Suzie Lake [Performances]

As a senior conceptual visual artist in Canada, the work of Suzy Lake is at the foundation of the body/identity politic which has emerged in recent years and her current exhibition entitled Chrysalis will be featured in Montreal during September as part of "Le mois de la photo à Montréal".

My friend
told me that I had carried too many stones No. 15, photograph by Suzie Lake


Suzy Lake was born in 1947 in Detroit, Michigan. She pursued art at Wayne State University and became active in the civil-rights and anti-war movements of the late 1960's. After witnessing the 1968 riots in Detroit, she emigrated to Montreal and began to exhibit her works during the early 1970's. Lake earned her M.F.A. in multimedia from Concordia University in 1978, and has been a professor of Fine Arts at the University of Guelph since 1988. Suzy Lake is represented in Toronto by Paul Petro Contemporary Art.

In 1972, Lake co-founded
the cooperative gallery Vèhicule, the site through which performance entered Quebec's anglaphone art scene. She participated in key intermedia events such a A Conceptographic Reading of Our World Thermometer (a six-hour television series made for cable broadcast, Calgary, 1973), Body Art Series, Centre for Experimental Art and Communication, Toronto, 1976, and The First Canadian Performance Festival, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, organized by Chantal Pontbriand in 1978. Her performance works span nearly two decades; her videos, such as Box Concert (1974) and A Natural Way to Draw (1975) are distributed by V-Tape, Toronto.

In 1985 Lake joined Artnica
, a Canadian artists' organization set up as an exchange between Canadian and Nicaraguan artists. Later, she began work with the Teme-Augama-Anishnabai Band of Temagami, Ontario, which resulted in the installation Authority is an Attribute, Part II (1989-1992). Her recent exhibitions include a solo presentation of the latter at Macdonald Stewart Art Cantre, Guelph, 1992; Point of Reference, a retrospective circulated nationally by the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, 1993-1997 and Deflecting the Blind Spot (Martha Wilson and Suzy Lake), Art Gallery of York University, 1996.


In comparison with Lake's other work, the components of My Friend Told Me That I Had Carried Too Many Stones appear small and elegant, even understated. They have a curious, box-like dimensionality. As images and as constructions they retain the shallow, confining space of her earlier self portraits. Viewers familiar with Lake's history as a self-photographed subject will recognize the partly-obscured figure portrayed in the images as hers.

The new work is composed of four series
built around three scenes. The three panels in My Friend Told Me That I Had Carried Too Many Stones present colour photographs of a woman scratching a peeling wall, head-and-shoulders view. In Chrysalis, a sequence of three colour photographs shows the figure sweeping debris in front of the same wall. As in My Friend Told Me..., the gesture changes from frame to frame, giving the effect of a continuous action stopped by the occasional release of the camera's shutter. This image repeats in Making A True Space, where the use of a black and white toned print gives the subject matter a retrospective aura. The final image, showing portions of a woman's nude torso and abdomen, is barely discernable. It occurs on two flesh-toned fragments of black and white photo-emulsion that have been peeled from their paper and delicately mounted with pins in hinged boxes, facsimiles of the butterfly collector's, to form the Specimen Boxes.

Lake makes an issue of framing and construction
in this work. Instead of window mats, the photographs of the figures in My Friend Told Me... and Chrysalis are surrounded by colour enlargements of the distressed wall surface, mounted about one-half inch in front of the inner photograph, and recessed in a box-style frame about three-quarters of an inch deep. Through the embedding of its tiny image in a block of plaster with a rough, window-like opening, Making A True Space reiterates the literal, material presence of the wall. In Specimen Box, the mounting device replaces the depicted space of the room with that of a receptacle designed for storage and presentation. One consequence of these spatial constructions is to accentuate the materiality of the photographic print at the expense of its illusionistic transparency. Lake's manipulation of her materials serves as well to support the central metaphor of the piece which, progressing through photographed gestures of peeling and sweeping, culminates in the presentation of the peeled, exposed emulsion as cast-off skin.

making a true space, photograph by Suzie Lake (detail)

Suzy Lake says of her newest body of staged self-portraits, "These are probably the quietest works that I have ever done." The lyrical colour, small size and talisman-like solidity of her photo-constructions suggest an emotional settling in the life of this autobiographical artist. In contrast, the implicitly violent themes in previous works support the new series' connotation of the subject having struggled, as conveyed in the title. There is narrative and structural continuity with Pre-Resolution: Using the Ordinances at Hand 1984. In Pre-Resolution the artist's fragile figure swings a sledge hammer against a lath and plaster wall, within a box frame that is painted trompe-l'oeil fashion to appear continuous with the photographic image. To this pictorial enactment of demolition, My Friend Told Me... opposes the iconography of renovation.

- from the larger text by Ingrid Jenkner, Curator, Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery, Halifax. For the complete text entitled "My Friend Told Me That I Had Carried Too Many Stones", select here.

In Montreal, Lake's work will be on display at the Paul Petro Contemporary Art, 372 St. Catherine Street West, Suite 522, beginning Saturday, September 6, 1997.
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