A retrospective of work by Susie Freeman is currently on show in Wales, featuring a famous artwork that made a name for herself as one of the UK’s leading and most original textile artists.
It was during her time as a postgrad student at the Royal College of Art, following Manchester School of Art where she had studied weaving, that she invented a knitted network of pockets using a monofilament thread: into each small transparent pocket, she dropped a tiny object before safely sealing them with a further row of knitting and repeating this to construct the cloth.
The trapped artefacts started as scraps of brightly coloured fabric and ribbon but Susie soon moved on to treasured shells, buttons, sequins and other precious finds as well as discarded pistachio shells, spices and dried herbs. At the same time, she explored different ways of using and showing these works by fashioning cowls, scarves and jackets. These wearable garments were very distinctive, selling at Chelsea Craft Fair and in galleries – and attracting an admiring, loyal following.
As her children grew up her strong ethical concerns for society found a voice through her friendship with Dr Liz Lee. Together they started to question our increasing dependence on medicines and Susie began to imagine how their ideas could be visualised through her work.
Taking the name Pharmacopoeia, their collaboration used innovative artistic imagery to question social concerns around health. The success of the first Pharmacopoeia touring exhibition and a conversation with Dr Henrietta Lidchi at Chelsea Crafts Fair in 2001 led to a commission from the British Museum for a major permanent installation Cradle to Grave, which has captured so many people’s interest and imagination.
Invitations followed from countries as near as Denmark and as far as Brazil with the scale of the work escaping the confines of the tiny pockets. Huge suits of armour and flowing garments, constructed from metallic pill packets, describe the issues that the work addresses; issues which become more vital each day.
You can see the retrospective of Susie’s work at WOWI+ at the Ruthin Craft Centre in Ruthin until 29 March 2020. Discover more about Susie Freeman at susiefreeman.com.
Cardi-O WOWI Flower Heart Medications © Susie Freeman
Recognition Framed Capsules Spiral © Susie Freeman
Jubilee Wedding Dress – WOWI+ Retrospective © Susie Freeman. Photography by Dewi Tannatt Lloyd
A Packet A Week by Pharmacopoeia © Susie Freeman. Photography by Chloe Stewart
Susie Freeman with her knitting machine. Photography by Tom Lee
WOWI installation at INVENTO exhibition in Sao Paulo Brazil © Susie Freeman. Photography by Joana França