Susan O’Malley

I’m intrigued by the idea of how and where we live, how we relate to each other, and our physical environment.

We were honored to have interviewed and considered Susan O’Malley a friend. Her soft voice, gentle spirit and kindness is reflected in her work. We were inspired by her desire to make a positive change in our world. We will miss her and her influence. Our prayers and condolences go out to her family.

Interview originally appear in Issue 5.0: UNDERGROUND

You graduated from Stanford with a degree in Urban Studies. How has that helped you in becoming an artist?

Urban studies have always been an influence in the way that I see art, or think about my own practice. I’m intrigued by the idea of how and where we live, how we relate to each other, and our physical environment. Urban studies help me explore ways to think differently about the space we inhabit.

The residential project I did in San Jose in 2008 was all about that; I was fascinated with suburban spaces, and private and public spaces. By re-arranging what was already available, like leaves on a lawn or the frost on a house, I was able to bring some fun responses in relationship to everyday life.

In a text project I am doing, I am interested in how these spaces can be intervened through different texts. They might look a little like advertisements, but also part of it is an art project. I really love the blurriness of presenting work in this context because sometimes it’s not important whether it’s an art project or just something that happens in the streets.


What’s important is creating a space that will shift one’s perspective to see the world a little bit differently. How wonderful would it be if we could leave our homes and look at everything with a sense of wonder?

Art has a way of heightening that experience for us.

So you were already thinking in terms of art space creation rather than going into city planning?

Focusing on community organization and working as an intern at non-profits, it took me a while to put it all together. I wasn’t really exposed to contemporary art as an undergrad. As a graduate, I started going to more art shows and seeing the flexibility and expansiveness in the way these artists were asking questions. It was exciting, and much different than an academic way of viewing the world. It was a way of thinking I had never been exposed to, and it sparked a light in me.

How do you see the role of art in society?

That is such a huge question because there are so many different perspectives in the world. Art can help push us forward to be more radical, but it is not the answer for everything. It is just one thread of our cultural make-up. Art can help us see things in different ways, and help us relieve the stress of everyday life. Art heightens our sense of space and how we relate to each other.

We live in such an isolated way. The way we’ve organized San Jose, it is a pretty decentralized city. If there are ways to go downtown and see different things, and have a connection to that space, that will begin to bring people together in a way that is worthwhile.

What are you working on now?

I have been working on two projects as part of Montalvo Art Center’s exhibition with two other artists, Leah Rosenberg and Christine Wong Yap. It’s called “Happiness Is…” and it’s part of Montalvo’s 20-month theme, Flourish: Artists Explore Wellbeing.

One of my projects is a “Walk” on the Montalvo grounds. Along the walk, there are certain texts and signs that will hopefully help the walker be focused and reflective. Walking is such a simple thing that can make you feel good. It is amazing how altering your body can change your feelings.

The other project is creating a space within the gallery where people can sit down and talk to one another. One of the things I was most interested in this space was getting people on the floor, because being on the floor is so different than being in a chair; it brings a sense of groundedness. There is a lot of science behind what we do with our bodies and how that chemically makes us feel different. This project is about how our bodies exist in the world, and how our bodies’ position and activity can change the way we feel.

Doing a project on happiness has been a fun process, as I had to think about what makes me happy. What it comes down to is trying to notice the small things. If we focus more on our current state of mind, on smaller things and the things that make us happy, and put those into practice—then, maybe we can be happier.

One of the things that I notice makes me happy is being in dialogue with people. Talking to other people and sharing ideas really bring me a lot of happiness. It’s something I need to focus on more. Just noticing that has given me more permission to pursue it as a practice. So rather than meeting someone for coffee and feeling good about connecting with them, it is actually what I do as my work. That has been a really interesting result of working on these projects.


Visit The Susan O’Malley Memorial Website

A public celebration of her life and contributions as an artist and curator is planned for March 22, 2015, 2- 5pm, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission Street, San Francisco.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to the Susan O’Malley Memorial Fund for the Arts to support emerging artists and to commission a permanent installation of Susan’s work. Non tax-deductible donations can be made via Paypal (by using the donation button below or sending to, or by check to the Susan O’Malley Art Fund (acct # for memo field 036838938). Checks can be deposited at any Bank of the West branch or mailed to Charles Angle, 555 Market Street, Suite 100, San Francisco, CA 94105.

Interviewed and Photographed by Daniel Garcia

Print version is SOLD OUT

Digital Version Underground PDF


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