My mother loved a good museum, somewhere she could spend an afternoon pouring over rare and amazing artifacts. Nobody who knows her work will be surprised to hear that. She loved museums, as well as markets and junk shops – places where the relics of human history washed up, where the tangible things of human culture were celebrated for their beauty or strangeness, and meaning and value were attributed.
She loved losing herself in some magnificent collection. She loved the promise of insight and learning offered by a museum. She loved the stories a good museum told about its objects. But she also enjoyed museums’ contradictions – the stories they often omitted to tell, such as about how certain items ended up in their possession; the mechanisms that remained unspoken, such as how knowledge of other cultures was being constructed. Going round museum galleries with Susan was an education, the way she could tease apart the assumptions behind a particular display, questioning whose ideological interests the exhibit was serving and what other perspectives were possible. In a similar way, the artifacts she presented in her own works – from ‘rough sea’ postcards to German street signs, from bottles of holy water to UFO reports – enable the invisible, unexamined beliefs and assumptions that make up our own cultural framework to be revealed.
The British Museum, The Museum of Mankind, The Museum of Childhood, The Commonwealth Institute – these are the places I most recall visiting with her when I was growing up. The gift shop at the end was always an important part – this was back before gift shops became more corporate and tasteful, when they sold all kinds of weird and wonderful tat. Except it wasn’t necessarily just tat to Susan. I’m fairly certain there are several items from museum gift shops that are included in her own epic installation, From the Freud Museum – her vision of the whole world as potentially a kind of vast, interconnected museum, an infinite archive of artifacts whose meanings and associations are constantly in flux.