The other day, I visited artist Paulette Phillips at her home in Toronto, to be interviewed for her upcoming artwork. Called The Directed Lie, it involved being put to the test – the lie detector test.
Phillips has trained as a professional polygraph technician in the United States, and owns a polygraph machine, which is cleverly disguised as a suitcase, but it’s the real deal. I don’t know why, but I surprised that it was such an authentic experience, complete with blood pressure and respiration monitors, and carefully considered questions.
The work, which has been shown in Paris (from Parisian interviews) at Galerie Chomette this past fall, included a video installation, prints and sculpture. A larger version will be shown in Toronto this February at Diaz Contemporary.
“For the exhibition at Diaz I will be showing all the interviews I have done in all 8 cities to date,” says Phillips. “The video installation includes books of each city…(it’s) like a legend. From the book you choose an interview you wish to watch by choosing a number that corresponds with a photograph in the book. You key the number into a keypad and a two channel video is projected onto the wall. The show includes sculpture and prints and the archive of charts that are drawn by the polygraph.”
Phillips sees this work as portraiture. It’s a portrait of a person’s subconscious reactions and the discrepancy between that reaction and the person’s face. It’s a portrait of the face as a mask.
It’s interesting to consider the concept of ‘truth’, in light of this work. It makes you consider how important it is to respect other ideas of truth whenever possible. One’s truth is so personal to oneself – it’s entirely subjective – and is informed by so many things: personal history and experience, morality, how we want to be perceived, etc.
Though I found the concept really quite fascinating, I did wonder if the questions could have gone further. Some questions, like “Have you ever been involved with someone who was in a relationship?” would be more challenging for some than they were for me. Had she asked even more challenging questions, “Have you ever bullied anyone?” or “Have you ever masturbated?” – I think it would have had the effect of bringing the participant face to face with his or her real self.
That’s the true power of art, and it’s profound.
But thinking about it, perhaps one reason why the questions didn’t go farther was because of Phillips’ own involvement and friendship with many of the participants. She seemed quite aware of the implications of such a test and perhaps was reluctant to find out too many things that she didn’t really want to know about people. But still.