Susan R. Kirshenbaum

art and life - both the cherries and the pits

Barbie on the Cusp

A work-in-progress art installation by Susan R. Kirshenbaum during her Black & White Projects (BWP) Art Residency, April 2019, San Francisco, CA

A work-in-progress art installation by Susan R. Kirshenbaum during her Black & White Projects (BWP) Art Residency, April 2019, San Francisco, CA



For most of my art career I’ve been focused on developing my figurative work, created digitally since 2013, in multiple series printed on paper, fabric, metal, and canvas. For the Black & White Projects Art Residency (Spring 2019, SF, CA) I embarked on a new direction.

I created the first phase of Barbie on the Cusp, an idea I’ve been ruminating on for a long time. It consists of an installation that fills half of the residency studio and is composed of disparate elements to create a narrative about how my art took root and the influence of children’s toys and games. I drew directly (non-digital) onto wall-mounted paper working in a couple of sessions with a live model and props. I created a short video of me reading my story as well as a small first edition of the zine plus a larger version of a z-folded hand-bound art book on a pedestal. At the reception I invited attendees to a write-your-own-story (see link to send yours). There was also a game board on the floor surrounded by hazard tape and littered with headless naked Barbies in unseemly positions, some with crime victim outlines, while others were climbing the walls. There was also a vitrine with a display of old black and white photos of me at age 13, an old drawing, a vintage Barbie, and the first art doll I ever created.

I installed an experience that a viewer could walk through and participate in - people were encouraged to enter the space, read, listen, watch, and see Barbies in various states to get a sense of how my Barbie story relates to becoming a strong woman and how each of our Barbie stories are formative experiences that live on.


Q & A with SRK

Q: What was the initial concept and how did it morph?

A: To create a miniature world or a doll house filled with childhood memories. Sculpt very small-scale figures (or use modified dolls) and create furnishing from modeling clay, balsa wood, glue and fabric to create nightmarish little environments with vignettes of narratives. Create a sound track and projections to accompany the installation. Lights and could indicate shifts from day to night (this was the most ambitious of all my ideas!)

Q: This is such a different direction for your work! Why this change of approach to your art-making?

A: Yes, it’s different from the work I’ve been creating for the past 5-10 years. But I began a video performance art track way back in 1980 at SFAI…

Q: How did the residency affect your project plans?

A: I wanted to take advantage of the space and time provided in a residency, as well as the lack of a requirement to exhibit safe work, that might sell well, that needs to be gallery-ready in presentation, and what my patrons expect of me. I wanted to take a plunge and shift my focus to:

  • Change Scales – work larger and smaller

  • Create installation experiences with sound, light, touch, projected imagery, possibly physical sensations (ideally including smells)

  • Include 3-D/Sculptural elements

  • Get away from all digital all the time

  • Bring back video/performance into my work

  • Develop and exhibit a project that is revealing and obviously personal, political and feminist

  • Collaborate with Art Residency Director Rhiannon MacFadyen


My (Recurring) Themes

  • Feminism

  • Active female figures

  • Story-telling narratives

  • Incorporate language/words with images

  • Body love

  • Freedom

  • Borders and boundaries

  • Memories

  • Active change/progress

Initial Brainstorm

Childhood, friendship, tweens, 13, big East Coast basements, installations, spread out all over the floor, board game, sex, gender, rape, incest, murder, assault - adding up to The Real Barbie Game.



Tell Your Own Barbie Story

I’d love to know what you experienced in the world of Barbie tales so I am collecting these stories. Would you please share them with me? They will be published anonymously on my website and I will incorporate them into the next phase of the books and the project. Rough and short are preferred. Send them to me via email at


Additional Artist’s Zine & Book

Barbie on the Cusp is the self-published zine (small book) that tells the story for the project of the same name. I am adding variations to the original that was sold at the April 2019 reception at Pacific Felt Factory where Black and White Projects is based and I had an art residency. Here’s how to get yours:

  • Buy my updated zine, Barbie on the Cusp, in its second limited edition for $20 + tax (if it’s a chatbook - but if it’s a Blurb book it will be more and you may order it directly)! It’s currently in production and due out in May 2019. There will be an edition of 10 of these. I sign each one.

  • Place your order here for the larger-scale version - a hand-bound artist’s book that comes in a handmade box in a small edition (under 10). This book will be available at my Artspan Open Studio show and sale during the last weekend of October 2019 at Pacific Felt Factory. Reserve yours today. Cost is tbd.

  • Also coming soon - the video of the reading of the zine.

    (Links - TO COME)




My Open Studio will be held during the last weekend in October (10/26-27) from 11am-6pm. This year I’ll be at Pacific Felt Factory (PFF) in their main gallery on the first floor. PFF is located on 20th Street btw York and Bryant, at the edge of the Mission near Potrero Hill. Look for more of my “Barbie on the Cusp” books there as well as my limited edition prints, cards, and other special show merchandise.