For seminal feminist artist and Detroit-native Suzy Lake, a solo show of her recent work at the University of Michigan Stamps Gallery represents a homecoming of sorts. Lake was born and raised in Detroit and studied at Wayne State University before emigrating to Montreal in the late 1960s as a self-proclaimed “draft-dodger.” In subsequent years, the work she began in Detroit unfolded into an influential career as one of the pioneering female artists in Canada to incorporate performance, video, and photography to explore the politics of gender, the body, and identity into her political and personal art.
It is fitting, then, that one of the bodies of Lake’s work on display at the Stamps Gallery—newly under the direction of curator and writer Srimoyee Mitra, who also came to Michigan from Canada (and prior to that, Mumbai)—deals directly with her Detroit roots, and features the artist literally tracing her family’s history in the city. Performing an Archive (2014/2016) is, as it sounds, a series of photographs and research that documents all the residences held by members of Lake’s family, going back generations in Detroit to the late 1890s, and the artist’s efforts to find and reconnect with them in their present-day state.
“I wanted to do something to celebrate Detroit getting on its feet,” said Lake, in a brief interview with CultureSource before the show’s opening that betrayed a trace of a Canadian accent. “Being outside Detroit, people were doing a lot of documentary work, but everyone was doing the ruin porn. And that’s not what Detroit was for me, even when I was growing up, even though the 1960s were probably Detroit’s lowest time. And so I chose to use my ancestors, who came here right after the Civil War, and traced their houses and where they lived.”