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Erin Shirreff Takes Her Time

October 12, 2012

How does an artist transform her source material? At her Greenpoint, Brooklyn studio, artist Erin Shirreff discusses the creation of her recent video work, Lake (2012). Working from a photograph of Lake Okanagan (the area she grew up in British Columbia, Canada) that she found in an early 1980’s tourist magazine, Shirreff builds Lake from a single found image.

Shirreff’s process is an unexpected mixture of digital and analog technique: in Photoshop, she creates a series of color variations based on the original source picture but then re-photographs those variations—using intentionally distorting lighting techniques—to create thousands of “secondary” images. Bringing those secondary images into her editing software, Shirreff constructs a seamless video sequence, creating the effect of an uncannily shifting landscape in a slow but constant state of visual change. Editing the video presents a subtle aesthetic challenge. Shirreff strives to find the right balance between the artifice of naturalistic, weather-like effects and the illusion-breaking reality of the original photographic surfaces.

In previous video works like Roden Crater (2009) and UN 2010 (2010), Shirreff reveals her on-going psychological fascination with singular forms situated in a deep landscape. The slow play of light and color over images of the Roden Crater and UN building serve to throw those forms’ fundamental stillness and apartness into relief. At the Hauser & Wirth gallery in Manhattan, Lake is projected on a freestanding wall, yet another transformation of the original source image, from two-dimensional photograph to time-based sculptural object.

More information and credits


Art21 New York Close Up Created & Produced by: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Editor: Brad Kimbrough. Cinematography: Rafael Moreno Salazar & Nick Ravich. Sound: Scott Fernjack & Nick Ravich. Associate Producer: Ian Forster. Production Assistant: Amanda Long & Tida Tippapart. Design: Open. Artwork: Erin Shirreff. Thanks: British Columbia Magazine, Hauser & Wirth, Justin Martin, Janina McLaren, & Parks Canada. An Art21 Workshop Production. © Art21, Inc. 2012. All rights reserved.

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Erin Shirreff

Erin Shirreff was born in 1975 in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, and now lives and works in New York. Shirreff studied sculpture, but her practice is now focused on depicting and challenging the representation of three-dimensional art objects through photography and video. Often building maquettes of large-scale works in her studio, Shirreff then manipulates the light and conditions surrounding the objects before documenting them using digital and analog tools. Describing her videos as “psychologically driven,” Shirreff explains, “My videos don’t have any beginning or end. Every moment contains it, hopefully.”

“I have a really strong sense memory of sitting in the dust in this dead, enduring landscape that has this stillness about it. And that experience of stillness I find to be really unsettling and compelling.”

Erin Shirreff


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“Parks Canada”

Erin Shirreff discusses Parks Canada, a short film series from the 1980s depicting Canadian national parks, which influenced the artist’s video work Lake (2012). Lake was the subject of the 2012 New York Close Up film, “Erin Shirreff Takes Her Time.”

"New York Close Up"

The Myth of Wilderness

by Rachel Gagnon