Artist as Activist

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A Genuine Simulation of... (7 panels)
photographic prints, serigraph, change, personal reflection, photographs, makeup. accuracy/inaccuracy, conceal/reveal, photographic tradition, real/unreal, contradictions, image representation, identity, personal identity,
start quoteThese are probably the quietest works I have ever done.end quote-- Suzy Lake

Suzy Lake’s A Genuine Simulation of... consists of a  seriesA number of things or events standing or succeeding in order, and connected by a like relation; sequence; order; course; a succession of things; as, a continuous series of calamitous events. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  of photographic prints of the artist--photographs to which she has applied varying amounts of Covergirl makeup. As a result, each photograph differs from the others in the accuracy (or inaccuracy) with which it describes its subject.  Sometimes she is recognizable as a specific person, but often she is not.

These various faces imply a range of identities for the woman pictured. In some of them, she is glamorized by the presence of the makeup, while in others the layers of  colourProduced by light of various wavelengths, and when light strikes an object and reflects back to the eyes. Colour is an element of art with three properties: (1) hue or tint, the colour name, e.g., red, yellow, blue, etc.: (2) intensity, the purity and strength of a colour, e.g., bright red or dull red; and (3) value, the lightness or darkness of a colour. When the spectrum is organized as a color wheel, the colours are divided into groups called primary, secondary and intermediate (or tertiary) colours; analogous and complementary, and also as warm and cool colours. Colours can be objectively described as saturated, clear, cool, warm, deep, subdued, grayed, tawny, mat, glossy, monochrome, multicolored, particolored, variegated, or polychromed. Some words used to describe colours are more subjective (subject to personal opinion or taste), such as: exciting, sweet, saccharine, brash, garish, ugly, beautiful, cute, fashionable, pretty, and sublime. Sometimes people speak of colours when they are actually refering to pigments, what they are made of (various natural or synthetic substances), their relative permanence, etc. (  make her appear clownish, theatrical, or even, in the case of the series’ first image, ”natural.”

It is easy to see that Lake is questioning the role (or roles) that makeup plays in our society, but she is also interrogating (questioning) photographic tradition. That is, she is presenting us with a  seriesA number of things or events standing or succeeding in order, and connected by a like relation; sequence; order; course; a succession of things; as, a continuous series of calamitous events. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  to demonstrate that the woman in the photo (in any photo) is not the actual woman. It is almost as if the artist is asking us, “How am I most real? How am I most appealing? Now? Or now?” She offers us several versions of herself to point out that no version is the authentic Suzy Lake. She further points this out playfully with the title of the series--the phrase “a genuine simulation” is a contradiction, and might require us to consider whether any image we see is either a genuine representation, an artificial simulation, or indeed contains aspects of both.

Lake leaves her own identity out of the title, which is hinted at through the ellipsis (the three dots "...") but never completed or set down. We then might wonder exactly who it is we can expect to find in these images. It could be Suzy Lake, it could be S. Lake (as the signature indicates), or it could be...

additional resources Things to Think About
  • Come up with a name for each of the “women” pictured in these images. You might want to make each name a variation of “Suzy Lake” based on how you see the character in each photograph, in the same way that the artist sometimes calls herself “S. Lake” or “Suzy Spice.” Share these names with others to invite a response to your names for the women.
  • In descriptions of this work, it is often pointed out that Lake specifically used Covergirl makeup. Why might this be?
  • In which images is the woman portrayed the most appealing or beautiful? Why do you suppose this is, and what might it suggest about your own ideas of beauty?
Advanced Activity

Some other artists who explore ideas about the body are:

To find work related to eating disorders research art therapy.  Try googling “eating disorders” “art therapy” – you can also start with the following websites:

Online Activity
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Apply "makeup" to the image in different ways to create at least four different "looks".  To do this:

Studio Activity

The influence of popular culture on body image

Suzy Lake is a pioneer of video/performance art in Canada and was one of the first visual artists to respond to issues concerning body image. She uses her art to protest against popular ideas about how women are expected to present themselves.  There is an large body of both research and philosophical writing on this subject, and numerous artists from a  varietyPrinciple of design concerned with difference or contrasts.  of disciplines have addressed this issue as well. Thus information on body image in our culture is easily accessible. Below are some ideas to get your started on your own exploration of body image:

  • Find out more about the many products that have been created to fight the aging process and a fear of looking old.
  • Collect magazine and news articles. Find information on popular news websites etc. Here is one example:
  • Actor Kate Winslet reacted angrily to GQ magazine, who admitted to airbrushing an image of her without asking permission. GQ said that they did this to “improve her image”.

    BBC World News presents a short article on this incident and questions what is beauty. In the article, there are images of the same shot of her  before airbrushing.
  • Hip Hop inspiration for art about the body: Watch the YouTube video: Hip Hop; Beyond Beats and Rhymes:

Studio Activity

Basic Instructions for making casts of faces (masks) or arms

  • plaster gauze
  • petroleum jelly
  • plastic tubs
  • old T-shirts
  • plastic face mold or super-sensitive skins
  • paints, markers, cloth/wool. buttons, and other materials for decoration
  • hot glue
making cast of face


  • work with a partner
  • if you are casting an arm or leg, cover only front (do not wrap around)
  • start by applying petroleum jelly liberally
  • apply at least two layers of wet plaster gauze
  • if you are making a mask, leave nose holes open. Cover clothes and hair with old shirts or plastic garbage bags.
  • remove when dry. Paint /decorate as desired

You could use your pieces as an  installationAn art work specially designed to fit in or to make use of a specific type of space. It usually consists of more than one element and relates to the space in which it is displayed.  – as a commentary about body image. You might include text on or with pieces. Try decorating with  patternRepeating lines, colours or shapes within a design.  or decorative finishes.



Author unknown. ‘After Hours.’ People, at the University of Guelph. Retrieved from the Internet on August 8, 2008 from:

White, Karen. ‘Suzy Lake.’ The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from the Internet on August 8, 2008 from:

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning