Monday, March 7, 2016

Suzy Lake: Transformer

I have written a text for the Canada Council Art Bank to recognize the 2016 laureates of the Governor General's Awards in Visual and Media Arts. The Art Bank has been acquiring excellent works by award-winning Canadian artists for decades, so it’s no surprise that almost all of the award-winning artists of 2016 are represented in the collection. Incredibly, one work in the collection, Suzy Lake as Bill Vazan (1974), conjures up images of two of this year’s laureates in one go! In a grid of six larger-than-life portraits, Lake takes on Vazan’s facial features, including his bushy mustache, in composite images that are the result of gradual photographic manipulation.

Suzy Lake as Bill Vazan (1974) by Suzy Lake

It is one work from a series entitled The Transformations which was inspired by Lake’s realization that she had picked up the speech mannerisms of a male co-worker she admired. She was exploring notions of role-playing and identity at a time of social and political change, and photography was another vehicle where, chameleon-like, she could adopt the mannerisms and likenesses of other people. Creating this work well in advance of Photoshop, she stenciled out and registered features from two different negatives and exposed them in the darkroom. Although the content of the series was not exclusively feminist, its import was. Speaking about the series when her work was exhibited at the Santa Monica Museum in 2007, Lake asked, “If women were looking for a different voice, were we conforming to an established voice to say something new?” Groundbreaking in its mixture of conceptual art practices with identity and social politics, Lake’s work has inspired and influenced artists such as Cindy Sherman who would later explore similar territory.

In a career that has spanned over four decades, Lake continues to produce forward-looking art that engages with identity while embracing new forms of expression. You can read my entire text by following this link.

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