After hearing artist Susan Byrnes speak on her art and her creative process and after reading the article by art historian Suzi Gablik, one main idea from Gablik article that connects to Susan Byrnes’ work is the need for the artist to have creative control over his or her work. Understanding the difference between commissioned work and free creative expression in important; being able to bring real life into artwork without the encumbrances of artistic direction frees the artist to explore meaning though the artistic process/
One particular work of Byrnes that promotes the exchange of ideas is her installation piece entitled “Epiphany.” It is a large, multi-part piece that incorporates blown glass and sound. It is part of the Discover Project, which is a multimedia presentation that has four distinct installation pieces and four separate sculptures. “Epiphany” uses red and yellow blown glass to encapsulate three-channel speakers. The blown glass is formed into conical shapes of differing sizes. Each cone contains a speaker, and each speaker and cone combination is placed on a white pedestal. The pedestals are lined in a symmetrical manner and are crisp and clean looking. The varying shades of the yellow and red blown glass are in stark contrast to the surrounding walls, floor, and pedestals. The speakers in each cone are black. This gives each cone the semi-appearance of a flower. Byrnes took her inspiration for the Discover Project from interviews she conducted with molecular biologists. She incorporated her interpretations of their answers into her work, and her motivation was to explore the advancement of knowledge, or discovery.

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The role of the artist in Byrnes creative process when building this installation included speaking with the scientists, interpreting their answers, considering the questions asked of them, and forming a strategy to express this information. Further, Byrnes must have determined that concrete rather than abstract images would best convey the message she was sending, as she carefully chose the colors and placement of each component in the installation. She also incorporated more than just visual representation with this particular installation, as she included speakers for sound art as well. Byrnes collaborators in this work are the scientists specifically, and in general, the social public as both consumers and purveyors of information and art.

Gablik’s contention that art should review and perhaps change the societal apologues that currently make up the great portion of how society thinks, acts, feels, and judges is also evident in Byrnes “Epiphany” by the kickback against the typical art as a reflection of corporate influence and gain. By deconstructing the power of the sound metaphor and limiting the color palate and number of components, Byrnes is sending a message that art should be of and for itself rather than a contextual reinforcement of commercialization. Byrnes also makes a statement with this installation piece by following what Gablik indicated: “Art is rooted in a ‘listening’ self rather than in a disembodied eye challenges the isolationist thinking of our culture because it focuses not so much on individuals but on the way they interact” (Gablik 4). This way of thinking about art helps Byrnes try and connect with her audience at a more conversational level – a shift in artview that allows for viewer integration in to the art rather than isolative and passive observation of the art.

Byrnes employs a subtle yet effective set of colors, materials, installation components, and thought-provoking emotions with “Epiphany.” Balancing the need for self-interpretation with the need to enter an anti-social, social paradigm is successfully completed in this installation piece because of its invitation to seek knowledge and experience the joy of discovery.

  • Gablik, Suzi. “Connective Aesthetics.” American Art, vol. 6, no. 2, 1992, Accessed 5 Oct. 2017.