It is my inclination to mistrust the surface of things--the official version, the apparent reality. How our perceptions shape our view of what is real and unreal, how they are manipulated by media and by socialization, and how they influence the construction of identity are some of the concerns evident in my work. As a lesbian familiar with misperception, and as a native Angeleno who has been weaned on Hollywood's obsession with illusion and glamour, I am motivated to examine the balance of power and the forces (internal and external) which mold our observations. The work's conceptual framework explores the tension between what is natural and unnatural, between beauty and ugliness, and between surface and content, and is supported through diverse media--photographic-based, installation, sculpture, and offset lithography--sometimes independently and sometimes coexisting within a given piece. Overall, the work strategically seduces viewers into questioning how and what they tend to perceive.
The Self-Portraits (1995) explore interior or private identity. Here my face is distorted sometimes beyond human recognition-the viewer sees flesh where there is none, or the absence, say, of a nose or mouth. These haunting small-scale portraits are produced by literally moving my face across the surface of a flatbed scanner. While the camera is arguably a social mediator, the scanner is a tool of technology whose purpose is to copy that which is laid on its flat surface. But what if the subject is neither flat nor stationery? The resulting portraits are a series of moments, an unfolding of identity rather than a fixed construction. Distortions are achieved solely in the performative process of scanning; virtually no manipulation is done within the computer. In the Portraits, which pay homage to surrealism's dialogue between the conscious and subconscious, I attempt to raise questions about the nature of beauty, as well as attempt to reshape lesbian identity. How is beauty perceived, or ugliness? Is mutant, twisted, or deformed flesh necessarily ugly? Such definitions deny the possibilities for transformation or variation, no matter the gender, cultural identity, or sexual preference.
Susan Silton currently resides in Los Angeles. Her work has been exhibited at the Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Craig Krull Gallery, the Joseph Gross Gallery at the University of Arizona, Tucson; SF Camerawork; Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena; and the Municipal Art Galler, Los Angeles. In May 2000 she will be exhibiting in London at the JK Gallery. She is the recipient of a Phelan Award in Photography. Her work is included in the permanent collections of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum and the Library of Congress.