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2006 11 22
Angle of Incident #31: Windowscapes

By Gary Michael Dault

It’s noon and I’m making my way to the Jetfuel coffee shop on Parliament street to look at a suite of photographs on exhibition there. It’s noon and I’ve had one small cup of coffee six hours before, so I badly need another. I’m starving too.

I get to Jetfuel and the photographs are there—a collection by Toronto photographer Lynda J. Perry called Be / Longing, a series of highly complex, optically layered photos of store windows.

But first I need this coffee, and maybe a muffin or something. I join the lineup. When I get to the front of it, I order a latte and a bran muffin. The young woman in charge starts to make the latte, but informs me rather coldly that there are no more muffins. “They’re all gone,” she says. “Well”, I say—famished—“do you have a danish or a croissant or anything?” She looks at me with the sort of patience that borders on contempt and repeats herself, as if I were hard of hearing, or mentally challenged: “They’re…all..GONE.” This is distressing, because the latte she hands me is huge and cloudy-white and big as a flower vase. I can’t drink all this without something to eat with it. “But this is a coffee shop”, I persevere. “You must have SOMETHING to eat?” I get one last withering look. “THEY’RE ALL GONE!!”

Disconcerted, I pick a table, set my brimming fount of milky latte on it, and disturb the rest of the customers by leaning over their laptops and newspapers so that I can gaze upon Lynda Perry’s photographs, hanging along the walls.

They’re very good. She calls them “windowscapes” and for good reason, since although they are photographs of plate-glass storefront windows. And they are not impassive views of what is in the windows, but more the sort of photograph Eugene Atget (1857-1927) took in Paris in the early years if the 20th century, wherein the contents of the window itself were optically (and surrealistically) conflated with what is outside the window, manifested as reflection.

Perry’s photographs are more spatially complex than Atget’s (whose chief purpose was documentary). They are, in fact, more like the early street photographs of Lee Friedlander, with whom Perry once studied. As she puts it in a short text that accompanies the pictures, her windowscape photos “juxtapose interior consumer spaces with exterior reflections”, a juxtaposition that “blurs the boundary between inner/outer, separation/assimilation, voyeurism /exhibitionism, intention/chance, chaos/order”—all the good dichotomies.

Perry is in a lot of them. Sometimes you have to look hard to find her. She gets easily occluded (or, rather, allows herself to be occluded) by consumer goods, compromised by telephone lines, nearly obliterated by buildings across the way, by passing streetcars; but she is usually there somewhere, holding her own as a seeing presence, a camera-eye, amidst the mercantile vortex.

In the photograph shown here—while many of Perry’s photographs are in colour (which she uses effectively), her strongest works, like this one, are black and white images printed on coloured papers—Perry has cunningly constructed (or rather deconstructed and reconstructed) a sort of figure (this is the “Be” part of her title), made up both of her own body and of the stuff in the window (the “Longing” part of her title).

If you work your way into the photograph from the lower left, you first encounter a chair with a fedora resting on its seat (the light on the hat is exquisite, shaping it into something approaching genuine sculpture; like all gifted photographers, Perry seems to love the look of Things). At this point, you witness the coming together of a hand holding an umbrella handle and the shadowy, ghostly presence of Perry’s own body.

Is the umbrella-hand her hand? No, it’s the hand of a mannequin, whose space Perry now shares. The mannequin’s body has now been radically rebuilt and re-imagined: some wedge of landscape shows between its legs, Perry’s face is superimposed on the mannequin’s cujones, and its upper body and head, lost now in the brightness at the top of the frame, has been replaced by a complex of billboards resting atop a building across the street—lending the figure a rather robotic or, more accurately, a constructivist headpiece.

This now composite figure is an inventive golem, Perry’s new construction (using only glass, smoke and mirrors) incarnating dreams that money can buy (fedoras, chairs, umbrellas, advertising-in-general) and powered by the vitally-located artist herself who, now folded into the mannequin’s body, can be seen as both the embodiment of materialist desire and/or as the victim of it—a female Jonah swallowed by the leviathan of commerce.

All of the photographs are as good as this one. Which makes the exhibition eminently worth seeking out. Be / Longing continues until November 30. The Jetfuel Coffee Shop is at 519 Parliament Street, and is open daily from 8:00am to 7:30pm. Get there early if you want a muffin or anything.
[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 11/22 at 07:20 PM

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