Burning Glass, Reading Stone 6: Dignity Images


American Artist, Dignity Images, 2021. Courtesy the artist.

Burning Glass, Reading Stone 6: Dignity Images
American Artist

March 22–April 18, 2021

[T]he extent to which one becomes conditioned by social media use is not always easy to perceive.
— American Artist1

Employing strategies of refusal and redaction, American Artist’s Dignity Images examine how social media platforms condition our sense of self, identity, and community. Concerned with the vampiric nature of social media—where user content, data, and engagement generate profit—Artist’s practice proposes ways to challenge platform and surveillance capitalism. One such strategy is in Artist’s own legal renaming, which intervenes in the overwhelmingly white and male artistic canon.

Whereas Artist’s renaming simultaneously claims anonymity and hypervisibility, Dignity Images are rooted in omission and intimacy. Artist defines dignity images as photographs sitting idle on one’s smartphone, withheld from social media circulation. A dignity image represents a conscious choice to mediate between one’s online and offline self; for Artist, it is “a means of recovering dignity outside of social media by acknowledging that images outside of these platforms are equally if not more valuable.”2 Like photographs in albums or scrapbooks, dignity images are tangible and personal, contrasting the homogenous interfaces of social media platforms.

For this new iteration of Dignity Images, Artist re-photographed four of their own personal images from the lockdown period. These images—of domestic life; distanced communication with family; voting infrastructure; and navigating city space amid pandemic restrictions—each attest to the distinct conditions of separation and mediation of this moment. These images of one person’s online and offline life, unmoored from the narratives usually accompanying personal images, reckon with the intricacies of posting and sharing. Through the glimpses of intimate daily life seen here, visitors are beckoned to consider: How do I engage with social media? What do I withhold from it, and why?

1) “A Declaration of the Dignity Image,” The New Inquiry, September 13, 2016.
2) Artist, “A Declaration of the Dignity Image.”

Visit the Blackwood Gallery website for documentation, an interpretative video tour with Educator-in-Residence Laura Tibi, a response by a Reader-in-Residence, and more to be released throughout the series.

Reader-in-Residence Program

Across the eight-part lightbox series Burning Glass, Reading Stone, the Blackwood Gallery activates a Reader-in-Residence program that brings readers into dialogue with each image set. This month, the Blackwood is pleased to welcome artist Jessica Karuhanga into dialogue with Dignity Images.

Adapting the familiar artist’s residency format to one that focuses on practices of reading— reading an exhibition, reading a text, reading as interpretation—each Reader-in-Residence will respond to a series of works presented in the Blackwood’s lightboxes. For each four-week image set, a Reader responds to the series in the form of a reading, set of images, performance-for-the-camera, score, or other experimental interpretative form (distributed via the Blackwood’s website). Bridging local and international respondents, including artists, poets, humanities scholars, and scientists, the Reader-in-Residence program creates a network of sustained engagement with Burning Glass, Reading Stone, and encourages the development of new dialogic and interpretive possibilities in a time of quarantine.

About Burning Glass, Reading Stone

Part of an eight-part lightbox series
Collectively curated by current and recent Blackwood Gallery staff
September 8, 2020–June 27, 2021


Oscar Santillán, process image of lens from Solaris, 2017.

Activating four outdoor lightboxes in public space on the University of Toronto Mississauga campus throughout the 2020-2021 academic year, Burning Glass, Reading Stone explores the conditions, technologies, and spaces of spectatorship that mediate our engagements with the world—physical and virtual. The lightbox program features eight sets of images: each provides a distinct testimony borne of a particular mode of observation or narration.

Distributed across a University campus still navigating social distancing protections necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the lightbox series responds to COVID-19 as a rupture that brings both public space and digital media under examination. What habits of looking has social distancing concretized? What wakefulness to the already existing inequities and gaps produced in our mediated environment is required? What responsibilities do images ask of us? What responsibilities do they occlude? How can various regimes of looking (scientific, testimonial, documentary, intimate, science-fictional) refocus collective attention?

The Blackwood Gallery gratefully acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the University of Toronto Mississauga. We would also like to acknowledge the support of the University of Toronto affinity partners: Manulife, MBNA, and TD Insurance. Lightbox infrastructure is supported by the UTM50 Anniversary Fund, established to showcase the innovative, collaborative spirit of UTM.


Blackwood Gallery
University of Toronto Mississauga
3359 Mississauga Rd.
Mississauga, ON L5L 1C6

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Please note: The Blackwood’s gallery spaces are currently closed to the public. Burning Glass, Reading Stone is FREE and open to the public, and accessible 24 hours a day in four outdoor lightboxes across the University of Toronto Mississauga Campus. Some movement throughout the campus is required—ramps and curb cuts are in place across the University premises.

Please respect social distancing protocols while on campus.

Image descriptions:
1) The artist’s hand, wearing a black glove, holds a smartphone horizontally, centered in the frame. Onscreen is a thin vertical image of someone chopping sweet potatoes in a kitchen. With sleeves rolled up on a black and white shirt, they hold a knife mid-slice. A plastic bag with potato peels, a peeler, and another knife appear closer in the foreground, on a hardwood-topped kitchen island. The blurred background surrounding the phone is half white, and half dark greenish-gray, with what may be graffiti visible on the darker surface.
2) A circular image appears in the middle of a black background. In it, an out-of-focus desert scene appears upside-down. The handmade quality of the lens producing this image is readily visible, with many streaks and imperfections on its surface.