Reduced Performing: Breathing #5 2009–11

Reduced Performing: Breathing #5, 2009–11

Suzy Lake, Reduced Performing: Breathing #5, 2009–11
Light-jet chromogenic print, 204 x 82.6 cm
Georgia Scherman Projects, Toronto

Reduced Performing: Breathing #5 is part of a series called Reduced Performing which Lake created between 2008 and 2011. In it, she set out to explore time, duration, movement, and perception by lying down on an eight-foot-long flatbed scanner in her printer’s studio during a 12-minute scan. In this series—her first experiment with digital photography—she harnessed sophisticated technology to investigate the limits of image-based reproductive machinery in making art.


Installation photograph of Reduced Performing Series at Fonderie Darling for Le Mois de la Photo, Montreal, 2013.

In all Lake’s work in photography, as in her parallel series Extended Breathing, 2008–14, she is a three-dimensional character in a two-dimensional world. Her hyper-awareness of what happens during her own performance, along with the performance of the camera, allows her to engage in a conceptual kind of trickery that questions both the self and the medium. In the Reduced Performing series, Lake takes this investigation one step further by “flattening” herself into the scanner so that the process itself becomes acutely implicated in the outcome. As in early photography, the limitations of the medium have the effect of erasing the subtle actions that were the subject of study. Although Lake lies on the scanner for a 12-minute exposure, the machine cannot document her breathing. The resulting image seemingly causes her subtle action of inhalation and exhalation to disappear. In other variations in the series, Lake blinked or cried as she lay on the flatbed, with the same result.


In their place, something resembling hyperrealism and digital painting emerges: Lake’s entire body is represented as though it is a direct facsimile, but with the rainbow hues and hints of saturation from the RGB breakdown of the scanner. The flatbed scanner is overly sophisticated in its visual sculpting of her body, yet, despite (or perhaps because of) this robot-like efficiency, it cannot register the subtleties of emotion that play out on Lake’s face. Lake visualizes the technology’s cold and calculated reality, one that is incapable of understanding the nuance of the human condition.


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