LISS PLATT ON THE “POTENTIAL PRESENCE” IN HER WORK
Liss Platt spent a decade of “sustained looking” taking literally thousands of photographs a single raft–and the climate that contains it–in the water off the coast of the north shore of Nova Scotia. An artist whose work taps into subjects such as compulsive gathering and articulating the act of repetition, the images and video shown here were part of a suitably name exhibit/installation, Liss Platt: A Constant Decade, at the McMaster Museum of Art in Hamilton, Ontario. The subtleties of constancy and change over time gives this work its lift, but the repetition requires the viewer to slow down and look at the made thing as a destination in an otherwise open/empty horizon. And keep looking.
Elaine Sexton: When I first looked at the images that make up this exhibition I saw these photographs as a series of portraits of that raft. Only later did I learn you think of your choice of subject matter as a kind of self-portraiture, in that it reveals something about yourself. As a maker, you are not alone in this. Would you expound on that idea a little more, specifically as it relates to this work?
Liss Platt: Thanks so much for the opportunity to consider the work in CONSTANT as it relates to portraiture. Over the course of the decade that I have been working on this project I have heard numerous interpretations of the raft, and viewers have come up with a variety of ‘readings’ of it, so much so that I have come to think of it as a ‘floating signifier’ (semiotically and, of course, literally). And I think it is, in part, this openness of the raft’s signification that encourages a more contemplative engagement with this body of work: the raft may be moored, but its meaning isn’t locked down.
That being said, I have always thought of the raft as a site of identification for the viewer. As the only built object within the scene, the raft implies both human intervention and potential presence. It invites the viewer into the landscape, allowing them to imagine themselves on the raft and within its environment, or to contemplate, in an anthropomorphizing turn, what the raft might be experiencing. And it is this anthropomorphism, I believe, that opens the door to portraiture.
I must admit that at first I was unsure about your reading of the images as portraits of the raft. In my mind, portraiture is confined to depictions of sentient beings, and its goal is to reveal something about that person/animal. The raft is just a bunch of boards nailed together, an inanimate object – what could possibly be revealed about the raft? But while it lacks consciousness, the raft does have a ‘life’ out in the bay – it exists in time and space and is acted upon by its environment. And I myself have often described the raft in these photographs as ‘weathering persistent change,’ so clearly I have ascribed it sentience without even being aware of this maneuver. This is what allows us to feel for the raft – alone, unprotected, subjected to the elements – and be moved by how it endures. That sounds a lot like portraiture to me.
I have, in my artist talks, also floated the idea that there is an implied self-portraiture in this project. The raft is one of two constants in these images; the other element that remains the same is the vantage point of the camera and by implication, my position on the shore. The raft and I are counterparts, forever tethered together. To look at these photographs of the raft in the bay requires one to inhabit my location and stance – to literally see through my eyes. While an argument can be made that all photographs require the viewer to see through the photographer’s eyes, what I feel is different in CONSTANT is that this characteristic is forefronted by my fixed position. To me this photographic project is about sustained looking; the repetition across a large number of images promotes deep observation of a subject that is seemingly ordinary and commonplace. My intention is to create room for thoughtful reflection through this simplicity and everydayness. My hope is that this leads to speculation about the photographer: who is this person who is observing? What can be learned – about the scene as well as the photographer – if we inhabit their gaze? What does their gaze confer upon the scene? At my artist talk a colleague remarked, ‘I never knew you were such a romantic.’ And a close friend once told me that, through this body of work, she has learned so much about what this place (where the images are taken) means to me and the deep connection I feel to it. That sounds a lot like self-portraiture to me.
Liss Platt is a multimedia artist who works in photography (digital as well as traditional), video, film, installation, performance, artist’s books, web art, and any combination thereof. Her work has been exhibited and screened in North America and internationally, including solo exhibitions at The McMaster Museum of Art in Hamilton in Toronto, and Rodman Hall Art Centre in St. Catherines, ON, and Stride Gallery in Calgary, AB. Her performance work has been featured at AXENÉO7 in Gatineau, QC and at Struts Gallery in Sackville, New Brunswick and her film/video work has screened at Documenta Madrid, Paris Feminist and Lesbian Film Festival, Toronto Urban Film Festival, San Francisco Documentary Festival, NYC Queer Experimental Film Festival. She has been awarded grants from the Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council, and in 2012 received a City of Hamilton Arts Award in Visual Arts (a career achievement award for established artists). In 2016 her feature length documentary, Dark Horse Candidate, was chosen Best Feature Documentary at the 38th Big Muddy Film Festival in Carbondale, IL. She is also a member of the queer art collective, Shake-n-Make, and is represented by MKG127 in Toronto, Ontario. She lives in Hamiton, Ontario and is an Associate Professor of Multimedia at McMaster University.