Looking: Then and Now

Barbara Astman


Barbara Astman pioneered the artistic use of both analogue and digital reproduction techniques. She is among the first to discover and explore technological practices and concepts—key signifiers in contemporary art. Merging technology with the handmade, Astman’s practice explores themes of glass ceilings, women’s issues, and how media informs current thinking.

Astman studied at the Rochester Institute of Technology, a hotbed of artistic energy in the 1970s, and emigrated to Toronto during the Vietnam War. Looking: Then and Now explores the artist’s 40-year career of photo-based media innovation. Much of Astman’s work involves the use of objects, including household wares or store-bought novelty items. Imbuing these objects with memories and histories, she dematerializes the material and makes personal the impersonal, exploring the role objects play in forming personal and collective histories while commenting on consumer culture. Astman was one of the first to utilize the Polaroid in her art, treating the medium more like a malleable, three-dimensional material than a flat, two-dimensional surface. Her self-portraits have been carefully choreographed so that her image becomes removed from reality, a symbol of constructed memory. Then, in a process of scratching into, enlarging, Xeroxing, or printing over, the photograph is further removed from a document, becoming closer to an object itself.