In the most basic sense, one could describe Suzanne Stroebe’s works as Postminimalist. Against the industrial sterility inherent to Minimalist art, artists considered to be Postminimalist — such as Richard Tuttle and Rachel Harrison, to name two — Stroebe’s work embraces materiality, painterly concerns, and the tenuous operatives of chance. Stroebe also acknowledges the influence of Postminimalist Eva Hesse, a picture of whom she keeps above her desk in her studio. Alone, a series of pale pink blocks of sewn paper stacked like a spine, leaning against a wall, channels the former artist’s use of fragile organic materials like ripple cloth, for example, but also the compositional strategies of repetition and seriality to which Hesse’s minimalist contemporaries were resorting.
Postminimalism, as a genre, is about the failure of absolute form, a concept that Stroebe carries over not only from art history, but from her vocational career. After finishing her BFA from the University of Santa Cruz in 2004, she worked for two years as a certified acupressure therapist at a clinic for the terminally ill in California. The experience expanded Stroebe’s understanding about the frailties and imperfections of the human body and became a driving force in her pursuit of delicately balanced, at times vulnerable sculptures. Thus the body and its failures, the metaphorical underpinning of all Postminimalist art, is doubly palpable in Stroebe’s case.
Threatening to collapse, much of her sculptures seem precarious. Some of her larger pieces leaning on the wall in her studio are like bodies needing a place to rest, their jutting pieces are limbs and bone curvatures extending into your space. The tensed loop, a shape that suspends itself based on an equally balanced exertion of pressures throughout, is at once a recurring theme in her work and an apt metaphor for the balancing game of her practice. In one piece, (which Stroebe has given the functional tittle, White Loop) she attaches a slightly slack shim of flexible wood to a wooden barrel brace, painted white to form a fragile arc, liable to fail at any moment, but miraculously suspended by the gut physics of its being.
Like the body, Stroebe’s sculptures depend on a very specific balance to function, and like the body, sometimes, Stroebe’s sculptures call for corrective measures. Slings and splints, props for malfunctioning bodies, recur. Her Back To The Window, one of her wall-leaning pieces, is a rectangular construction of wood with a frame, propped up by half of an arm crutch. In Helen’s Prow, scraps from the furniture and frame stores beneath her studio are nailed together to form a "broken arm" of wood held upright by the opposing forces of rope that starts at the top curve of the work and is tethered to a stack of glass at its base in tense sling.
There is a question in her work that seems to ask, "What does one do when the case that protects your person is broken?" In this sense, our human snail shells, architectural structures, and the ruins of them, are also themes of Stroebe’s. The first of her works I encountered was of this sort. It was installed in a second-floor apartment in Bushwick, a person-sized scrap wood assemblage, nailed together, echoing the room’s foundations in a cross-hatch of grids and rectangles. The work could have been the bone remnants of a building, the skin of the facade torn away. The uneven grid she’d built was complimented by the auto-repair shop seen through the window, but also constantly being corrected by the straight lines of the room. These site-specific pieces differ from Stroebe’s wall works in that they confound the interior architecture of room, appending it, revealing alternate possible structures and those structures’ failures in the space.
In her studio, she shows me a similar work in progress, a long, tall wooden rectangle that could be a torn-down piece of sheetrock only two inches thick. As an architectural cross section, one is reminded of Gordon Matta Clark’s pieces, but instead of sampling and redisplaying architecture that once functioned, Stroebe’s wall never really worked. From behind one sees that the only thing propping it up in this case is an ancient curved claw chair foot. It leans slightly to the side, giving the appearance of a makeshift stage prop. "I started to make a structure we are familiar with," says the artist, "but by tilting it and making it lean on something silly, it speaks to the frailty of gravity."
So far, Stroebe has worked mainly with wood, but in the interest of challenging herself, she often limits her material options. One work in progress uses a mason’s brick, an imperfect cast of a standardized shape, and wraps it with cloth. Her collaborative work with friends who use a variety of materials are another means of breaking with her habitual methods. "I’m interested in collaborating with people who use materials that I don’t," she says.
Stroebe received her MFA from Parson’s The New School for Design in 2009. In coming months, she will coordinating an event as part of the Intern Initiative program at Cabinet magazine. She will also be participating in an juried exhibition at the Rogue Space Chelsea, opening January 14, and Post Cards from the Edge, a VisualAIDS benefit at Zieher Smith, opening January 8th.