Susi Brister: Slippery Tensions

Susi Brister Sculpture

Susi Brister, Bahamian Breeze. Photo courtesy the artist.

Susi Brister’s work tiptoes between the intersections of photography, temporal sculpture, and performance. While the finished product comes to us as a traditionally hung photograph, Brister’s process is undeniably both sculptural and performative. The creation of the performance props are both time consuming and complicated, demanding many hours learning about hair extensions, silk flowers, or a particular type of fabric. During the shoot itself the physical reality of the sculptural prop and the activating body collide, creating a situation that has aspects of both control and variability. The separation between synthetic materials and the natural environment is an idea that Brister has chosen to focus on in her most recent body of work. 

Susi Brister Sculpture

Susi Brister, Silky Straight. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Using ideas of camouflage and exposure to examine how we create associations between “realness” and “fakeness”, Brister found herself drawn to the juxtaposition of plastic party decoration palm trees when compared to living palm trees. Her interest in these fallacious ornamentations speak to her interest in the strange gap between what we recognize as real and a blatantly synthetic parody of reality. Although we call both the plastic version and the rooted variety a ‘palm tree’, the language that we use to categorize these objects leaves a large slippery and ambiguous space between the two. We recognize what the plastic trees are signifying even though their physical reality bears little resemblance to the true tree. The seduction of this fantasy space draws us in. Dancing in this space of slippage is exactly what Brister’s photographs do at their best.

Susi Brister Sculpture

Susi Brister, Neon Shag. Photo courtesy of the artist.

With two BAs from the University of Texas at Austin, in both Anthropology and Studio Art, Brister has spent a sizable amount of time pondering mysticism, magic, and ritual. Her thesis work in Anthropology was dedicated to the totem, a theme that has carried over into her photographic work. Looking at the shrouded bodies in her photographs as a type of totem, Brister is interested in the creation of a fantastical space that the viewer enters with complicity, a complicity tempered with the desire for something beyond what has been commonly decided upon as normal.

Brister’s process can be chiefly described as reductive. During a shoot, a variety of poses and images are taken that are then sorted through after the fact. Although at times the composition is premeditated, it is usually determined on site. Bringing a plethora of different props and sculptural elements to each landscape, Brister intuitively chooses the elements and composition. For each prop, a single image is chosen as the final product. The space for narrative, or the self-imposed narrative applied by each viewer, is increased exponentially by having only one image per particular set of variables. The singularity of the moment allows for extrapolation, a broadening within the limitation.

Susi Brister is a photographer living and working in Austin, TX. She received her MFA from Concordia University in Montreal. To see more of her work, please visit

By Gracelee Lawrence

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