Lecture: Who Says You Can’t Motorize a Quilt?

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Who Says You Can’t Motorize a Quilt?

Presented by Susan Else Saturday, April 13, 2019, 10 am Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum

Admission: Free for current members of the TAC; $5 for students and members of FAMSF; $10 General Admission. Cash or checks only.

For the past 20 years, Susan Else has made sculpture with a collaged and quilted cloth surface. Figurative, with a surrealistic overlay, the work has a humorous undertone. Each piece tells a story—though the narrative is often ambiguous. She likes to make work that merges conflicting emotions and experiences in a single image. She aims to keep the viewer a little off-balance, but engaged. She wants the surface of the work to be beautiful in the way that only a textile can.

Ten years ago, Susan began adding lighting, motors, and audio to her work—not because of an innate fondness for technology, but to help tell the stories. Along with a brief survey of previous work, this presentation will concentrate on “Without a Net,” a ten-piece installation focused on the dualities of the old-fashioned circus and sideshow. Her circus is brought to life with moving parts, the sounds of barkers and calliope, and lighting that fades in and out to add to the performance ambiance. Some of you may have seen the installation, which debuted this spring at San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles.


The circus has always been a fantasy where gritty life lurked: at once a festival of human prowess and an exploitation of human oddity and difference. Although the outright exploitation of “freaks” and the harsh treatment of animals has disappeared from contemporary “cirques,” these images live on in our visual memories and imaginations. The circus allegory is especially relevant in today’s political world, and some of Susan’s pieces make outright reference to it. This is whimsy with a dark side. She calls it “stealth art,” where the safe domestic ambiance of sewn cloth pulls the viewer in to examine difficult issues of contemporary life. She aims to keep it fun and thought-provoking and beautiful, all at once. We hope you enjoy the ride!


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Image credits: 1) Susan Else, Absolutely Amazing! (collaged and quilted cloth over armature, with electric light) from her circus series Without a Net. Photo by Marty McGillivray. 2) Susan Else with her textile sculpture Forever Yours. Photo by Marty McGillivray.