Insider Series: Annie Briard

Megan Jenkins Reagh

Cruelly, the very senses with which we know and relate to our lives are contingent. To look out, to touch, and to perceive are abilities so deeply informed by our bodies that it should be impossible to forget we are co-determinate, us and our senses. (Though to begin with, the proposition that a “properly” functioning sense is one that effaces itself is an ableist, capitalist fallacy.) However, the reality remains: I see differently than you see. What now?

This is the question asked by Annie Briard’s years-long interrogation of vision, seeing, sight, and consequent knowing. Through demonstrative and durational installations like the psychedelic Second Sight (2019) or the subtle but incisive Landscape, Cutout (2015), Briard’s practice invites the viewer to reconsider the veracity of their own vision, illustrating with a simple shift of light or hue the mutable processes of seeing. 

In Second Sight, Briard installed a series of projectors which displayed, in overlapping and irregular terms, images and video of Joshua Tree National Park (itself associated with finding a “higher vision”) across the walls of New York’s AC Institute. Briard reconstructed a visual experience, in this case, a trippy road trip through the desert, to draw attention to the ways our vision is mediated — not only by technology, like her projectors, but by our own states of mind. In Landscape, Cutout, the artist subtly shifts the diffusion of light over a landscape to create an uncanny experience of mistrust between the viewer and the object. This denaturalization of vision, of the Real, and the real as we know it, calls into question the fabrics of our knowledge, our experiences, ourselves. 

It’s apt for Briard to conduct these experiments in the desert; what could make a better testing site than the sublime? Joshua Tree, in its inalienable expanse, seems uniquely qualified to posit context for our individual experiences and to reflect our sensorial experiences back to us simultaneously. Normally, Briard is the first to partake in the rituals of communing with nature, capturing the materials used in her works on multi-day trips in the backcountry. 

But this year, the acts of making (and viewing) art must be very different. Necessity remains the harbinger of innovation, and as such, with her residency at BAF, Briard has set about carrying on with these interrogations of vision largely within the gallery space. 

Among these planned interventions: experiments in inducing viewers’ affect by simulating the presence of the sun and moon. This concept feels grimly fitting as, during the pandemic, our access to nature has been vastly restricted—recall that in the spring, provincial parks were closed, and in the summer, neighbourhood parks became unsafely crowded. So Briard simulates the most salient points of these celestial bodies to draw out that old, familiar affect: the warm light of a “sun” on closed eyelids, or the moon’s red shift as conjured by a triad of 80-slide carousel projectors. For a viewer leaning into a moment of suspended disbelief, it might feel a lot like the real thing. 

Briard’s use of technology, old and new, to trouble the trust we have in our own vision seems especially cheeky in this pursuit of inducing affective responses (is not the manipulation of another’s senses the decisive blow when questioning their accuracy?). It feels a bit sad, I said to Briard during our November Zoom call, to feel unable to trust the very instruments which guide us through the world. But as in Second Sight, Briard pointed out, it’s all about perspective: like using night vision, infrared, or prisms, those things long familiar to us become strange, new vessels of potential. Like double vision, our senses multiply; a challenge to the way we see only invites openness to new ways of seeing.

Annie Briard’s upcoming show, created in the BAF residency program, will open on January 15th.