Fionn Meade speaks with Elad Lassry in advance of the artist’s exhibition at Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea in Milano, curated by Alessandro Rabottini. Featuring works in film, sculpture, photography, drawing, and exhibition design, Lassry discusses the limits of abstraction and representation, and how the expanding range of his work continually tests the way we see and encounter objects, symbols, and pictures.
Elad Lassry, 2012, Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, Norway, installation view
FM: For the exhibition at PAC in Milano there’s new photo-based works alongside new cabinet sculptures and drawings, but also film works and an architectural wall intervention in the exhibition space. Increasingly, I think of choreography and directing when viewing your shows. The sequence unfolds so precisely, moving the body through space as if you were training the viewer. How does this ontological emphasis increasingly structure your work?
EL: It’s curious, because I started showing photographs and films as part of a rather experimental process. I was increasingly perplexed by the unstable nature of imagery, particularly in the general shift to digital files. This led to a place in the studio that touched precisely on the schism that was in the air: analog and digital, dimensional and flat, resemblance and semblance, singular and plural. For me this condition was verging on being media-resistent. And so I’ve talked of my photographs as units that might “jump at you.” What I mean is they hold dormant qualities that are sensitive. So, to try to return to your question, I’ve come to handle a selection of units that I’m familiar with and can arrange around the idea of proposing perceptual challenges.
Collie (Sky), 2012
If you think about the sculptural work it often suggests an analog to the cyberspace of an image. The net works, for example, designate a “non-space” for the picture to activate. It is a regressive move that hopefully opens up a mental possibility to experience the familiar picture through its history, but also via a reflection on technologies.
FM: Let’s go back to the directorial mood or ambience in the undulant partitions and wall cuts of recent exhibitions in Los Angeles, London, and Kusternes Hus in Oslo. The questioning of the wall itself proposes entering the exhibition space as if it were an apparatus, a dynamic that recalls Constructivism and Bauhaus, but also the uncanny stagecraft of Guy de Cointet’s melodramas or the moveable walls of a soundstage. And in the performance Untitled (Presence 2005) this past March in Los Angeles you further revealed just how the aperture-like wall structures act as decoys for compression and flattening in your work. Isn’t compression made literal in the new exhibition choreography?
Untitled (Presence 2005), 2012, The Hayworth, Los Angeles, March 2012, performance view, photo Fredrik Nilson
EL: Yes, I like the use of the word “compression” as we use it for digital files—it’s quite fantastic. It’s an occasion to consider the representational space, as you say, “flattening out.” The negotiation of that specific space is a recurring problem in my work.
Untitled (presence 2005) relates closely to my films featuring dancers. I thought it was necessary to eliminate the camera here in order that the stage become a direct mediation. I was interested in constructing a stage that existed as an image. It was divided into focal points, and the lighting activated different fields. The viewers had to adjust their eyes as if they were looking through a pair of prisms, essentially a lens. Unlike a pinhole, lenses work well only when adjusted.
With so many vocabularies and cultural strata, I’m interested in requisitioning the initial registration of visual information. The perceived object is a hypothesis to be suggested and tested by sensory data, exactly because the eye and brain can be wrong. I’m drawn to how correctly we see things and how much experience affects these perceptions, how we continually have to learn to see.
Untitled (Green Bed), 2012. Stripes and Boards, 2012. David Kordansky Gallery, 2012, installation view
FM: I have to ask about the symbols. From the stripes that rupture figures and faces in your pictures, to the double crosses in the bed sculptures, to the heraldic objects adorning a wall in Oslo, you’ve been introducing abstract yet symbolic forms in ways that recall punctuation, but could also be seen as emblems. Can you talk about these insignia, as they exist uneasily between an implicit authority and something more elliptical?
EL: I was looking to choose simple symbols that the viewer would not accept as abstract, to challenge an abstract expectation with the overtly historicized. This radical approach was the outcome of thinking about the confusion in photography between the perceived object and the object itself, the real and the objectivity of the real. Again, something I constantly revisit. So, I’m looking at the bed with the crosses as merely a frieze on the wall, an ornament that resists the fact that it is a bed and that the lines form a cross. This presents an impossible vector to meaning, and is an aggressive negation of the figurative world. I wish for meaning to be differed, postponed, and distorted. When we present lines to the brain and it sees a face or a cross, these few lines are all that the eye requires, and the brain does the rest—quickly making objects of sensory data. But this also reveals how the act of seeing objects involves registers of information beyond what meets the eye—a perceptual knowledge of the thing beyond what we see.
Untitled Film, 2008
FM: This reminds me how the shelf-cabinet sculptures also behave sequentially—shuffling between significant and inscribed to empty and blank, aligning with your interest in film as a medium that mesmerizes exactly because it is composed of the interval of images attempting to represent, and the non-images that exist in between frames. Together they capture a particular quality of live-ness, motion, and recall. What do you think about the notion of interval and recall in the work?
EL: Recall is arguably crucial to the reading of the pictures. I give as much room to the blank as I do to the visually informative, and I do that by establishing a ground that problematizes the very idea of the informative, where information instead becomes flexible and interchangeable, affiliating as much with the blank and distant as with the recognizable.
Deer Life, 2010
FM: This relates to how you talk about the “condition of the picture,” how editorial and economic conventions are still at play in the work even as commercial viability or illustrative fidelity is both recalled and revoked. The condition is “orphaned” as you’ve called it but still coercive, desiring contact. Michel Foucault talks of “effective history” as introducing discontinuity into our very being, of relating to the past and its content without a singular, coherent point of reference. If you were to describe the condition of your pictures in symptomatic terms, what might be some traits?
EL: They are pictures that attempt to open up perceptual and intellectual engagements with modes of representation. The have been put through a sequence of histories and a dismantling, so they are shaken and modified. But they reclaim photographic space as one that is actually more flexible than we thought.
Man (Juice, Milk Cartons), 2012
The closest analogy I can apply to it is philosophy; the photographs are proposals and in many ways they are incredibly simplistic—even indentured to that status. But they also hold an invitation to consider non-photographic space. While being made within the photographic tradition, they adhere and leach onto a dimensionality that is arguably not there. I’m interested in asking what the photograph is once it is not accepted as a depiction. For me, this is the inquiry into what seeing is.