Dear Erin Hart,September 25, 2014
SF CameraworkSeptember 3 - October 19, 2014 Solo Show Art Practical Pick
In Jessamyn Lovell’s exhibition Dear Erin Hart, the artist returns to SF Camerawork, where in 2009 her purse containing her identification and credit card was stolen. While it is unclear if Erin Hart was the initial thief, she accumulated unpaid parking tickets and bridge tolls, damaged rental cars, and ran a small drug operation in Lovell’s name. After being summoned to court, Lovell located Hart and began surveilling her. Lovell’s provocative project explores the ways that second-party documentation, both in image and text, constructs identity while treading uncomfortably between vigilantism and a possible reconciliation.
In the exhibition, Lovell presents telephoto images and video of Hart walking down the street. Typical of surveillance photos, the imagery is sometimes grainy, partially obscured, and generally banal; its distant vantages and documentary quality illustrate the impersonal relationship between the women. It is the exhibition’s wall text, written from Lovell’s perspective, that provides a compelling overview of the events and transforms these rather ordinary images into a powerful work.
Sophie Calle hired a private detective to attain a secondary perspective of her life in Shadow (1981). Similarly, Lovell surveilled Hart—a woman who had once posed as her—and gained insight into her own life. While the project may appear to be a study of Hart, it is also about Lovell’s rather obsessive undertaking. Moreover, in Lovell’s attempt to prove that she was a victim of identity theft, she uses various documents—fingerprints, character references, legal paperwork, emails, bills, citations, and more—to demonstrate who she is. In covering a gallery wall with these records, Lovell probes the ways that identity is often bound to secondhand textual documents rather than subjective first-person experiences.
Lovell pushes the boundaries of privacy and retribution by filling a public gallery with surveillance images of Hart without her consent. While publicly “outing” Hart, Lovell also collapses her voyeuristic distance by initiating contact with her offender. As chronicled in a series of photographs with accompanying text, Lovell located Hart’s apartment, rang Hart up on the building’s call box, and knocked on Hart’s apartment door—where no one answered. Additionally, as a private correspondence with Hart, Lovell has left a sealed letter in the gallery. The wall text does not indicate the letter’s contents, except that it includes Lovell’s contact information. In attempting to connect with Hart, Lovell makes herself vulnerable to Hart’s potential anger or physical threats, and tests her own comfort and intentions.
With Hart’s unintentional paper trail and Lovell’s careful documentation, both women have left traces of their stories, which invite viewers to participate in the detective process and to ponder the construction of identity. By leaving the project open-ended, Lovell smartly expands the work beyond revenge and allows viewers to consider its complexities through their own moral codes.
Dear Erin Hart, is on view at SF Camerawork, in San Francisco, through October 19, 2014.