Skip to content

Update from the Gallery regarding COVID-19

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is open. We are observing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures to protect the health of visitors and staff and minimise the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Read the latest visit information, including hours




Australian art

Contemporary art


View More:


Inquisition / five



Susan Norrie


01 Jul 1953 -


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.




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


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Susan Norrie

Works in the collection


Shown in 5 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 3 publications


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.