Critics’ Picks

Lauren E. Simonutti, She Left a Light on but They Were Never Coming Back, 2007, toned gelatin-silver contact print, 5 x 4".

Lauren E. Simonutti, She Left a Light on but They Were Never Coming Back, 2007, toned gelatin-silver contact print, 5 x 4".

Chicago

Lauren E. Simonutti

Catherine Edelman Gallery
1637 W. Chicago Ave.
January 8–March 6, 2010

Lauren E. Simonutti’s black-and-white images depict meticulously staged representations of life as she experiences it, starring herself as the main character. In 2006, the Baltimore-based artist was diagnosed with rapid-cycling bipolar and schizoaffective disorder and since then she has lived alone, in “self-imposed isolation,” taking photographs in a house where none of the clocks tell time correctly––a house that is, for Simonutti, a haven, a stage set, a performer, and a collaborator.

Using sheets to create drapes, walls, and screens, she turns a single small corner of her home into theatrical sets and Surrealist tableaux. Peculiar arrangements of found objects—doll heads, mirrors, wooden horses, and candlesticks, for example—are transformed into charged and sometimes inscrutable personal lexica. Simonutti’s images have the vaporous appearance of nineteenth-century daguerreotypes. Her face, arms, hands, and legs are often disembodied, while doubled visages and apparitional forms make it clear that her photographs are, in some sense, playing tricks on viewers in the manner of Victorian-era spirit photography. She bleaches and tones each print in the darkroom, exaggerating shadows and eliminating contours while exacerbating an already palpable sense of dread.

The artist does not always succeed in avoiding redundancy and cliché, as an image of her bound in chains before an array of prescription medication unfortunately attests. At her best, however, Simonutti marshals familiar tropes judiciously in her portrayal of experiences that are deeply personal and profoundly misunderstood.