8 — Reading the Archive Through a Glass of Water

The Swiss-born, Amsterdam-based artist Batia Suter (b. 1967) studied at the art academies of Zürich (CH) and Arnhem (NL), and was also trained at the Werkplaats Typografie.

Suter produces monumental installations of digitally manipulated images for specific locations, and works on photo-animations, image sequences and collages, often using found historical pictures. In 2007 and 2016 she published Parallel Encyclopedia and Parallel Encyclopedia #2, artist books based on compositions of images taken from old books she has collected along the years. Her other books Surface Series, Radial Grammar and Hexamiles (Mont-Voisin) are evocative montages of found images exploring the diverse resonances of geological shapes and landscapes, visual surfaces and image structures.



It was very nice for me when I got asked to take part in this. I was, I think, sixteen when I took some pictures of a glass of water outside in the sun, and I was extremely triggered. I realized maybe this—photography—could be my job; maybe I am a photographer. It was an intense moment where my worldview was changing.

For me, it was logical to do this project on this glass of water. (I was extremely curious how it works for other people.) I was looking back to see if it was possible to find those pictures, but they are in a Switzerland store, and I couldn’t find them. Then I just took the most classical glass that I can imagine, filled it with water, and took a picture—and immediately many things that are important in my work played a role.

One thing is the struggle with the shadow, so I decided to take a picture of the glass without the shadow. I always try to reduce shadows as much as possible and feel guilty about it! Also, this fascination for lenses of abstraction in something very real was playing an important role. This clash of two systems into one means that, on one hand, I see the glass as a kind of cage for the water; on the other hand these two forms of something are liquid. The glass was liquid—I mean it was sand first, and then it was made liquid—and then it was frozen.

This was the starting point.

Then I started to combine pictures from my archive that, for me, play a role in the idea of a glass of water:

It made me think of these very impressive glasses, often from the Middle Ages and made of crystal. I have always wondered how it’s possible to make round things, or make a shape, from crystal.
I also had to think about what is opposite to the glass, so yes, something that is not transparent, that is made from metal. But even this is, in a way, made from something liquid. In that sense it’s different from the glass—it’s harder. And this is another example of something hard and closed and non-transparent.

I think it’s always good when you look at something to also consider the opposite. This allows you to get the idea clearer, to get it sharper, play with its opposite, to get some new corners, new angles, to look at.

There are water drops, very different shapes of drops; it’s wonderful to see how different people are photographing drops, and how different it looks at different times, because this photo is much older than that one.
It’s inspiring to look at all pictures, to look at pictures in photographic history that are made around 1920. It started to be possible to zoom in with the lens to discover extremely zoomed-in things. These photographs are so beautiful and so simple.
I think it’s interesting to look back at these concentrated pictures, because now everything is made with the same kind of camera, in the same digital way, and I love these many different technical aspects to understand things.
This is from the seventies, this picture. This one is made in the 1970s too; it’s also water.

This is an advertisement of something that is falling. What is extremely fascinating to me is a picture of something that is in motion—that is frozen in a kind of dynamic way.
This is falling water. It’s very close to the atmosphere of this cocktail glass.
This is a completely different angle of water that is entering.
This is a Chinese glass. It’s extremely old and it looks almost like ice, …
… so I decided to also freeze my glass of water. It’s wonderful to see these shapes coming together.
And then I found this: a kind of experiment with ice and with a metal ball to see how much tension is necessary to let the glass explode.

I was looking more for pictures of this tension, of this pressure.

And then I also found this. It’s wonderful. I always like the objects that are made to understand these scientific things—they are very sculptural in a way.
I get interested in what is happening in the water, with what is living, what is in there. I was leaving the cage situation to be more innovative, more abstract—and maybe also emotional.
Book: An Album of Fluid Motion

One of my absolute favorite books is called An Album of Fluid Motion. I found wonderful old German books, wonderful pictures, from around 1920. From that time it was starting to be possible to go into the material and to see things, and everything was unfolding at that moment.

So that is also an aspect that is very strong in my work. If I see water in a glass, I immediately try to imagine what is inside on a very small level, what lives inside. It is similar to what you did, Alex, with your glass—the way that something is growing. In my case it’s happening in my imagination; it’s all about ideas of what could happen and playing with that:

These are all wonderful pictures of what is living in the water. To me, it’s not clear if it’s in the ocean, or the river, or nature.
I heard that it’s better to give plants water that has been sitting out for a while, because then some stuff is growing in the water, and then it’s much better for the plants.
This is amazing diversity, and the strange thing is that it’s coming very close to all these little objects or subjects—they are coming close to how we make glasses. It’s a kind of circle.
This is Alka Seltzer (or something) that is falling in the glass.
This is another: a Swiss journal and it’s a very different print. It’s interesting how different the pictures are made and how different the atmosphere of the picture is.
These are organisms that are eating plants and little organisms eating meat. It’s interesting to see them. There is a big difference in the shape of these little animals.
This is a lungfish, an African lungfish.

It’s always doing something to me to see these photographs that are cut in the middle and show two worlds, two completely different worlds.

Here I made the crossover to the measuring of water and it was wonderful—all these different ways of trying to get it under control—so then I imagined what happened when they made this picture, how many times they needed to get it that sharp and to get it that much under control.
This is a picture of a medical book that shows doctors how they can hear whether a lung is full of water, if there is something wrong with the lungs. In the book it’s explained like this: you have to put it on the body, and then you hear if the lungs are full or not; then you know what the problem is for the patient and how good his lungs are.
This is from a children’s book explaining how the water tap is working.
This is one of the very early experiments of IBM to make computer animations. I don’t know why but it’s interesting to research.
This is a study of An Album of Fluid Motion about the behavior of water and it’s so beautiful.
This is another thing of IBM pictures—they tried to make a picture showing transparency. It’s such a naive picture, it’s really impressive.
After a while the ice started to melt and I loved how it looked—because for me, the view is almost painful, it being a relationship with the melting ice. I think things that are melting are restless to look at. There is also a kind of relation to the oceans; it’s hard not to imagine the plastic in the oceans.
So, because this is something completely different: it’s fungi. It’s a microscopic view of fungi. For me, it is kind of a symbol of the plastic that is in the ocean, taking over everything.

So this is it. My collection.