Paulette Phillips - The Directed Lie

28 August – 22 November, 2015

Paulette Phillips, The Directed Lie, polygraph tests, 2009-2015. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid

Most of us will admit that we lie to navigate tricky social interactions, we lie to protect people we love, we lie to maintain a sense that we are trustworthy and honest, and some of us lie to get what we want. We accept that lying is "kind of okay" and yet the idea of lying goes against our moral and ethical codes of behaviour. The Directed Lie inhabits a shifting perspective -- complicit with, and critical of, the act of lying.

In 2009, Phillips enrolled in the Maryland Insitute for Criminal Justice in Baltimore to become a certified polygraph examiner. Applying these interrogation and lie detection skills and technology to her art practice, Phillips has invited more than 320 artists in Toronto, Paris, London, Dublin, Montreal, Vancouver, Berlin, Banff, Venice, New Smyrna Beach, Florida and, recently, Halifax, to submit to a polygraph test. Through the measurement of blood pressure, heart rate, and electricity, the polygraph produces mechanical ink drawings that record the 'knowledge' that resides in the bodies of each subject. In each test, the artist/subject was asked to answer 33 questions while attached to a polygraph and recorded on video. Based on the principle that most people lie, participants were 'directed' by Phillips to answer "no" to questions that were probably lies. 

Phillips states: "I am interested in the multiple and contradictory registers of 'truth' and am intrigued that the body belies the authority of language; as the subject speaks, the body indicates a rupture below the surface of composure."

The interviews are presented as a video projection accompanied by guidebooks that index all of the videos by city. Viewers can browse through the guidebooks and select the interviews they wish to watch. The exhibition also features inkjet prints of several participants and their corresponding polygraph charts, and wall-mounted sculptures.

By bringing the controversial science of polygraphy into the realm of art, Phillips intends to generate a conversation about our complicated ideas of truth and judgement, about authority and language, and about the performance of the self.