The Proust Questionnaire: Suzy Lake
The Proust Questionnaire started as a Late Victorian parlour game, aimed at revealing key aspects of a person’s character. While still in his teens, author Marcel Proust answered a similar series of questions with such enthusiasm that, when the manuscript containing his original answers was discovered in 1924, his name became permanently associated with this type of informal interview.
Photo: Lisa Muzzin
Suzy Lake is an American-Canadian artist based in Toronto. Known for her work as a photographer, performance artist and video-maker, Lake uses a wide range of media to examine issues related to identity, beauty, gender and aging.
Born in Detroit, Lake moved to Montreal in the late 1960s, where she taught at the Montreal Museum School. In 1971, she became a co-founder of the artist-run gallery, Véhicule Art Inc., and soon began exploring the notion of identity in her art. Using costumes and props, Lake’s current art practice involves taking self-portraits of herself, often adopting alternate personae. Highlighting the artifice and transformation that comes with posing for the camera, Lake’s work is politically charged, while also both playful and poignant.
Lake’s work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions around the world, and can be found in prestigious public and private collections in Europe and North America, including the collection of the National Gallery of Canada. The retrospective Introducing Suzy Lake is on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario until March 22, 2015, and stay tuned for her upcoming interview with NGC Magazine!
Your earliest memory of art:
My grandfather often took me to the Detroit Institute of Arts, beginning when I was a toddler. We would tour the German Expressionist collection. Our finish was standing in the Diego Rivera frescos, and he would tell me about spending his lunch hours watching Rivera paint.
When you knew this would become your vocation:
Hmmm . . . It is something I always did; and I knew it was something I would always do. It never felt like a decision or realization.
Your greatest influence:
My grandfather, Arthur G. Marx (1894–1955). He was a roofer and sheet metal contractor. I am convinced I inherited his mechanical skills and ability with his hands. He was an amateur painter, and we would draw and paint together.
Occupation you would have chosen (other than art):
Favourite pastime (other than art):
I enjoy gardening; I miss sewing.
I have many favourites. Some of them are: Adrian Piper, Martha Rosler, and Yvonne Rainer. Then there's also: Emil Nolde, Diego Rivera and Francisco Goya.
Favourite writer and musician/composer:
My favourite writers are: Margaret Atwood, P.D. James, Salman Rushdie and Jane Urquart. My taste in music is equally diverse: Sam Cooke, Bob Dylan and Gustav Mahler.
Favourite colour, flower and bird:
I always identify a strong bright red as an “Emil Nolde red.” All varieties of peonies. Osprey.
Favourite food and drink:
I love sashimi. My favourite wine is a nice dry pinot noir.
Favourite smell and sound:
Bonfires. My grandchildren laughing.
When I returned from Nicaragua in the early 1980s, I had their octagonal five-centavo coin encased as a pendant. I wear it more than any other piece of jewellery as a talisman.
Favourite environment or landscape:
I am the extreme split of getting charged by most big cities, contrasted by the pleasure of being in the bush. Bear Island and the Temagami forests and waterways are my favourite.
Favourite weather or season:
Each season offers something special, but I think autumn is my favourite.
Favourite expression, catchphrase, proverb or word:
“Are You Talking to Me?” And: “The process is it.”
I am curious about the world.
I don’t “wait” very well. I’d rather be busy.
Your definition of happiness:
You only have what you believe in, so happiness would be being able to follow that.
Ideal place to live:
I like where I live. But since today is cold and rainy, I wish my house were somewhere warmer.
A recurring dream:
I sleep soundly, but I have often dreamed that I can fly.
I would consider myself very lucky if life remains this rich.
Aspirations before you die:
I hope to travel with my family more.
To me art is:
A way to figure out the world.
Click here to view works by Suzy Lake housed in the National Gallery of Canada's permanent collection. For information on the retrospective Introducing Suzy Lake, on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario until March 22, 2015, please click here.