Empty Hills no. 13 (Colinas huecas n.º 13), 1985
Curved and welded iron plate
102.5 x 140 x 209.5 cm
Collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
“The mystery of representation and the folded horizontal plane lies in hollows. The word is especially apt: mysteries.” Susana Solano, 2017.
Susana Solano (Barcelona, 1946) majored in painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Barcelona, but in the late seventies she switched to sculpture. In her earliest works, inspired by the sculptor Constantin Brancusi (Romania, 1876–France, 1957), she experimented with techniques mid-way between handicrafts and industry. Using wood as an artistic material, the artist produced her first series of sculptures with simple geometric forms, predominantly compact blocks with grids and bars added to them. From the start of her career, she showed a constant concern for space and architectural structure.
When she started to use materials like iron, wicker or lead, she decided to use artisans’ techniques and procedures to work them. Although she does use industrial forging, she stresses the hand-crafted facet of the process, working with rudimentary machines that give her works a character half-way between the languages of industry and handicrafts. The artist grants special importance to the material and its treatment, but feels no interest in color. During this process of exploring materials, her sculptures became larger and more imposing, converting themselves into formal structures. Solano ceased to think of the sculptural object as something merely three-dimensional, and started to experiment with the creation of spaces and the expansion of the sculpture in its context.
Her work Empty Hills no. 13 (Colinas huecas n.º 13, 1985) is one of a series of pieces with the same title. This title plays with the contradiction implicit in the words it contains. That is, the firmness and solidity of the “hill” is somehow opposed to the concept of “emptyness”, generating a kind of interplay between fullness and emptiness, between the enclosed hollow and the open crust that enfolds it. Solano’s works entitled Empty Hills n.º 13 suggest an architectural surrounding body, almost like a stage prop. They deal with delimited but accessible spaces, like boxes and cages.
In Empty Hills n.º 13, the artist emphasizes the hollow generated between the iron and the space around it. Through the form she produces, Solano shows her interest in posing the dichotomy between the empty and the non-empty. The non-volume is dominated by the metal that shapes it and makes it a measurable part of the artwork.
Look closely at this sculpture. How would you describe its form? What material is it made from? What are the characteristics of this material? What qualities does it suggest to you? How would it feel if you could touch it?
Solano feels that her work is intensely related to architecture. Why do you think she believes this? In what way are the materials she uses related to this discipline?
Besides this, she regards the way she makes her sculptures as mid-way between industry and handicrafts. What materials and processes do you consider typically industrial? And which are typical of crafts? Which can be common to both? What advantages and disadvantages might there be in interchanging materials between the two modes of production?
Her works speak to us of the dichotomy between the empty and the non-empty. How would you define emptiness? How do you think Solano introduces the empty space to her sculptures? Why do you think the artist wants to include it?
Solano’s work is entitled Empty Hills no. 13. Why do you think the artist gave it this title? What possible significances and associations does it suggest to you? If you could change the work’s title, what would you call it? Why?
Empty Hills no. 13 is part of a series of works with the same title. Search for other works by this artist entitled Colinas huecas (Empty Hills). What relationship can you find among them? Choose the one you like best and think about the reasons for your choice.
Make your own empty hill
In groups of two or three, make your own hollow hill. First reflect on the dichotomy between the empty and the non-empty, and use your reflection as a starting point. Think about how you can incorporate planes and hollows in your work, following Solano’s example, and use these ideas to make your sketch. You can look at some of the sculptures in the Empty Hills series for inspiration.
When you have made several sketches, choose one as the basis for the sculpture. If you could turn it into a three-dimensional sculpture, what materials would you use? How big would it be? How would you treat the surface? Where would you place it once it was finished?
Next, make a model of the sculpture. In the course of a month, gather a large number of boxes of different shapes and sizes. Work in a group to make a standing three-dimensional sculpture with the boxes you have collected. You can use glue or tape to join the boxes together. Give the sculpture a title and show it in class.
Interview with the artist
Imagine you have the chance to interview Susana Solano. What would you like to ask her? Professional journalists generally investigate the artists they are going to talk to before meeting them to make sure the questions they ask are significant ones. Compile information on the artist and decide what you would like to know about her career. Write the questions down in a notebook.
In class, compare your questions with those of your companions. Which have been repeated most often? Why do you think several people have coincided on the same topics?
Industrial forging: a process of shaping metal that can be carried out in two different ways: by continuous pressure, using presses, or by intermittent impact, using power hammers.