In 1992, Philadelphia artist Susan Hagen received an artist-in-residence grant from the Spirit Square Arts Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, to spend six weeks at the center creating an installation for a set of carvings she had just started.
The carvings are based on the Stations of the Cross. As with traditional Stations of the Cross, the carvings are reliefs. They are all the same size--20" x 23" x 3"--and are carved predominantly from limewood. As she wrote in her statement for the exhibit, the carvings "explore myth and spirituality in contemporary urban life through my own experience as a woman." As with the Catholic ceremony held near Easter, Hagen's stations represent a "journey through emotion and pain resulting ultimately in growth and freedom."
"Susan Hagen's Stations of the Cross are beautiful, funny, bizarre, and endlessly compelling. And you'd have a hard time getting them placed in any church."
- Andrew Mangravite, Philadelphia Weekly
Ken Bloom, curator at Spirit Square Center for the Arts, in Charlotte, North Carolina, wrote this about Hagen's carvings: "Partially influenced by a Catholic upbringing and feminism, Ms. Hagen draws upon traditions of both art and Judeo/Christianity in thematic concept and in artmaking. She then takes the mythic templates of tradition from parables of the Greeks to the torments of Christ and applies them to personal imagery. Consequently, she assumes both political and artistic risk, not to mention a healthy dose of Jungian symbolism. In Hagen's tableaux the collective memory of the human condition and its more profane occurrences are only peripherally compared to the more formally ritualized stations of Jesus' carrying the cross. Therein lies the opportunity for both metaphor and feminized revisionism.
"The journey begins with being born into an original, preconscious, primordial, naked state from which the trial begins. The rest of one's life is characterized by lessons to be learned over and over again. Individuals walk paths which take them through pain and the unknown until they are transformed by the torment and become aware of the light of their own being."
Several months before starting her residency in Charlotte, Hagen invited writer Mike Walsh to write something in collaboration to read at the opening. He accepted the invitation and met with Hagen several times to discuss the ideas behind the carvings. He ultimately wrote a collection of fictional vignettes, one for each station, each about a different character going through a trial or difficulty of some sort. The characters do not always directly correspond to those in Hagen's carvings. They are a parallel investigation into the same thematic material. He titled the collection "Slow Bleed."
An edition of the stories along with photos of the carvings was printed by Spirit Square, and Walsh read a selection of the stories at the opening, which was held in September 1993.
Hagen's carvings, which are titled "Stations of the Cross, 1-14," have since been exhibited in galleries in Philadelphia and Chicago. Three of the stories along with photos of several of the carvings were published in Asylum '95, an annual literary anthology published by Asylum Press of Santa Maria, California.
Susan Hagen studied at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and at Cranbrook Academy of Art. She has shown her work at numerous galleries throughout the USA and Europe and is represented by Schmidt-Dean Gallery in Philadelphia and the Center of the Earth Gallery in Charlotte.
Stations:              
Susan Hagen's carvings can be viewed separately at "Stations of the Cross 1-14."
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