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Indepth Arts News:

"Signs and Symptoms: New Work by Laura Cunningham"
2007-05-23 until 2007-06-16
Red Head Gallery
Toronto, ON, CA Canada

"Who is this?" is the polite question these drawings elicit. The response is "I have no idea." They are unnamed - ghosts from the past, numbered sequentially. How would you feel if, at your most vulnerable moment, someone trained their lens on you: photographed you in the most calculated, clinical fashion? What thoughts would linger behind your gaze? In this recent work, Laura Cunningham explores medical imagery by working from photographs of anonymous human subjects gleaned from early and mid 20th Century textbooks. It is both the attraction and the repulsion to this type of imagery, which compels her to consistently reference clinical photographs and illustrations in her artistic practice.

Assumptions are made with figurative work that there is a direct relationship between the artist and the subject. In this body of work there is only distance. Photos of people in medical texts caught gazing directly into the lens as the camera snapped, have been chosen, drawn and illuminated using a technique that conjures traditional charcoal portraits or photographic enlargements called "crayon portraits." The images are cropped so that the obvious signs of illness are obscured leaving the viewer to contemplate who the person was, what they were thinking at that moment, why they were photographed and how they would feel if they knew their image is still published in textbooks 40, 50 or 80 years later.

The implied ‘truth’ of photography at its inception and its stature as a tool of science gave it an early appeal for medical communities as they strove to gather knowledge in the late 19th and early 20th Century. Standards and conventions developed that distinguished medical photography from other forms. Using charcoal and wax, Laura Cunningham transforms these photos from clinical record into compelling portraits leaving only a hint, some sense that something else is going on just outside of the frame of the image. The focus shifts from the disease to the person and to his or her extraordinary expression of fatigue, distress, sadness or simmering anger.

Laura Cunningham studied at the University of Waterloo (BA) and York University (MFA). She has received a number of grants including an Arts and Culture Project Grant from the Toronto Arts Council. In 2005, she participated in the thematic residency, Optic Nerve, at the Banff Centre. Laura’s work is represented in private collections as well as the permanent collections of both the University of Waterloo and York University. She currently lives and works in Toronto.

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