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AGO curator Georgiana Uhlyarik on Tavi Gevinson and introducing artist Suzy Lake to a new generation

Are You Talking to Me?, 1979

Suzy Lake, “Are You Talking to Me?,” 1979 (photo: courtesy AGO)

Pioneering American-Canadian artist and photographer Suzy Lake is getting her due, thanks to a comprehensive five-decade career survey happening at Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario.

Introducing Suzy Lake takes visitors through the artist’s career and home cities, starting with late 1960s Detroit through 1970s Montreal, and her current practice in Toronto. Known for technically sophisticated self-portraiture in her photos and video performances, Lake’s work has continually drawn attention to gender and race politics, and, more recently, aging.

Accompanying the exhibition is a 234-page catalogue, co-produced with U.K.’s Black Dog Publishing. AGO associate curator of Canadian art and Introducing Suzy Lake co-curator Georgiana Uhlyarik spoke to Q&Q about the publication, and introducing an important artist to a new generation.

Were you working on the book in tandem with the exhibition? It feels like working on two projects at the same time. The book is the one that really lasts so you have to think about it differently than the experience of the visitor. To me, when I was thinking of how to approach the book it was how it was going to last and function beyond the exhibition and beyond the local Toronto community.

How are the two thematically connected? What we’re trying to do in the exhibition, which really becomes clear in the publication, is to situate receiving this great work in our generation. We think of ourselves as the daughters of Suzy’s generation, and it’s very important to pass it on to the next generation, the one that is coming into consciousness right now.

We knew that at the core of the book there would be three main essays, but to start it all off it was going to be [Rookie founder] Tavi Gevinson.

Suzy Lake, "Miss Chatelaine," 1973 (photo: courtesy AGO)

Suzy Lake, “Miss Chatelaine,” 1973 (photo: courtesy AGO)

Why did you decide on Gevinson as a writer? She is part of the generation that’s becoming self-empowered right now, but to us is so clearly part of that lineage of Suzy and all her contemporaries who were trying to define themselves.

My neighbour, whose daughter goes to the Etobicoke School of the Arts, opened up this whole world of Rookie to me, maybe two years ago. As soon as I went online I realized she was the perfect, perfect person. Also, because of the U.S. connection: we wanted to make sure Suzy was rooted in terms of her politics, and where she comes from.

Was she familiar with Lake’s work? No, but you take a chance. Obviously Tavi’s very young but unbelievably articulate, so beautifully conscious of the forces at play and how she situates herself f vis-à-vis these forces. It was a pleasure to get her text – it did exactly what I hoped it would do. She did her research.

What about the other voices in the book? We tried to include three scholars, three curators, three artists, so you keep being introduced to Suzy by different people and voices. The book’s spine, if you like, is Suzy. She’s talking about each of the different cities but is also introducing herself at various moments in her life.

 Suzy Lake Cover[2][1]Can you talk about the cover image? I’m especially proud of the cover. A long time ago we had this very serendipitous conversation with Suzy and Duncan McCorquodale from Black Dog Publishing. We were taking about the cover, because publishers always want to know what the cover is before anything else. Because of that conversation were able to commission this work that Suzy did for the exhibition (“Performing Haute Couture”).

It was so critical to us that the cover is her absolute latest work – it would have been so easy to go with a standard well-known black-and-white from the ’70s, but for us, it’s about having continuity. She’s an artist who is at the height of her creative powers right now, which is why we wanted to commission something so special.