Susan Kealey: Ordinary Marvel

The Phenomenology of Licorice and Other Dutch Myths, Renée Turner, Ordinary Marvel, YYZ Books, 2003

Susan Kealey was a friend. In the early nineties we were at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam and both grappled with being displaced North Americans in the heart of the Lowlands. Sometimes we coped with laughter and other times we had a good old rant. In the end though, we were happy to have a chance to work abroad and were fascinated by what our new Dutch experience had to offer. But after our two year residency was over she moved on, and I stayed in the Netherlands. A few years later when I heard from her friends in Canada that she had died of cancer, I was shocked. Susan had struggled with leukemia for most of her life, and quite honestly she had escaped its grasp so often, I truly believed she was invincible.

When Jennifer Rudder and YYZ books wrote asking if I would contribute an essay to Ordinary Marvel, a monograph devoted to her work, I jumped at the occasion. It was a pleasure to look closely again at Susan’s pieces and remember her through the vibrancy of her practice. I wrote about The Phenomenology of Licorice, a series of photographs made during her stay in the Netherlands.

“Through her licorice collection, her editing and arranging of these somewhat absurd little perishable artifacts, Kealey builds a telling portrait of Dutch culture. This quality of extrapolating the profound from the banal, finding jewels in the detritus of everyday life is actually the hallmark of much of Susan Kealey’s work. She had a knack for suggesting complex narratives with the most minimal of props, in this case an insignificant type of candy, a sweet that is stashed in purses and pockets and consumed on the fly. While the Larousse Gastronomique defines licorice by its origins and ingredients, Kealey’s The Phenomenology of Licorice can be viewed as an illustrative tapestry: a patchwork of Dutch cultural narratives, ultimately adding credence to the adage that “you are what you eat.”

Ordinary Marvel can be purchased via YYZ Books