Vivian Suter lives and works in the southwestern Guatemalan Highlands, amidst the deep vegetation of a remote former coffee plantation, surrounded by avocado and mango trees, tall banana plants and coffee bushes. Suter’s practice is situated very much between the inside and the outdoors, with works often begun in the studio, and completed with the assistance of natural elements—rain, wind, mud, plants and insects.
Rather than pictorial landscapes or illustrative portraits of nature, Suter’s works are intuitive emotional responses to her immediate surroundings, and therefore profoundly shaped by both the changing seasons and independent upheavals in her environment. For example, in 2005, Hurricane Stan devastated Central America, inflicting great damage in Panajachel—including Suter’s studio. Her paintings stood sodden and knee-deep in mud and yet rather than view the work as ruined, Suter decided to accept this event into the work and to leave the paintings to dry as they were.
Subsequently, Suter developed a series of works directly responding to another tropical hurricane, Storm Agatha, in 2010. Here, the artist experimented with weathering processes: using colourless fish glue to paint compositions on canvas, and hanging these outside to invite the growth of grey mould. In this sense, for Suter natural forces have become as strong a collaborator as any fellow artist could be.
Often presented together as hanging pieces of canvas, rather than formally stretched, isolated pieces, Suter’s approaches her works as extensions of her sense of place which maintain an open conversation with their surroundings. For Taipei Biennial, Suter has developed a new series of paintings, produced over a period of nine days, at the ‘Haiping tea plantation’ in the Lala Mountain of Taiwan. Having never visited Taiwan before, the artist is interested in its foreign terrain, its peoples, architecture and cultural treasures, and has decided to make her work in situ in order to dislocate herself from her studio in Guatemala and to draw her first impressions of the Taiwanese landscape into the work.
Vivian Suter, born 1949 in Buenos Aires, lives and works in Guatemala.