Author: Murray Whyte
Publication: The Star (Toronto)
Press Date: April 13, 2011
The 10-day Images Festival wrapped last Saturday, but it’s a gift that keeps on giving. Take Lindsay Seers’ hauntingly absurd film installation, Extramission 6 (Black Maria) at Gallery TPW, launched as part of the festival and continuing until the end of the month.
Seers, a British artist with an estimable pedigree – this piece is part of the Tate collection in the U.K. – presents an impossibly oddball autobiography while digging down to the roots of our heavily mediated culture.
The piece is presented pseudo-documentary style, narrated largely by the artist’s mother, Alicia, in a disarming, granular timbre. The story is simple and strange: As a child, Seers refused to speak. “Lindsay suffered some trauma at birth,” Alicia intones. At the age of 8, she says, Lindsay saw pictures of herself as a younger child. “Is that me?” she asks. These are the first words she’s ever spoken.
Her muteness, suggests a psychiatrist joining the chorus of narrators, is the product of her childhood gift of photographic (or eidetic) memory. The doctor explains that because children with such talents are able to recall all they see, they often feel no need to speak.
But the gift fades over time. As a young woman desperate to replace it, Seers starts to physically transform herself into a camera. She travels everywhere with a black shroud, using her mouth as a lens to print images on photo paper inside it. (A deadpan Seers demonstrated the technique, with pursed lips, to a gathering of Toronto patrons earlier this month; some left wondering if such a thing was possible).
Our narrators explain that over time, a despondent Seers learns to become a projector, transmitting images into a world she once passively collected them from. For the film’s purpose, this is no metaphor: Seers’ illumination is literal, shafts of light beaming from her eyes.
All this brilliant sci-fi weirdness aside, the actual metaphor is clear. Extramission 6 has some very pointed things to say about memory, perception and our deeply mediated experience of the world the unbridgeable rift between what our minds store and what we can mechanically record with the click of a shutter.
The Seers film unspools in a black tar-paper barn, built inside the gallery, which makes plain her larger point. The structure is a replica of Thomas Edison’s Black Maria, the first-ever film studio built in New Jersey in 1893 — perhaps the key incubator of our current image-laden culture.
Seers’ shift, from human camera to projector, mirrors the seismic shift in mechanical reproduction, from the still to moving image a closer simulacrum of real life, but still just a simulation. Seers’ evolution in the film does seem to have a positive effect on her disposition: “I think, for Lindsay, things will become more positive,” Alicia says, hopefully.
A sunnier Seers, then, is one who gives up observation for transmission, her emergent self now broadcasting, not receiving. In this era of Facebook, a universe of broadcasters of one, this is a chillingly apt conclusion. What Edison seeded, Seers shows, is now full-blown: In this happier world where everyone speaks at once, who’s left to listen?
Lindsay Seers: Extramission 6 (Black Maria) continues at Gallery TPW to April 30. 56 Ossington Ave. http://www.gallerytpw.ca