Lorna Simpson’s multidisciplinary art practice includes photography, video, works on paper, and most recently, painting can be added to the list of media she engages. Simpson’s work explores complexities within race, gender, and black identity in relation to American culture. Based in Brooklyn, New York, Simpson became known in the 1980s for careful pairing of photographs with text in which she investigates issues of memory and representation, as well as highlights the complicated relationship between image and word.
“I was thrilled to come across Lorna Simpson’s work when I was researching The Ringling’s collection," said Ola Wlusek, Keith D. and Linda L. Monda curator of modern and contemporary art at The Ringling. "She’s one of the leading artists of her generation. Her insights into the political economy of the gaze and the privileged power position within western society have made significant impact on the evolution of discourse within contemporary photography.”
In the permanent collection of modern and contemporary art at The Ringling is this work on paper by Simpson: Two Pairs from 1997, is a photogravure that presents two distinct and monochromatic sets of binoculars, standing upright and isolated by their own separate picture planes. In the center, is a prose poem referring to a “her” and a “him”. The identity of the subjects is concealed. The text and the image present a fragmented scenario, offering up only clues to someone doing the looking and someone being watched. The gaze and power structures, in this case evident by the mention of a “badge #”, are subjects explored throughout Simson’s oeuvre. In addition, the text becomes more complex upon multiple readings, pointing to the ambiguity of the word and image relationship.
Of this photograuve Simpson said: "My work over the past few months is about looking: looking, but not being close enough to know exactly what you're seeing, but piecing together what it is that you see. It's been a kind of underlying thread in the works. So the image is broken up in terms of two pairs of binoculars, and the text delineates different situations in terms of looking, of being a voyeur, looking through the glass and imagining what one might see in different scenarios. I've been doing photo / text work for the past twelve or thirteen years, and this is a continuation of pairing image with text. Over the years I used to have figures in the work and now I've dropped the figure and work with indications of the human presence, or I speak about the presence - and using the thing of presence and absence actually, and the absence of the figure, speak about the figure, and at the same time talk about its absence."
Image: Lorna Simpson (American, b. 1960), Two Pairs, 1997, photogravure on paper, 24 x 30 1/2 x 7/8 in. Foundation purchase, 1997.