June 12, 2011 § 1 Comment
(And I’m sure that title is as obvious to anyone in Chicago that knows both of us as my brief tribute here will be.)
So, I discovered a parallel to that sad maxim that you can really only hurt the ones you love – I guess you can really only waste the time of people too busy to afford it. Shit.
I had this idea – I have this idea that as long as I started this thing, blog, and I’m not sure exactly what to do with it, I have this idea that I will interview people from time to time, people that inspire me in some way.
So the other night I did my first interview and I interviewed Jason Lazarus. I’ve known Jason for a long time, but never very well at all, and didn’t our conversation go great and isn’t he the most charming and likeable and inspiring of anyone I know and didn’t we talk for an hour in which he blew my mind over and over by how perfectly he could articulate his practice and his drive and his intentions and the inherent political charge of creative practice of any sort and even expound on the nuances of the word “grace” as applied to art and expand it from the immediate experience of one’s own body to the appreciation of Obama’s political skill and it was so awesome and impossible to repeat or paraphrase, irreducibly poetic! And goddamn it, didn’t I blow the recording!?
Anyone know this book?
I thought my talk with Jason would be my humble beginnings towards that.
Instead, my god, 15 years ago (!!) I became obsessed with the Norton Anthology of Interviews
It was the first of a few times in my life that I would go through a phase of feeling funny about occasionally being interviewed and when interviewed often feeling misunderstood or taken out of context. This book is amazing and I’ve returned to it many times since, because it contains basically the history of interviews, many or most of which were published before recording technology or at least consumer or portable recording technology. Consequently, the book reads kind of like ‘I went to Genghis Khan’s house and I spent four days as his guest eating sandwiches by the pool and then this one time I said this and he said this.’ Or ‘Darn that Ghandi has got some balls, eh?’
Point being, people are only paraphrased, never quoted. And it turns out, people often speak with subtlety. Meaning, the history of interviews = the history of people feeling misunderstood or taken out of context.
So, in the spirit of that rich old tradition of journalistic paraphrasing, I unfortunately can not run a transcript of an interview with Jason here, but can instead only write a brief tribute to his work, informed by an hour long conversation he was kind enough to make time for.
I thought to interview Jason now because he put together the sprawling and ambitious art show “Hang In There” that Joan of arc will be a part of. It opens this Friday at Co-Prosperity Sphere in Bridgeport. http://hangintherejune17.wordpress.com/
If you can’t make the opening, I highly recommend making it out some other time during gallery hours as the list of participants really has my expectations high.
So, as a way to promote the show, I figured I would introduce the man behind it. A Jason Lazarus 101. (And be sure to follow the links to view these pictures on his site. They obviously look better bigger, make more sense.)
“Spencer Elden in his last year of high school (January 2008)”
I guess this may be Jason’s most well known image? Simple enough looking, right? On a slick roof, back turned to the close edge, skylight weighted down by dumb-bells. This idea is so smart and cool and the execution only makes it better. You realize who that kid is, right?
“Untitled: RIP Derrion Albert”
Look at that stare! Captured at the gathering to announce the loss of Chicago’s Olympic bid, days after Derrion Albert’s death, for which Jesse Jackson had taken on the role of somehow focusing public despair (re: the beating, not the olympics.) I, for one, was in a queasy daze for a week after watching that video, and I know most Chicagoans were too. This photo, Jason happened to see Jesse Jackson at that moment, is a great example of the intersection of personal and social, the singular experience of the gargantuan, shared event that is common in Jason’s work.
When asked to explain in his own words what he does, Jason said the various offshoots of his work all bloom from his hunch years ago to pursue self-portraits. Thinking about self-portraiture, the possibilities of the discipline expanded and the work came to be about the mediating between self and culture.
Another example of this tendency in his work might be his photo of Emmett Till’s grave.
Emmett Till is an inherited cultural fact we must all confront to some degree. Jason’s photograph is unique because of the very specific moment it was taken – the grave open, the body exhumed. And of course the connotations of the monument being opened in Bush’s Pre-Obama-post-racial-America. (Ahem.)
“Try Harder,” Jason’s first specifically motivational piece, existed as a wall size print in the Heaven Gallery with a stack of prints to take away for free. My girlfriend had one hanging above her desk for a year until she moved studios. It worked! The piece explicitly takes for granted that its audience would be other artists, other culture makers of some kind and it’s a dare, a call to arms.
His open, collaborative project “Too Hard To Keep” exemplifies the potential power of sharing, sharing as unloading a burden. It expands “Try Harder”‘s concept of its audience to acknowledge the role of creative practice – even the most casual practice in which the maker would never consider him- or herself an artist in any way, snapshots, etc. – as central to the everyday manner in which we feel ourselves and remain a singular, unified identity.
(And I’m not comfortable choosing an image from these to represent the whole.) http://www.jasonlazarus.com/#/work:19:t.h.t.k./media:527:
It’s heavy and it’s beautiful and it’s purposely perpetually incomplete.
Open and collaborative in another way, his project “Orion Over Baghdad” is the kind of Jungian politics I so appreciate at its most coy.
When asked how teaching and his recent artist talk at the MCA fit into his practice, he stressed the idea that certain critical muscles get flexed whenever one talks about their own or others’ work, expanding and deepening the critical faculties one then brings to one’s own work. You know how people get really sensitive about things they make? It’s the flexing of that muscle that allows people to get past that and see their own work more clearly. Beyond that, every time one talks about an idea they have for a project, they are to a small degree realizing it in a way. I love this idea, so obvious as to be invisible.
It was a true honor and pleasure to sit and talk with Jason for an hour. I am so embarrassed to have blown the recording because of my own stupid technical oversight. I-Phones are tricky, huh? Hopefully, my elementary introduction to and appreciation of his work will remedy my gaffe in some small way.
Poke around: http://www.jasonlazarus.com/
And who wouldn’t want to see the group show that this guy put together?! So, check out “Hang In There.”