Colliding imagery from diverse sources including thrift stores, eBay, photo albums, art historical texts, and advertising, Sara Cwynar recontextualizes the visual material that surrounds us and through this process reveals our collective visual assumptions and biases. For her site-specific installation on the façade of the Dal Grauer Substation, Cwynar created a monumental image, Umi, featuring a woman participating in a photo shoot holding a pose that seems simultaneously relaxed and contrived. About this work, the artist states: “I thought of a giant, monumental image of a woman who is sort of having her own private moment, as if she is actually in a very small space, looking up at the sky and disregarding the gaze of the viewer. It’s also a play obviously on all the traditional advertising we see where women are posed forward facing, looking at us, as if they are there for our gaze.”
In a subtly subversive move, the subject looks away from the camera and hence the viewer; her gesture, in which she holds her hand to her head, waffles somewhere between private contemplation and exasperation. There is something undeniably unsettling in Cwynar’s presentation of this immense and seemingly simple image of a reclining woman in the public sphere. Perhaps it is that the subject seems mired in her own thoughts and feelings, disregarding the viewer and ignoring our gaze, while so many images of women are presented for approval or consumption. The image evokes advertising tropes while simultaneously denying them. By playing upon the visual power of vernacular images, Cwynar’s concise, powerful photograph investigates the ways in which the images that surround us shape our collective consciousness.
Available in April: Ambiguous Form: An Interview with Sara Cwynar by Emmy Lee Wall, and an essay Imitation of Life by Durga Chew-Bose
Capture Photography Festival annually commissions artists to create new site-specific works to be installed on the Dal Grauer Substation’s façade. Drawing on the building itself, these projects temporarily emphasize the substation in the streetscape and reassert it as an architectural icon.
Sponsored by the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association