In 1998 Susie Freeman began a journey which involved making flexible, wearable textiles encapsulating pills; they were contraceptive pills in brightly-coloured foil packaging but their message was more meaningful than decorative. Working with Liz Lee, a general practitioner, she devised several exhibition pieces funded by a Wellcome Trust Sci-Art award. It has been called Medico-Political Art, a term coined by Professor Joe Collier of St George’s Hospital Medical School.
The pair –the artist and scientist –continue to collaborate today, looking at broader medical issues, including vast quantities of wasted medicines stored in people’s homes. Commenting on this and, by implication, on the idea of the patient and doctor sharing in decision making about drugs to be prescribed, Susie Freeman has produced a documentary piece for this exhibition entitled ‘Miss Essex’. It is an uncommonly large, mess handbag displaying thousands of unused pills, gathered from one unnamed individual’s lifetime hoard.
As in all Susie Freeman’s presentations –the pills in the ‘Miss Essex’ bag, the cigarette butts in ‘Staff Room’ (a smelly work, encased in a box frame), or the sequins in any simple wrap –special objects are trapped in a delicate and lightweight textile web. This semi-transparent structure is formed of nylon mono-filament yarn which has been knitted into a pocketed, two-dimensional length on an industrial machine. Freeman favours slinky black, angelic white, or –occasionally –a dusky grey yarn, depending on the items to be trapped. It is not always evident of the fragile web or its contents are the more important, for not only pills but also sea shells, stone fragments, snippets of gaudy haberdashery and printed ephemera have been employed as fillers. This dichotomy is the key to the fascination these textiles hold. They are as thought provoking to view as they are delightful to handle and wear, simultaneously offering substance with lightness in a capricious way.
© 2002 Margot Coatts
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