Susan Derges



Born London, 1955

Susan Derges studied painting at Chelsea School of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art, London. She then lived in Japan for six years, before returning to the UK in 1986. Her images reveal the hidden forces of nature, from the patterns of sound waves to the flow of rivers.

During the 1990s, Derges became well known for her photograms of water. To make these works, she used the landscape at night as her darkroom, submerging large sheets of photographic paper in rivers and using the moon and flashlight to create the exposure.

Within seeming chaos, Derges conveys a sense of wonder at the underlying orderliness. She examines the threshold between two interconnected worlds: an internal, imaginative or contemplative space and the external, dynamic, magical world of nature. Her works can be seen as alchemical, transformative acts that test the threshold between matter and spirit.

Ernst Chladni was an 18th-century physicist who researched the visualisation of sound waves. He discovered that fine sand on a square metal plate formed geometrical patterns when a violin bow was vibrated across the edge of the plate. Derges made these images in a similar fashion, but with carborundum powder on photographic paper to produce photograms.

In her desire to fix ever-changing, constantly renewing forms, there is a poetic paradox in Derges’s work. Here she shows the river literally frozen in time. The vertical arrangement of the river, rendered on the soft matt surface of black-and-white paper like a charcoal drawing, also recalls the attenuated form of a Japanese scroll.

This work was made as part of a residency at the Eden Project in Cornwall. It concentrates in a single image the many different wave forms that Derges has examined over the years. Like other artists and philosophers, she is exploring the idea that natural patterns are the signs of deeply hidden affinities, visible signs that point to the invisible.

In these dreamlike landscapes, she first made images of cloud by direct digital scans of ink dispersing in water within a small glass tank. She printed these scans onto large transparencies, then placed them beneath a glass tank containing water, bracken, grasses and reeds. Next she made direct prints onto dye destruction paper placed beneath both tank and transparency. Finally, she photographed these prints and digitally stitched them together to make the large-scale digital C-prints.


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