Meet the Artist: Susan Plum

Corning Museum of Glass , April 14, 2011

Tina Oldknow: I am very pleased to welcome the artist Susan Plum, who has left the warm climate of Houston to come to frigid Corning to be with us tonight.

Born in the United States but raised in Mexico City, Susan was fascinated with the way ancient culture existed side-by-side with the modern metropolis. In her sculptures and installations, she seeks to create a space in which to experience a unity of -- and connectedness with -- the past and present.

I met Susan in Seattle in 1990, when we both were living there, and I have followed her work ever since. It is exciting, constantly changing, and always fascinating, as is Susan herself, and I am glad that she is back again in the United States after many years living in Mexico.

For Susan, glass is a metaphor for light, and it is a way to make the invisible visible. She weaves her glass rods, or filaments of light, into intricate sculptures. Her sculpture, Woven Heaven, Tangled Earth, a 3-foot diameter sphere woven of 3mm borosilicate rod—which you see on the screen—is a favorite of Museum visitors.

In her studies of ancient Mesoamerican cultures, Susan was intrigued to learn that the Maya conceived of the universe as a loom woven with strands of light. “The loom of the Mayan universe is believed to be constructed of filaments of light from which the Heavens and Earth are said to be woven,” says Plum. “These woven strands of light can become tangled around the Earth, and it is the job of the shaman to untangle this discord. Thus, the act of weaving, for the Maya, symbolically rebuilds and re-energizes the world.”

Although glass is what we at Corning love Susan for, her work involves many materials and ranges in form from small vessels to room-size installations. All of her projects have a strong ritual component. Recently, Susan has incorporated a variety of ritual performances in her important and ongoing work “Luz y Solid-aridad” (Light and Solidarity), which addresses the murders of women in Juarez, Mexico.

Susan writes: “Synthesis is a centralizing theme in my work, which combines a multi-cultural overview with an interest in the more experiential and intuitive traditions, such as Mayan and Eastern philosophies, geomancy, anthropo-sophy, archaeo-astronomy, and ecology. Most ancient civilizations had a sophisticated cosmology in which nature, art, spirituality, and the cosmos were not separate. Building upon a personal cosmology, the work for me becomes a transformer or receiver of these energies, echoing the operation of the retablo or votive.

Please welcome Susan Plum.

Susan Plum: Thank you Tina.

Good evening, I want to thank everybody for coming. It’s really cold out there. I am getting used to it. I’m loving it. I really think that it’s absolutely beautiful when the sun is out. I want to thank Tina for that wonderful introduction. I want to thank Amy Schwartz for inviting me to come and give this lecture. I very much appreciate it and I am very happy to be here. It’s always exciting to be here.

I am going to begin, again, telling you the story that I am from Mexico. This is the famous square, or circle, that is the Zocalo [in Mexico City], and in 1957, when I was living there, this angel fell from one of the earthquakes, and they got it back up again. There was no problem. But I was very, very much, as a young art student in the university, I was very much moved by Remedios Varo. I don’t know if you all are familiar with her. She’s a metaphysician, and a surrealist, and very much involved in the surrealist movement. I feel that probably magic realism grew out of that time. This is some of her work, and she and Leonora Carrington painted very much the same and were very connected with Max Ernst, André Breton, and many of the other surrealist poets. This is another one of her pieces.

I need to get my computer calibrated: something is really wrong with my yellow! Then I moved to the United States, and this is many, many years later, we move to—and guess where this is—Seattle. So, Seattle became my home for 17 years. My children and I lived there. I love living there, and I finally did get the bug for glass.

After many years, I went to India and spent six months there. I had a teacher in southern India, whom I learned a lot about Vedanta and many of the other sacred books. I was very lucky to have had that time. Somehow, I think he instilled in me. . . glass. Why, I don’t know. I’ve never been able to figure it out.

I came back from India, and I was in my station wagon, going to all these junk stores, gathering pieces of junk glass, and started gluing it together, making these beautiful icons. I kept thinking, OK, this is glass, you know, this is really glass. So, a friend of mine finally said to me, “Susan, why don’t you go take this class from Ginny Ruffner, because she works, you can actually make a leaf out of glass.” Well, I had never really thought about doing anything, and actually making something out of glass. So, I signed up for a workshop at Pratt—and Ginger was there at that time—it said “Lampworking.” And I thought, what in the world is that? So, I called Ginny and I said, “Look, I just want you to know ahead of time I am not going to make any lamps!” The thing that absolutely blew my mind about this whole experience, that first day of working with Ginny, was that I had been doing research for many years on the creation myths, which are all having to do with—of course, we know—the primal forces, and all the elements. Alchemy, I had been studying alchemy and all this other wonderful, visually intriguing, what you would think of as intriguing.

Also, I was dowsing quite a bit. Are there any dowsers here in the crowd? One, two dowsers, yes. So, I was doing a lot of dowsing. So, when I saw Ginny actually take that rod and turn that flame on, I almost fainted. I saw the glass melt into this unbelievable lyrical line, alchemical line of light, you know. Air, fire, water, I mean everything was in there. So, it was the most exciting moment, and I thought, that’s it. Now I can translate what I have been studying. Now I can translate what I am looking for. And that was exciting! So, thank you, Seattle.

These are dowsers as well, and on the left were probably the original dowsers, they’re Aborigine, and you’ll see them pointing the stick. So, essentially, what they’re doing is looking for water, or looking for food: absolutely beautiful. Over here is a more contemporary view of dowsing, probably in the 1800s, and these are pendulums. And this is a more contemporary dowser.

From here, I went to Pilchuck to take some classes from Ginny, and I met Cappy [Thompson], and Fritz [Dreisbach], and many other people. It was a wonderful time in my life. This was where I spent a lot of time; this is the flameworking room. I guess it’s a room, whatever, shack, shed, I don’t know. It’s a beautiful room. I was there as a student, and a TA as well as teacher for several years. Those times were in the early ‛90s and it was a lovely, lovely time, where you meet a community of glass from all over the world. It’s a great, great experience.

I started making small things at the beginning, and learning how to work with the glass. Small candelabras; I was making even special little wands of some kind, I don’t know what. I loved adding crystals with them, and also was using lusters at the time. Then they started growing a bit. This is almost 3 feet high or higher, actually 38 inches, and a little bit more voluminous. These are work, all in clear. I was doing these candelabras along with my other work, to really feed my other work. Because, at that time, I had started to do installations, which are costly and require a great deal of time, so it was wonderful to be doing this. I made candelabras for about 10 years or 15 years. And this is a set of goblets, that I call ceremonial goblets, which are part of the collection at the Museum here.

This was, I believe, my first pair of goblets, of many. I worked with a lot of sculpture at the time, a series that was called Nada vale silencio. In the other sculpture, there is some lampworking, but not much, it was mostly mixed media. This work was done also in the ’90s.

I also started doing this lifelong project of making “Our Lady of Moving Through Things.” And I feel it’s going to be in my life forever. It was also one of the first lampworking experiences. The outside is done with flameworked borosilicate rods that I made for this. They’re actually recycled ironing boards, the best way to use an ironing board. And the roses are silk, and dipped in fabulous cement that I got from a special milestone in Seattle. And I did a whole series of these, which I would like to continue to do. This is all candles on the left, or right, then on the left, they’re also silk roses dipped with wax.

And this is an installation that I did in the Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek. The small black images that you see are dragonflies and dried rose buds. This was painted with roses dipped in—no, they weren’t dipped, I just painted them with car paint. And the rose was made actually by Billy Morris, who made it for me while I was teaching at Pilchuck. The top is wonderful; I love the top, because it was one of the folk art pieces that I had brought back from Mexico. It’s a tray, a hand-painted tray, so I just cut the—sliced in the rays.

And then the installations, this very yellow installation, that I started doing in the ’90s, was all borosilicate, so as you walked into the installation, this is what you saw. These are borosilicate rods from 59 inches to 48 inches, and you walked on the very edge of it, and you walked into the installation. It’s very heavy, as you can imagine. These are ¾-inch rods of borosilicate. A dear friend of mine made the metal structure to go with it. This is calledSacred Garden: An Invocation to the Heart, and inside are real oranges, a pyramid of oranges. And this is what I think of as a celestial garden. It is a place of refuge for anyone to come in and sit, and people did sit and enjoy it. The blown vessels are drilled, and a spigot is put in, so you can actually fill the glass with water. And the back of it is a disk with an image of Robert Flood, who was a 17th-century philosopher and physician, and one of my great inspirers, I guess. That image is actually an image of what he was perceiving, was a view of, an artist’s view of the world, or the universe. The little moon segment there was actually electronically wired, and this was able to turn.

At the same time, that same year, we did this other installation that was more lyrical. This one’s called Falling Bodies Taking Flight. It was in a small room, all painted very dark, but the branches, so it foreshortened the branch as far as the image goes here. Hanging from the ceiling are the oranges. And it looked like an astronomical event was about to happen, as you walked in, because the oranges would sway. You could smell the oranges, and people spent a lot of time in this installation as well. The branches were quite large, and were hazel tree branches combined with large borosilicate branches.

We just put that pile together, and it was wonderful, because in October, I got to revisit this installation that was done in 1992. I was invited by an organization, it’s the Women Environmental Artists Directory [WEAD] from Berkeley [California], and they invited me to be in the show at the Bioneers Conference. And the show was called “Vanishing Pollinators.” And so, this is part of the exhibition that was, I mean, part of the installation that was in ’92, and I just revised it. In ’92, there was a wall that had these offerings on them, and you can see I am using the oranges as a backdrop, because it forms the hexagonal geometry. And then I xeroxed the offerings and put the bees in front, as a vanishing pollinator. But I used those images also in 1992. They’re filled with healing herbs. They’re all about promoting healing. Then, I was also, at that time, beginning to do other sculpture in lampworking and flameworking, and this is called Sacred Heart. It’s about 37 inches. And these are some other smaller pieces that were inspired by José Luis Borges and some of his essays.

This was 1996, and I’d had it with my wonderful stay in Seattle, and I thought, can I ever get to Mexico again? I was really homesick, and I thought, well, maybe I’ll stop in Berkeley on my way. So, I moved to Berkeley, and there was more sun there, actually, not a lot more sun, but there was quite a bit more sun, and I loved living there and was there for seven years.

And at that time, the piece, the image on the right is called Ixchel and she’s the Mayan goddess which I have a great deal of love for, because she was very much a primary figure in the pantheon of the Mayan deities. She was a lunar goddess and therefore oversaw the health of women in general, especially pregnant women. She was also the first weaver of the Americas and considered the first battered woman of the Americas. Because she was the moon, and the sun was her husband. And the sun got jealous, and thought that she was having an affair. So, she got scared and went down to earth and took the form of crab, which is a lunar image. So, this is all mythology, you know. Then the sun heard about this, and he came down, and took the form of deer, and found her, and crushed her. So, she was completely crushed. And 100,000 dragonflies heard about this, and they came over to her shattered body, hovered over her for 13 moons, and she emerged whole, except for one of her eyes. So, this is where we get the dark of the moon. Because every time the sun would come close to her, she would just turn, and those are the phases of the moon. So, that’s how the phases of the moon were born.

And so, I began my own sojourn into detailed weaving at that time—this was 1996—and started a body of work that took me close to eight months to do. And this was one of the first; this was like the pupa stage for me, because I am following more or less Ixchel’s journey through her life. This was the vessel, this is approximately 38 inches high. And each piece took me close to two months to do, at about eight hours a day. This is the detail to the next piece you’ll see, which is the opening of the pupa, and this piece is approximately the same height, or length. And this is the dragonfly; this dragonfly is 54 inches in wingspan. So packing that was my first experience—I had no idea how to pack it. Anyway, I got this box, and it was bigger than I was. You know, I kind of walked into this box, and do you know how many peanuts I put into that box? OK, then I learned how to pack this work, after that. This piece is in the collection of Anne Hauberg. Annie is a good friend and she and her husband John donated the land for Pilchuck. And it has been in an exhibition, which I think came down not too long ago, at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma.

This weaving continued to take me into areas that I thought were even more beautiful, and were beautiful. I’ve always been intrigued with the mythology behind, or the belief behind, the earth being a crystalline shape. That all the energy lines that you see here have existed for whatever length of time, and that early on, civilizations really knew about this, and placed churches on ley lines and they placed early, early civilizations on these ley lines, and then it created an icosahedron, which is a 20-faced, whatever. Anyway, what I was trying to get to is that this one, these pieces, this particular image here, has all the platonic solids together. So, when you’re doing that, this is not just earth that has this ley line structure that goes through it, or woven around it, it goes up further into the sky, and I find it really incredible that they’re just discovering this, some of the people in archaeoastronomy. But they’re not just discovering it, it’s been known since about the 1930s. But the Mayans and early Inca, and all those people that were tremendous astronomers and geomancers, knew about this as well. As Tina was talking about, they think of the universe as a loom. And so, it’s incredible that all this is coming together at a time when it’s so important for us to understand the connection between the cosmos now, because the cosmos is changing by the minute. I mean, by the minute. In the last four years what has happened in our cosmic life out there is so beyond anything that we could ever imagine. And one does wonder: do you suppose it’s the telescope that’s making it so fabulous, or is it because we have a telescope that we can see it, or did this exist? In any case, it’s really tremendous. So we are living in a very important time right now, and I feel that we are all weaving this heart. We’re all weaving a new world with this heart.

So, the tree, this was done in a residency at UrbanGlass, and the tree, to me, is. . . the weaving on the tree is like this heart. And so, the piece on the right, as you recognize, is Woven Heaven Tangled Earth, and I feel that all humanity is, let’s say, we hope a lot of humanity is weaving a new heart for the Earth.

At the same time, during the residency, they gave me some time for a gaffer to blow some glass, so I did some alchemical vessels, and these pieces were about 37 inches. I don’t know about 37, it seems to be a big number for me. You can see some of the infrastructure in this slide, here, of nature, and I find that it kind of relates to the tree, that that is one of the installations I did. And this piece, here, is called Mandragora, its the mandrake root in the front of the vessel. And these vessels were a lot of wonderful/horrible—some kind of dust was thrown on them, so they look really ancient—they were really beautiful. I don’t even want to tell you what that is, what they are.

So, finally I got to go to Mexico, and I went in 2000, at the turn of the millennium. And this is one of the beautiful roadside shrines in the state of Hidalgo that I saw that I just, I couldn’t believe how beautiful this was. So, how could you not do absolutely wonderful work when you’re were seeing that all the time? You know, not this. And then, on the left, is this beautiful thing they had out for Christmas. Up in the botanical gardens, where I was living in San Miguel de Allende, that place is sacred to the Chichimeca Indians. And when the Dali Lama came down in 1997, I mean 2005 or 2007 or something, he made that one of the 100 Sites for Peace— this botanical garden, which is absolutely beautiful. And so, the Chichimeca put up this, usually they come in and put this up. It is called an alfolmbra, and is made out of, this beautiful part of an agave plant, or they call it the spoon plant. So, it’s this all natural, and flowers, with this spoon plant palm.

And I started working a lot with photography. How can you not in Mexico? Mexico has a huge history of photography, a wonderful history of photography, and I became very intrigued. These are structures that are made for a firework that is called castillos. Each one of these things revolves, it’s a kinetic light, and it’s the most beautiful thing you ever saw. And these are built for ceremonies, I mean for holidays, for marriage ceremonies, all kinds of different pageants. And they make them almost 30, well you know, as you can see, some of them are 40 feet high. I took a lot of photographs of these when they were not lit, and when they were lit, and couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

So, I started using photography to photograph my glass work, the intricate glass work I was doing. I would photograph and take segments of it, and started moving into painting, that I hadn’t done in many many years, and transferring it into my paintings. So this, as you can see, up on the left, was some of the glass images. This piece is called Nagual and it’s about a 34 by 34, and it’s a gouache. Nagual means shape-shifter.

This is called Mariposa cosmica, cosmic butterfly. And these are 4 feet by 4 feet each, and it’s called Codices 1 and 2.

From here, I started working on a show for Traver Gallery in Seattle. I’d been looking into nebula, of course, nebulae, and decided to do this work around nebulae, a whole body of work. On the right are images that I had done, I had six glass pieces, or seven of these glass pieces on the left, replicated in embroidery. And there were women in the ranches that helped me do the embroidery. They loved doing it, because they were so tired of making the churches, you know. Anyway, so this is a body of work that took me into a lot of different wonderful areas. And this is a detail of one of the pieces; it’s a cat’s eye nebula. And this is the crown nebula, and this is a cat’s eye nebula, here on the left. And this piece is about 42 inches, on the left.

During the time I had just finished this, I ended up moving the rest of my belongings from Berkeley, and anyway, that was some kind of a job. But, I began to think about the next project, which is the project on social activism, which I really wanted to do while I was in Mexico, and I really felt like it was time. So, I started researching what I was going to do for the installation for this social activism, for the women of Juarez. That took several years to come together. But, about 2004, I had to go to the United States again, and on my way back, I stopped by Arizona and visited some friends of mine, and then stopped in El Paso, and went to meet the head of the organization for the mothers who had lost children in Juarez. She and I had been in communication since 1999, talking about doing a project for the women of Juarez who had lost their children.

It’s all young girls, anywhere from five years old to 21. There’s a couple that are a bit older, but that was not related to the situation. And by now, the count has gone up to the thousands, because not all of them are reported, and many have just disappeared. At that time, when I started looking into it, there had been about 450 murders and 600 disappeared. Now, it’s closer to 2,000 and getting worse. The problem is that it’s confused with a lot of the other violence that’s happening right now in Mexico, and especially on the border area from Monterrey on up. It’s very, very dangerous right now. And there’s a lot of narcotráficante [narcotics traffic] murders going on right now. So, this has been sort of put on the back burner because there’s so much being paid attention to with this other, which is understandable. But, this is continuing. The problem does continue.

And I met Maricella, the director, and asked her if I could meet some of the mothers. And so, I went for three days, and met several mothers who had lost their children, and talked to them and heard their story. And the story that I heard from all of them is there is never going to be any justice. And so, I didn’t want to be just reporting a situation, I wanted to see if there was some way we could design an exhibition, or an installation—to do a performance that would bring empowerment to the mothers. Because from what I could see, there was no real sense of empowerment for them. So, I talked to the mothers, and then talked to Maricella, or the head of the organization, and asked her if the mothers would like to work with me. Because I wanted them to feel comfortable with me, and if they would participate with me in this project. They all agreed to it and were very enthusiastic. These are beautiful women, really. The stories were heartbreaking.

So I came back to San Miguel, where I was living, and started researching how I was going to make this thing. I had an idea of what I wanted, and I wanted to make some really large brooms. Because brooms are about cleansing, you know, and in a lot of the early, early intuitive traditions, and shamanic traditions, the broom is used to clean an area, clean an energy, and different traditions use it in different ways. And in Burma, still they use brooms. In the evenings, the women come dressed in these beautiful saris, or whatever they’re called in Burma, and they sweep the temples, when the sun sets. So, in the morning, the temple is cleaned of all the energy of the day before. And so, this is a longtime thing, so I thought the broom just seems to make so much sense. And I couldn’t figure out how I was going to make a big broom. I was driving down the street, and there was a young man sitting on the sidewalk, caning a chair, and I turned to him and I said, “Would you be interested in helping me make a broom?” “Of course, absolutely, we’ll help you make a broom.” He had no idea what I was talking about, and it really didn’t matter, it was just about “yes, we are going to make a broom together.” So, he and his brother came by, and we discussed how we were going to make these 12-foot brooms. And after about a year and a half of trying this, this is what happened. These are what came of it. And so, this was shown in Queretaro at the Museo de la Ciudad in Queretaro, Mexico, which is about an hour from San Miguel de Allende. And these particular brooms are about 13 feet high.

These are metates the wonderful man outside of town also helped me make. This is about the lineage of the Guadalupe. Because before Guadalupe, there was Tonantzin, and before Tonantzin, there was Coatlicue. So, she had a long lineage as the goddess before they made her Guadalupe. And the metate comes from back in the pre-Columbian era, too, for grinding corn, for grinding peppers, and it brings this beautiful image of the Guadalupe, the Virgin of Guadalupe, which is cast in glass, into the center of that metate, to bring that kind of sense of spiritual root of the country back to the people there.

And then we have this room, it was in two rooms. And these images here are like ex-votos. The reason that we hung those, and I decided to do it this way, is because when I first started this project, I sent out an email in call to action, asking people to please light a votive, with the thought of bringing light to the children that had been murdered, and solidarity for the mothers. So, I got a response from many, many people, and we made them into ex-votos and hung them here. These are the ex-votos, and we also had, I had a lot of these little embroideries done of the votives as well.

This is the World Tree, the Mayan world tree, and it’s made out of bronze solder in the same way that I use glass. So we designed it that way, but it’s made out of bronze solder, and it’s about 8 1/2 feet tall. The bottom part are female figures, they’re cast in wax, originally made out of clay. And they’re cast in wax by a wonderful person down in Mexico. I originally did the first 150, and he did another 500 for me. There are about 300 cast wax figures here, and they’ve got a cloak of tears. These are feminine figures, female figures, women with a cloak of tears. And they’re generating in the new world, the new world tree, the new world thought, the new paradigm, hopefully being more benign.

And then we, this is the second part of the, of that piece of work the Luz y Solidaridad [Light and Solidarity]. It’s a ritual that we enacted the same night prior to going into the installation. And four mothers came down from Juarez to join us, and also the director was there, and everybody was very excited. There were 25 women in this ritual, four or five people came from Mexico City, that were ritualists in Mexico City, and then friends of mine. Also people from the United States I had never met, who had heard of this project, and wanted to be part of this. About six of those people had came down from all over the United States. So, it was a very moving experience in meeting people I had never met before, or coming from such a long distance to participate. And the women of Juarez, of course, you know, some of the mothers. And this is the video, can we turn the lights down some? Please.

[Video shown]

Can we keep the lights low, please, yeah, thank you. So this was in 2007, I think. I was invited to participate in a show called “Towards a Balanced Earth.” It was going to open in New Zealand, in the museum in Wellington, the National Museum. And to me, these images here have been very focused on some of the research I have been doing. On the left, the piece you see there is 34 by 34 and it’s painted black, and the glass actually comes out of the board about 11 1/2 to 12 inches. And it’s taken from some of the work I’d been doing with the Milky Way, and the center, the galactic center. The top is actually a symbol of the galactic center, a Mayan symbol for the glyph of the galactic center. So, this piece here is called Heart of Heaven. The other part that goes with this piece is here, and it’s called Heart of Earth. And this is about morphing, this about going from a wing, an insect wing, or a butterfly wing, into a leaf pattern, so that the plant is morphing. And both of these were shown at that exhibit.

And then after that, I was invited to put the work in that I had done for Luz y Solidaridad into an exhibition called “The Missing Peace” in honor of the Dali Lama. And it’s been travelling now; these are the pieces that have been travelling with them. We pared it down to three brooms, and they’ve been traveling for 5 years. This March will be the last time it is shown in “The Missing Peace,” this exhibition. And it will be shown in San Antonio, which is going to be very close, so I am very excited for having that being in the neighborhood. It’s a beautiful piece. It’s been travelling to Romania, Tokyo, Madrid, so a lot of this exhibition, which are 88 artists from around this world, goes into 4 or 5 different categories of spirituality, humanity, I mean human rights, people that are addressing issues that are part of the Dali Lama’s viewpoint and philosophy. So, it’s a very diversified exhibition.

Then I went to Houston. They invited me to do this installation in the project, “Row Houses,” which is a wonderful organization, and this is what it looked like, to begin with. That was the room. So, I had the row house to work in, and rather than build a piece outside, in the home, I decided I really wanted to work in the row house. I’ll be there for a few weeks, making this piece. In the center, you’ll see the new nebula that was discovered in 2006. It was a double helix nebula, coming out of the galactic center. It was really an extraordinary discovery. And I found this ficus tree on the roadside, and I thought, oh, this is perfect, it’s a double helix, just what I need. And so, I took it with me to Houston. This is where the project,“Row Houses,” is, and I worked on it for three weeks. And it just felt a little bit to me like I was stitching in the same way that women who had been in the row houses had stitched for hours on end. And there was a sense of that. It was hot as Hades there, so I would get up at 6:00 in the morning and work until about 1:00. I had no air-conditioning in this space.

So, this was the beginning of it, the roots are at the bottom of the tree, as you can see here. And this was the finished product, here. And this is the cosmic tree; the whole thing was called Intersection, the entire installation was called Intersection. There were four large photographs, they were part of this installation.

And this is about my height, a little bit higher, taller. This is one of the photographs.

Then, back to the photography and the fireworks. I moved to Houston, and I thought, I’m going to work with the photography that I had done, hundreds of photographs of the fireworks. I got very excited about it, started looking through all the photographs of fireworks, and decided this was going to be somehow combined with photographs of my glass work. So these pieces, which are called, Arbol de la vida, Tree of Life, are all part of that. There were 16 photographs in this exhibition at the Nave Museum in Victoria [Texas]. And you can see the glass work in there, along with the fireworks. All I did was overlay them in Photoshop, I didn’t color-manage it, and they were all in the cross form because that, this particular cross is related to the Tree of Life. And you can see the structures on the bottom here.

And then, part of the exhibition, in the other room, the next room, is this part of the room that was all drawings and glass work on a 5x5 foot base. The piece, the glass piece, I think is about 55 inches high, just the glass piece, the triangle. And the drawing, oh yeah, the drawings are made out of pastel, so they are all on black paper.

These are called Day and Night, referring to the coming days and nights of the next couple of years in the generating of the world tree, in the evolution of the world tree. And there were 12 pieces, six days and six nights. That’s a talisman, the center of the piece there was a talisman. This is a talisman that was done in reference to the previous. And I’ve been doing lampwork pieces, just flamework pieces that I really wanted to do. I just felt like doing, and so I did it. So, these are covered with a glass lacquer.

I’m really interested, as you know, in nature, so I have been working with different forms of expression around that. Whether it’s weaving—this piece is called Weaving Nature. This is called Weaving Language, and this is about 75 inches. And this is White Weave. These are prints from photographs that I have done and photographs of the glass.

These are just more of the. . .working with light, essentially, I’ve been investigating light in this last couple of years, since I moved to Houston. You know, there’s a certain amount of balance you need to have in your life. When you’re working with such a dark element as Juarez, you really need to have a balance in there. And for me, the glass is a true balance of this. It brings light to me, and it keeps me from getting too lost in that depth, and so I’m very grateful to have this and love doing it. It’s all about light.

I came to Corning, I got a wonderful scholarship this August, to experiment with something new. I wanted to do some kind of research into the three-dimensional work that I do. I wanted to do it in a two-dimensional format. And Denise was here, Denise [Stillwaggon] Leone, whom I had never met before. I was a recipient of a wonderful two-week residency, I mean a class scholarship, and I have to say, it was the most exciting thing. This is one of the pieces that came out of that class. Thank you very much, Denise. And Amy, wherever you are. It was exciting; I think Denise’s work was very, very inspiring to me.

This is four, five different panels of sandblasted and colored glass. This is three panels with paint and it’s sandblasted. I’m going to be experimenting with many different sizes, and lengths and widths and layers. And these are some of the photographs that I have done of light, of the glasswork. It’s just a different expression of it.

And this is the last piece, that I just sent off on Monday, to go to Tucson for a show of cinco Latina glass artists. It hasn’t been set up to photograph yet; it will have to come later. But these are all what I call Seeds of Light—Semillas de luz—and it’s an idea that I have been working with photography and these, and they’re sandblasted and painted. Each one is different, at a different stage of harvesting, I guess you might say, of opening. And the sand—and so each one will have a mound of sand to go on, and it’s going to have a base of 4 1/2 feet by 4 1/2 feet.

And the last piece that I will show you is something that I am starting to work with now, and it’s very exciting. It’s an exhibition, it’s called “Nature’s Tool Box.” It’s going to open up next year, and I am in the throes of learning what it is to work with nature, in a co-creative fashion, which is something I didn’t even know about until recently. As artists, as scientists, everybody asks questions, you know, we’re always asking a question. Well, how do I do this, and where do I put that, how big should I make that. To yourself. You’re always getting an answer. You’re always asking the question and getting the answer. And I kept thinking, you know, there’s got to be a way to make that more conscious. Who is answering me, you know, who’s this that’s answering me? So, I started looking into what that is. Short of going to the Amazon and taking ayahuasca with the shamans for two months, and probably losing my mind altogether, I just didn’t think it would be a good idea. I thought, I’m going to look up Michelle Wright, and her work is so fabulous.

She has got a garden, which is turned into a research center for scientists and lay people, no matter who, and people like me, who don’t know a thing about nature in the big sense. So, this is the experiment. And this woman I‘ve found recently in the internet, and her name is Aganetha Dyck, and she does, believe it or not, this is the most amazing thing, she asks nature, what is it that you want to do? So, she works with bees, and she’ll put out several items, you know, little pieces like, you know, she’ll put the figurine there, or put this there, and they chose which one. . . I mean, I really, it’s amazing to me. So, they [the bees] decide to do this, and they actually did this work. They are the artists for this work. She collaborates by presenting them with different objects. So, my thought in all this is, by God, we can do this. But, I found this an extraordinary, extraordinary vision that she had.

When I started researching the possibility of working in consciousness with nature, I was working with a pendulum and I kept thinking, well the pendulum is a big part of this. So, you talk to nature through the pendulum, because the pendulum will tell you that. Or kinesiology, because we are electric people, we can work with that in muscle testing. So, the whole thing that we’re going to do is that I’m going to collaborate with a friend of mine who is a musician, who also works with unusual things like pulsars and geometry around pulsars, and the most beautiful music you ever heard. It’s not really music, it’s sound. So, we are going to collaborate with this, and work with Michelle Wright, about talking to nature and having nature, be there for nature to answer us. So, I really don’t know what the piece will be. By the end of the year, I hope I’ll know.

This is a new experiment about co-creating with nature. And nature meaning the big nature, nature as the universe, as a self generating and self-organizing force. So, somehow that is. . . Rather than looking at nature as a leaf or a tree, I’m looking at it the way she [Michelle Wright] would look at it, as a self-organizing force. So, it’s very exciting to see that there are people actually working in this realm, and she has scientists that work with her, and many, many people from all over. She’s in Virginia. She used to have open houses, now she doesn’t anymore. But in 1980, her garden, rather than just as a garden, which she used to have open as a garden, is not a garden anymore. It’s only a garden for research, so she’s turned it over completely for research. I’m very excited about this and I’ll let you know what happens.

Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it. It’s been very nice having you here. (Applause)

Tina Oldknow: It is just 7:00, so unfortunately, we only have time for a couple of questions. Do we have any questions from the audience, for Susan?

Audience question: How did you get the sphere, did you have to use a mold or something? I can’t imagine how you got it so perfect. [this is in reference to the Museum’s sculpture Woven Heaven Tangled Earth].

Susan Plum: You start little, and get big. Well, you know, you eventually have to get a template going, and believe me, I didn’t know what I was doing, either. I mean, all these pieces that you see, that are larger woven glass, have got to be engineered, really. You have to sometimes build armatures; you know, it’s very complicated. I didn’t do any of that for this piece, because I wasn’t sure where it was going, I was just kind of letting things happen. I mean I figured it out pretty fast. It didn’t take very long, but I start small, you know, and then I just started working outside of that, and working more and more, and turning it, and working more. And then to get, I think, I don’t know, maybe I went back to my third grade geometry, I don’t know. And I just cut out cardboard and cut the template, you know, so I worked with the template as I did it. It can get very complicated, when you’re working with this kind of thing and you’re working with thin glass to really have to build and hold it up while your building it. But that one, since it was inside out, did not have to be held together. I did have an armature but. . .

Audience question [inaudible]

Susan Plum: Well, thank you very much. Thank you. Any other questions?

Audience question: I have a question about those very tall brooms, what material were they made of?

Susan Plum: I found this wonderful black plastic that looks like spaghetti, really thin spaghetti, in the market in Mexico.

Audience question: They look like wood.

Susan Plum: They are wood at the top, the handle is wood, but if you saw at the bottom, you saw it floating. People love to hold those.

Audience question: They’re 13 feet tall?

Susan Plum: They’re 13 1/2 feet, yeah. Yes?

Audience question [inaudible]

Susan Plum: Who did it? I did. That was all my work. Yeah, that was one show. That was. . .

Audience question [inaudible]

Susan Plum: The pastels? Yeah. That whole thing was the tree, called Tree of Life. That whole show was called “Tree of Life.”

Audience question [inaudible]

Susan Plum: Nobody. I did, I did, I really wanted to do these pastels. It makes a lot of sense, you know, because I work with, that’s what I work with, black and clear, you know, black and light, the combination. Somehow how it just. . . The pastels don’t need to be. . . Oh well, no, no, no that changed. No, it’s not that fragile. There’s a difference, when you’re blowing glass, if you clink it, and it cracks a little and the whole thing is gone. But this is built with many, many layers. I mean, it took me years to figure out how I, I mean years, to finally get to it, but once I understood what I was doing, it took me a minute, but you have to build in layers, so there’s layers. That holds it together. And that’s what I call weaving because I felt like I needed to create something that was substantial, out of this 2mm glass. That was why it took many, many layers in between. Weaving back and forth between the layers. Like cloth you know, it has much strength when you’ve got all those threads together.

Audience question [inaudible]

Susan Plum: Well, that’s interesting; I’ve never heard that before. I’ve heard many times people say it looks like a woman’s, a young woman’s hair. I’ve had other people walk in and say “oh my gosh, that’s a Buddhist knot,” and it’s true, you know. It is a Buddhist knot. So, there are many different references to it. I also see it as cutting off the energy of the feminine, but I also see it as a cosmic knot, so the paradox can exist, you know. The paradox can exist, there is a place for paradox to exist, in a benign way, but that’s very interesting. I hadn’t heard that before.

Tina Oldknow: I would like you to know you can come ask Susan a question after, afterwards you are invited to for a few minutes. So, thank you very much. That was very interesting.

Susan Plum: Thank you, Tina, thank you all.