Erin Silver: Suzy Lake: Life & Work

Decades before “the selfie” sparked a cultural revolution, Suzy Lake (b.1947) changed the course of art history by making herself the subject of her pictures and using her camera as a tool to investigate how we manufacture images of identity. Incorporating elements of theatre, performance, and role-play, Lake blended technology and art to create compelling works so ahead of their time it took the art world nearly two decades to catch up. Today she is recognized as one of the world’s most important photo-based practitioners and a significant influence on a new generation of artists that perform in front of the camera.

Born in Detroit, Lake studied painting and drawing during university. She soon became politically active, contributing to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Lake immigrated to Montreal in 1968, immersing herself in its vibrant art scene, assisting the painter Guido Molinari, developing her own unique take on conceptual art, and contributing to the city’s artist-run culture. She later moved to Toronto, becoming an influential instructor at the University of Guelph while expanding her practice and creating pop culture-skewering characters such as Suzy Spice. Today one of Canada’s great living artists, Lake is the recipient of the 2016 Scotiabank Photography Award and has been honoured with the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts.

In Suzy Lake: Life & Work art historian Erin Silver examines Lakes’ interests in issues of identity in relation to society, gender, and the universal experiences of power and authority, and the extraordinary range of her creative experiments with materials. Bringing new insights to Lake’s tremendously varied projects, Silver reveals how Lake’s inventive practice has challenged audiences for decades and continues to do so today.

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