Susan Collard, “Lodestone House”
Artist: Susan Collard (Portland, OR)
Title: Lodestone House (2012)
Medium/technique(s): acrylics, ink, collage, and assemblage
Edition size: Unique
Number of pages: N/A
Dimensions, open: variable
Dimensions, closed :7.5″ x 13.5″ x 8″ (outer box)
I have long been fascinated by the history of science and the artifacts that testify to its advancement, from vacuum tubes and clock parts to my grandfather’s textbooks. Despite the sophistication of the technologies we use every day, most of us are at a loss to explain even the simplest phenomena. I have often watched an artist’s book provoke childlike wonder in thoughtful adults by the use of modest mechanical marvels, optical devices, or concealed attachments. In creating an intimate, open-ended setting for the unexpected, I am interested in exploring questions of what we know and how we know it.
Lodestone House is a unique boxed set, containing two books, two boxes, and other loose elements, designed as a sort of magnetic playground. It was inspired by William Gilbert’s marvelous work, De Magnete, first published in 1600. Handwritten text throughout the piece quotes the 1893 translation by P. Fleury Mottelay, entitled On the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies and on the Great Magnet the Earth. Illustrations are collaged from vintage textbooks on physics, electricity, and astronomy—all fields which utilized magnetism long before the subatomic forces that produce it began to be understood.
Gilbert’s text drew on years of experimentation, and is dense with careful observations and deductions. It is surprisingly eloquent, and, in some places, launches unexpectedly into the metaphysical. I chose passages which I felt captured his willingness to marvel at the forces he described. Because I wanted to emphasize the personal, poetic nature of the text, I incorporated it into the book in my own handwriting. Each quote closes by citing the appropriate book and section of De Magnete.
Like most of my work, Lodestone House was shaped by a willingness to experiment with unorthodox materials, and by the ever-evolving trove of prosaic and obsolete objects I have collected over the years. Iron-tinged four-inch slate tiles seemed appropriately earthy covers for the books in this collection. Repurposed steel components provide a stage for the magnets; I used copper where I wanted metal that would not interact. Wood I had on hand formed the rest of the pages: mostly birch aircraft plywood, as well as walnut and oak. I used a laminated board book structure with canvas hinges that could stand up to the heavy materials. I accepted that the books would have boxy, blocky proportions, but took care that each could be readily held in the hand. The work as a whole gains complexity and open-endedness through the interaction of its parts.