ImPositions #1 1977

ImPositions #1, 1977

Suzy Lake, ImPositions #1, 1977
4 gelatin silver fibre-based prints, approximate size 140 x 300 cm installed
Canada Council Art Bank, Ottawa

ImPositions #1, a set of images, is one work from the larger imPOSITIONS series of photographs that feature Lake, her arms and legs bound with rope, struggling to free herself—this time as she stands in a narrow space between two rows of storage lockers in the basement of her apartment building. Lake’s body, wedged in between two claustrophobic rows of wooden storage lockers, bridges containment and confinement; in their static grounding in space, Lake is forced to meld her body within the narrow space between the two rows, an exercise further complicated by her being bound.


Suzy Lake, Boundaries #2, 1985, colour pencil and oil pastel, 231.1 x 128.3 cm, Georgia Scherman Projects, Toronto.

What is particularly interesting about ImPositions #1 is that Lake heated the film with a candle and stretched it to create a distorted effect that amplifies her movement and exertion in the photographs—a process that, as was the case with the notable blur in Choreographed Puppets, 1976-77, would have been frowned upon for its betrayal of the concerns for formal purity in photography at the time. As with Choreographed Puppets, she moved away from the grid formation, presenting the works in a rhythmic sequence in order to heighten the emotional impact of her struggle to escape.


A related work from 1977, Vertical Pull #1, includes photographs of Lake, who is tied to a strap and in the process of being pulled down a set of stairs by someone outside the frame—by fellow artist Angela Grauerholz (b.1952), with whom Lake shared a studio. The verticality of the images causes a perceptual blur that obscures what is happening as Lake descends the steps with each successive photograph.


These works focus on the power and authority one person can exert over another—what Lake describes as “that restrictive situation of being suspended between actions or decisions that are under someone else’s control.”  The works were shown together in her exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1978, where Lake wrote for the accompanying brochure: “We have all (in some form or other) gone through the ominous feeling of not knowing where, when, or how the rug was pulled out from under. The edges aren’t defined. Impositions evolved visually to include all those undefined edges.”  ImPositions #1, by means of manipulating the photographic medium, addresses the political dimensions of control and confinement.


Another way to understand this work is that Lake is not presented as a victim in ImPositions #1 or in Vertical Pull #1, just as she had not been in Choreographed Puppets. Although she is exploring issues of manipulation and control, perhaps drawing on her experience of the civil rights movement in Detroit and her reflections on women’s liberation, she is both the actor in and the producer of these photographic series. Seen in this way, the pieces are about strength. As she told Robert Enright in an interview: “The idea of victim was something I wanted to work past. I was more interested in the idea of empowerment.”


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