Contact Festival: Talking to Suzy Lake

Suzy Lake, ImPositions Pan F Contact Sheet, 1977, gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist and Georgia Scherman Projects

The Scotia Bank Contact festival is Canada’s largest photography festival, with over 1500 participating artists and 200 exhibitions taking place through the month of May. It sprawls throughout the entirety of the Greater Toronto Area. This year, the festival focuses on Canada and recognizes the 150th anniversary of the confederation; explores both documentary style pieces that capture an ever-changing Canadian landscape and images that challenge our notions of the medium.

Novella had the privilege to speak with renowned artist and 2016 Scotiabank Photography Award winner, Suzy Lake.

Lake is a veteran photographer, video maker and performance artist. Her works deal with body image, ageism, beauty, as well as gender and identity construction. She explores the effects of social convention and power dynamics: “About forty to fifty years ago I started working with issues of identity and realized that, as one is trying to find one’s voice, one becomes aware of what the resistance is and so that continued as my visual journey until now.” Although her work is highly politicicized, Lake isn’t interested in preaching, “the thing is, I create work where I’m asking a question and raising discussion. It’s not agitprop. I’m not trying to convert someone.”

Suzy Lake, Puppet Study #10, 1976, gelatin silver print, string. Courtesy of the artist and Georgia Scherman Projects

Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1947, Lake grew up in a politically tumultuous era where racial tensions ran high. She became politically active in her young adulthood. She studied painting at Wayne State University, but felt the medium did not help her reconcile what was happening around her. She began experimenting with photography and performance art on her own accord. Witnessing the Detroit Race Riots first hand, she and her husband were forced to leave her hometown, and ended up in Montreal, Quebec.

Lake quickly realized that Canada, too, was fertile ground for the exploration of identity and power dynamics. For example, when she moved to Quebec, she discovered that she was technically her husband’s property under the Quebec Civil Code. The FLQ, a political party who violently advocated Quebec’s separation from Canada, was also active in Montreal at the time of Lake’s arrival. She sought progression through her artwork. Lake cofounded a forward-thinking, artist-run space in Montreal called Véhicule Art Inc, in 1972. Many consider it to have been at the helm of contemporary art.

Lake’s interest in the dynamics of power flourished. As she described it, there were: “Identity issues that were being addressed and they were politicized and there was resistance to them and I was very interested in that because it was very much similar to the civil rights work that I was doing in Detroit. So really, power dynamics are power dynamics. The story might be different, but the dynamic is the same.”

Suzy Lake, Thin Green Line, 2001, chromogenic print. Courtesy of the artist and Georgia Scherman Projects

Lake moved to Toronto in the late 1970s. She began to create work concerning both identity and landscapes, these were a testament to how she felt about deeply Canadian issues. Her installations, “Desire and the Landscape” and “Authority is an Attribute, Part I and Part II” explored Canada’s convoluted relationship with landownership. In “Desire and and Landscape” she juxtaposed the pride of a community in a rural, industrial paper mill town in northern Ontario, with the fallacious expectations of cosmopolitan tourists.

“Everyone really identifies with their surroundings if they have been in a place for a long period of time. Living in Montreal for ten years — that was a length of time where I learned about its history the nuances of personality so and so forth. We have a pride in that comfort of where we are and what it looks like. It becomes part of who we are,” she said.  “If you’re a tourist, you kind of idealize what that is and it’s not necessarily on the same terms as the caretakers of that land.” For the piece, Lake created wall drawings with colored graphite pencil and intermittently hung photographs of tourists.

Canada’s historical power dynamics, clearly fraught with injustice, were incorporated into her work, she explained, “The Temagami land claim was living on a tremendous amount of Ontario, they’re hunters and at the same time desire of all the cottagers of the Temagami area had desire over the beautiful vacationing landscape and the soft wood lumber industry Goulard assumed desire and ownership over the pine forest and hydro and so you know there is a different kind of investment by others than those who are really the caretakers of the land.”

Her piece “Authority is an Attribute Part I and II” further explored the relationships between First Nations people, the provincial government, and the logging and tourist industries. In Part I, we met the figures of desire and issues of appropriation, each colonial figure had a set of binoculars because their gaze holds the power of decision-making. For Part II, the Teme-Augama Anishnabai Band Council asked Lake if she could create an exhibition on Bay Street that non-Indigenous people in Toronto could see. The Council wanted the exhibition on Bay Street (Toronto’s equivalent of the infamous Wall Street in New York), “because that’s where important decisions are made.” Lake said, “They wanted their side of the story told so every decision, every visualization that I did, I would go up to Teme-Augama and present it to and have it approved by Band Council so it really was a collaboration, but I visualized it.” The photos consist of triptychs of the Teme-Augama Anishnabai Band members smiling on their rightful land and home. She also included photos of the previously identified authority figures with binoculars from Part I as well as in cut out installations to really accentuate their taking of space. There is also a small series of silver gelatin prints entitled “Game Players” of businessmen in suits playing chess on the Augama Anishnabai land. The businessmen also represent aspects of neo-colonialism.

Whether Lake is dealing with beauty ideas, ageism, or other societal constructions, her work sparks conversation. Her work is a visual manifestation of how we may feel about social injustice.

CONTACT is celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday—yet many see little reason to celebrate our colonial foundations and the ongoing disempowerment of indigenous groups. Lake’s Attribute I and II function as an important reminder of the many injustices that Canada has perpetrated over those 150 years.

You can see Suzy Lake’s exhibition is on from April 29-August 13 at the Ryerson Image Centre.

Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

New Music: Shamir Surprises Fans with Hope

Shamir surprised fans this past week by releasing a surprise album on Soundcloud. The album, titled Hope, is a testament to Shamir’s honesty as an artist. It sees Shamir abandoning the pop tracks that catapulted him to fame and embracing his love of lo-fi.

“I was gonna quit music this weekend. From day one it was clear I was an accidental pop star. I loved the idea of it, I mean who doesn’t?” Shamir wrote to introduce the album. “Still the wear of staying polished with how I am presented and how my music was presented took a huge toll on me mentally.”

Shamir recorded the album by himself on a four-track over one weekend, playing, writing, producing, and mixing everything. Hope is completely stripped down, unlike his totally polished debut Ratchet.   

“My music only feels exciting for me if it’s in the moment, and that’s what this album is,” he continued. “I love pop music, I love outsider music, and I love lo-fi music, this is my way of combining all three.”

The creative direction he took with Hope is refreshing for a pop act but not totally surprising from Shamir. When he dropped his debut album and critics, fans and other onlookers were obsessing over his gender and sexuality, Shamir tweeted “To those who keep asking, I have no gender, no sexuality and no fucks to give.”

And with his new surprise album, Shamir’s no fucks attitude continues to shine through. Although the album isn’t the easiest listen or the best piece of music, it’s a real expression. In an age where most pop music is a money making science, Shamir’s courage to walk away and create genuine music is something to be commended.

Listen to the full album here: https://soundcloud.com/shamir326/hope-full-album

Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Your 420 Playlist

Happy 420 Novella readers! We wanted to provide you with a chill play mix for the day that went beyond the reggae and pot cliche (not that reggae isn’t fantastic). The tracklist consists of everything from pop, indie and electronic. We hope you have a lovely time listening to these tunes and lighting one –or a few– up.

Rihanna -James Joint

People Under the Stairs – Acid Raindrops

Sharon Forrester – Love Don’t Live Here Anymore

Erykah Badu – On & On

Wilson Tanner – Sun Room

De Facto – Cordova

OutKast – Crumblin’ Erb

Sean Nicholas Savage – Propaganda

Aquarian Foundation – Mind Miniatures

Rhoda Scott – Molybdenum

Devendra Banhart – Seahorse

Space Dimension Controller – The Love Quadrant

Devin The Dude – Doobie Ashtray

Eckhaus Latta Rethinks the Sex Sells Concept in Their Latest Campaign

Underground fashion darlings Eckhaus Latta have gained notoriety in the mainstream circuit for their none-binary clothing, uninhibited casting choices, unconventional runway shows, and material driven designs. But it’s their SS 2017 campaign that pushes the brand’s honest approach to fashion the furthest: it features a variety of real-life couples engaging in various sexual acts in the brand’s clothing.

Photos courtesy of Eckhaus Latta Instagram

For the campaign, Eckhaus Latta tapped Korean-German photographer Heji Shin, who recently took a break from shooting fashion to create a sex education book for teens.

“For us, it was really important to think of sex as something really natural and not something fabricated, hyper-sexualized, or taboo,” Eckhaus told W Magazine. “We weren’t covering people in oil — that’s actually their sweat, you know?” Latta added. “We’ve really wanted to play with the principles around advertising, but it had to be authentic and it had to be real people. If it was simulated, it would have really lost the whole intention behind the shoot.”

Photos courtesy of Eckhaus Latta Instagram

Lets be real, fashion campaigns that aren’t driven by the ‘sex sells’ concept are few and far in-between. The Eckhaus Latta campaign is bringing consumers back to reality by not airbrushing, depicting people connecting, representing all kinds of couples, and not being overly stylized. The honesty is refreshing and has created the least controversial depiction of sex I’ve ever seen in an advertisement. Maybe the reason why viewers find the ads so unnerving is the limited way we’ve been offered to consume sex: hetro, staged, dishonest, and passionless.

Photos courtesy of Eckhaus Latta Instagram

Continue following our fashion & lifestyle coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Female Photographers You Should Probably be Following on Instagram

As social media grows, the art of the blemish-free curated life is perfected. Gaining followers and likes has been broken down to a science. Although we now have the power to represent ourselves in ways we want, more and more people opt for a social media feed that will give them a larger online presence. The aesthetics of popularity on Instagram follows the same values of mainstream media and conventional beauty. It’s made Instagram a pretty boring place, so we’ve put together a list of female photographers to follow to keep your feeds interesting.

Parker Day                   

Parker Day is a Los Angeles-based photographer who explores the tension between our real identities and the ones we create for ourselves. Through wild costumes, exaggerated expressions, makeup, and color, she creates a hyper-reality loaded with fantasy. She is particularly interested in how our constructed selves are tied to gender. Her images are the perfect place for the selfie generation to question who they really are.

Maisie Cousins         

Maisie Cousins has no interest in creating typically pretty pictures drowning in vapid conventional beauty. The photographer from London likes to create images that focus on the visceral and the grotesque. She uses pastels, nature, sticky substances, makeup, and other things you’d find lying around your home to highlight all the things society shames us for: female body hair, stretch marks, pimples, and other ‘imperfections.’ Her gross yet beautiful pictures give viewers easement with their own insecurities.

Shelby Sells                   

Shelby Sells is on a mission to end slut shaming and create an open and safe dialogue around sex. Her blog, Perv On The Go, is a platform she created to share her ideas, interviews, videos and photos which focus on love, sex, and relationships. She’s conducted interviews and photographed artists like Sita Abellán, Abra, Yunglita, Roman Future and Father. Due to the open discussion and safe space she has created with her blog, her subjects always come off as empowered although they are highly sexualized. The Los Angeles-based photographer is making the internet a more tolerant place.

Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.