In conversation with MMU art matriarch Sue Fox: “I have no fear of anything”
“You’re feeling it to heal it,” are the wise words of advice I received from Sue Fox at the beginning of our interview, which from start to finish elicited goosebumps of the best kind.
Reaching 60 years young, Fox seems to transcend age, from her ‘no-f*cks’ given attitude to the enchantingly tender way she speaks of art and fear. This woman is a magical force of energy, completely overflowing with knowledge and experience. A lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, and matriarch of the ‘Art Sluts’, she is a library of enlightenment and passion when it comes to her practice and the world.
Fox voiced her deep-rooted beliefs that “art is a healing act, a gateway for liberation and enlightenment and satori.” She explores this in her book, The Exorcism of Susan Fox, set to be released in Spring 2024.
The book is a chilling and detailed look at her journey with myofascial bodywork therapy, a fascinating practice she described as both “dark” and “ineffable”. As a female artist, with an extremely empowering energy, she spoke passionately of how she uses her artistic practice as a special kind of therapy, a way to overcome her fears and trauma, or even just to process an overwhelming time.
Most would agree that being a student is an overwhelming period in a young person’s life. Becoming an ‘adult’, the demands of post-university life and having to figure everything out in a short number of years… is a lot. I wanted to delve into this idea with Fox, extracting some of her wisdom to pass onto the students of today.“You must lose yourself to find yourself. But, you can never ultimately lose yourself, even though it may feel as though you are losing your mind. You are there”, promises Fox. Isn’t that what our student years are about? Getting a little bit lost? Being a bit scared? Sue believes that art is the best way to combat these fears and process our emotions.
During the early years of her artistic career, she “fully released” her fears of death and the unknown by working in mortuaries and photographing cadavers at all stages of decomposition and decay. “I want to put my hand in, I want to feel the cold spine when everything’s out, I want to smell it, I want to put my head in it.” Her incredible (and literal) hands-on approach to her work produced the book Post Mortem, published in 1997. The images that undoubtedly may upset some viewers, are fascinatingly mesmerising to Fox. “I held a uterus! And the fallopian was like a crimson little heart.”
These experiences not only helped to eliminate her fears but also to “appreciate her body,” and she feels that the project was the catalyst to living and working fearlessly, an attitude that fuels her work.
Fear is different for everyone and it is all relative to every individual. Art and experimentation is a great way for people to create their own personal therapy. Fox possesses some great words of advice for how we can go about using our own fears to create a piece of cathartic work, putting them behind us.
“Get messy, get dirty, get feral. You must merge and lose yourself in the actual medium to shed this protective layer that stops us from dealing with the parts we are most afraid to explore.” She believes these have the “most potency, the most energy” and if we fully let them in we can let them go. “It all hurts because it’s your shit and your pain that you’re holding onto.”
To ensure we are confronting these feelings, Fox urges us to keep our creative fire “eternally lit” and let all the parts of ourselves be felt, even the parts we may feel are too ‘bad’ or too difficult to deal with. You must not “throw the bad parts out thinking they’re all monsters, because you can throw the best of you out.”
As a student photographer, my conversation with Sue reminded me why I wanted to create art and photographs in the first place; to see my feelings and emotions manifested in a physical piece, to get it out of my system, maybe as a way to understand myself better. Art is a form of personal catharsis and I truly believe that it is a great way to get negative emotions out of your system.
“You are the alchemist,” says Fox whilst looking into my eyes with her “penetrating morgue stare,” (a description of her own). Your art is “the essence of your magic, your alchemy.”
Whether you’re perturbed, enlightened or fascinated by the effervescent and enchanting Sue Fox, I hope that overall you felt inspired by her words, inspired to create and keep creating. With that, and eliciting one final prickle of goosebumps, she left me with her last piece of solace: “You are so lucky to be an artist.”