show hangs in The Artery Gallery, home to the Asheville Area Arts Council, at 346 Depot Street until June 30. Zucker will give an artist talk on Thursday June 28 at 3 p.m.