Artist statement from Catalogue

Silver-lined- Contemporary artists and the Performing Arts Collection

12th April- 13th July, 2008

As a child I was told by my grandmother that we were descendants of the once famous Wirth Circus. There were no other stories or photographs, no evidence at the time to substantiate her claim. As a young girl this potent story aroused fantasies full of exotic travel, great adventures, glamour and danger. It has continued to stimulate my imagination for the melodrama of performance and struggle.

This series of work is based on photographs of May Wirth sourced from the Performing Arts Collection and her personal scrapbooks. My process of creating these works is an act of replication. The reconstitution of an old image with material remnants from the past implies a re-invention, a desire to re-inform the past with traces from the present. The aim is to explore the fictions created in the absence of information or stories passed down through the generations. This void fueled a rich fantasy life where fact and fiction fused in the shadow of loss and a desire for connection.

May Wirth was born May Zinga to a Mauritian gymnast father and a mother of mixed Indian and Jewish extraction. Due to family difficulties she was adopted at the age of seven by Wirth’s Circus. The casual adoption process was indicative of the times, and child performers were regularly handed onto other families within circus culture. As a child she was identified to possess a rare talent and an extraordinary acrobatic ability. Through the rigorous training she received within Wirth’s Circus and extensive touring in the United Sates and Europe she was lauded as ‘the greatest bareback rider ever’.

Susan Wirth