Toronto – Gallery 44
Steve Lyons and Susan Lakin, Monitors
Gallery 44, Toronto
June 4–July 3, 2010
What does an elaborately staged recreation of a 1960s photograph of the search for the Loch Ness monster have in common with a series of glossy, saturated images of couples, individuals and families reflected in their television screens? At first blush, very little. But Monitors, a two-person exhibition at Toronto’s Gallery 44, persuasively combines these two disparate projects, allowing them to speak to one another about the powerful effects of photographic screens on their viewers. Rather than focusing on the ghostly or phantasmagoric aspects of these screens, however, the works in Monitors foreground their materiality, privileging the “stuff” that constitutes and mediates the images we see.
In Montreal-based Steve Lyons’ installation Loch Ness (2010), a messy, sprawling construction handmade out of found materials such as paper, plywood and masking tape is set up on the gallery floor in front of a video camera on a tripod. Despite its intricacy, Lyons’ site-specific assemblage fails to cohere into a recognizable form from almost every vantage point available to the viewer, and it quickly becomes clear that the sculpture is designed to be seen not by a pair of human eyes, but by the lens of the camera. Through a live feed, the camcorder transforms what it sees into a black and white still image on a nearby television screen, perfectly recreating a 1965 archival photograph of the headquarters of the Loch Ness Investigations Bureau: an observation station set up to attempt to photographically document the mythic sea monster.
Lyons’ work is not only a clever and impressively time-consuming visual trick (the piece is ongoing, with Lyons rebuilding the construction from scratch every time Loch Ness is shown); it also prompts reconsideration of the ways we ascribe meaning and truth value to mechanically produced images over and above images perceived with the naked eye. By working with obsessive precision to create a manual, physical version of a banal and anonymous photograph, Lyons turns the photographic process inside out.
Reversals of photographic logic also characterize the work of Rochester-based artist Susan Lakin. Her Television Portraits series features large-scale photographs of turned-off television sets whose screens reflect their owners. Theatrically posed in cheesy groupings on couches or captured alone in the midst of other activities, such as reading books, working on laptops or playing guitar, Lakin’s sitters seem trapped in their sets and yet appear nonchalant and even pleased about their confinement. Rather than the television operating as a conduit for the outside world to enter the domestic sphere, in Lakin’s images the TV becomes a mirror for its owner’s home environment which, depicted through the artist’s photographs, then circulates in public. Shown alongside Lyons’ experiment in photographic reconstitution, Lakin’s portraits underscore the unnerving parallel between “monitors” and “surveillance” and the screen’s ability to see as well as to project.