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An image of Inquisition / five by Susan Norrie, Frances J Melhop

Susan Norrie

(Australia 01 Jul 1953 – )

Frances J Melhop

( – )

Inquisition / five
Media category
Materials used
sepia toned gelatin silver photograph, fibre based paper, wood, lacquer and glass

50.5 x 40.5 x 4.5 cm

Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Purchased 1997
Accession number
© Susan Norrie
Not on display
Further information

Susan Norrie trained as a painter at the National Art School, Sydney and the National Gallery School, Melbourne. While painting is still one of her mediums, she has diversified and now works with prints, installations, objects, photographs and video. The highly glazed surfaces of her paintings in the late 1980s led her into working with reflections, and a play with mirroring. This in turn caused her to develop her ongoing interest in the still and moving image. Photography has informed the work of Norrie for many years, both the camera and the lens, the process of making an image, and the end product - the photograph. The chemical transformations of light on treated paper to form an image are aligned with alchemical transformations of matter - these transformations are central to the ideas which recur in Norrie's works.

'Inquisition / five' 1996 was orchestrated by Norrie in collaboration with photographer Frances J. Melhop. Such collaborations with technicians and craftspeople have become increasingly important in the artist's work since the late 1980s as she assumes a directorial role rather than that of the lone artist. The object depicted within the box is ambiguous because of its scale, toning and presentation. It is a funerary ribbon wound around an object to keep it in order. The satiny nature of the ribbon, the shadows cast within the photograph, and the placement of the image with the sealed box suggest a mysterious reliquary which can not be fully grasped visually as well as physically.

The word 'inquisition' refers to the artist's own enquiry into the nature and history of art but also implies the Spanish Inquisition. The ideas and practice of artists such as Goya and Velasquez also come to mind with their interest in the nature of the colour black, psychological insight into their sitters, and plays with mirrors. There are other references within this current body of work to nineteenth century funerary items such as black ribbons and beads, as well as to Dutch and Flemish alchemical transformations and recipes for these.

Bibliography (3)

Judy Annear, The Enigmatic Object, Sydney, 1997. no catalogue numbers

Susan Best, The Seppelt Contemporary Art Award 1997 MCA, 'Hooks and Eyes: Susan Norrie's Inquisition', pg.20-25, Australia, pre Nov 1997, 20-25, 21 (illus.).

Helen McDonald, Erotic ambiguities: the female nude in art, 'Seeing ambiguity', pg. 75-98, London, 2001, 95, 96 (illus.), 97.

Exhibition history (5)

Susan Norrie - Selected Works, Mori Gallery, Sydney, 04 Dec 1996–21 Dec 1996

The Enigmatic Object, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 15 Apr 1997–22 Jun 1997

The Seppelt Contemporary Art Award 1997, Museum of Contemporary Art, Australia, 07 Nov 1997–22 Feb 1998

The surreal aesthetic, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 28 Jul 2007–14 Oct 2007

Joy before the object, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 28 Sep 2013–02 Feb 2014