A Capitol of the Mind: Suzannah Vaughan's DC Sculptures at Flashpoint Gallery

February 9, 2011


How do non-native Washingtonians imagine the capital? Do monuments loom larger than life? Does the city shine with marble buildings and architectural marvels?

The space between the imagined and the real is the subject of Suzannah Vaughan’s exhibit “Tracing Form” at the Flashpoint Gallery. Vaughan, an Irish artist and member of Flashpoint’s Irish organization-in-residence, Solas Nua, created all the pieces in the show before she ever set foot in D.C.

The miniature sculptures in the gallery are blockish white stone structures with colored glass “windows” lit naturally or with LEDs to create the illusion of space. Each work depicts a Washington landmark — and each was created using only Internet references and Vaughan’s imagination.

Vaughan says she took inspiration for “Tracing Form” from “Alpine Architecture,” Bruno Taut’s seminal 1917 work filled with “utopian buildings that could never exist.” She researched D.C.’s landscape before making pieces based on “what I imagined Washington to be like — its potential and possibility. When a building is done, it’s almost like a full stop. My work is more like a suggestion of what it could be” if construction never ended, she says.

Her sculptures capture the essence of certain sites — the curves of the Hirshhorn Museum, the classical elegance of the Lincoln Memorial — while they are also completely original creations. Vaughan also incorporates her own biography into her work, especially in her choice of oceanic glass colors.

“I’m from the west coast of Ireland, and I drew on the tones of light in the sky there,” Vaughan says. “When I moved to Dublin, I missed that light and sense of space — the dramatic blues and hues of grey. The architecture [in Washington] suited it so well.”

Vaughan is not finished interpreting the city; while living here as a Flashpoint artist in-residence, she plans to make work based on the “real” D.C. Through site visits, Vaughan will “make drawings and paper models — more ephemeral materials that are the opposite of sculpture.”

“I’m interested in making two pieces that are the opposite of each other,” Vaughan says. “First, out of imagined space, then by working out of my actual experience.”

» Flashpoint Gallery, 916 G St. NW; through Feb. 12, free; 202-315-1305 (Gallery Place)

Written by Express contributor Jessica Roake
Photo courtesy of Flashpoint Gallery

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