Suzy Lake’s Co-Ed Magazine hangs at Paul Petro, part of a small show of her photos.
SUZY LAKE at Paul Petro (980 Queen West), to December 20. 416-979-7874. Rating: NNN
A lot of ink has been spilled over conceptual photography, a field that's spawned art stars like Cindy Sherman and Jeff Wall.
Suzy Lake may not have reached that firmament, but this small show of early photos offers insight into her subsequent oeuvre and that of artists who built on her pioneering efforts.
In the early 70s Lake began photographing herself and doing performances incorporating media representations of femininity, non-fetishistic bondage and narrative sequences commenting on the difficulty of communication.
In If You Knew Suzy, the show's centrepiece, Lake portrays the gun-toting Patty Hearst in two wanted-posterish collaborations with Bill Jones. Hearst's already multi-layered heiress/prisoner/terrorist identity gets further overlaid by Lake's artist/Everywoman intervention. Jones mounts the portraits on a chain-link fence, suggesting both imprisonment and ubiquity.
For Coed Magazine #2, a work related to her Miss Chatelaine project, a youthful Lake in whiteface makeup looks confused in her elaborate updo. Self-evident text about role-playing dates two photos in evening gowns.
A work from her Choreographics series shows her in a leotard striking a static, cheesecakey pose with one hand behind her head, while blurry white swooshes ambiguously suggest movement and silkscreened grass adds further disorientation.
Though Lake doesn't label her work feminist, she's included in WACK!, L.A. MOCA's survey of feminist art (see Books, page 87). Her eschewing of the more simplistic pitfalls of identity politics may be what keeps these 70s photos looking so contemporary.
Even if her work sometimes feels obscure or difficult, you have to admire the Guelph art prof, who's still putting herself out there, recently casting herself as a menopausal rocker in projects on beauty and aging.