Elad Lassry’s photographs – everyday and design objects, fruit and vegetable still lifes, human and animal portraits, landscapes and cityscapes – allude to visual features and image constructions that have been used in photography, advertising, magazines and illustrated books, and in films. What interests him in this context is analogue source material and duplication methods and the development of different types of images in the history of the image before they were incorporated into the digital flood of the now omnipresent archive of available images. His photographic works, which do not usually exceed the format of a magazine or printed material, comprise either collages of acquired printed matter or newly-composed photographs. The collages consist of found illustrated single and double-page spreads from magazines which Lassry either reworks by heightening their design elements or reuses them several times for individual works as duplicated printed products.
In terms of their visual appearance, they differ through the nature of their use, and have already undergone, so to speak, additional anonymous and temporal “applied design” as the alteration of their form. The artist contrasts these unique specimens, in which he makes direct use of products of analogue duplication methods, with his far more frequent photographs. He plays here with the relationship between analogue and digital methods of producing images and, using well known images, questions the image itself by testing the omnipresence of images for the possibility of singularity. For example, the numerous portraits of the actor Anthony Perkins which Lassry manipulates digitally originate from analogue photographic archives. In treating them in this way he shines the spotlight on the specific nature of the individual portraits of Perkins and, at the same time the typological nature of the film industry’s publicity portrait. Other images used by Lassry are based on publicity shots, illustrated design books and animal photographs – found images which he restages in the studio using elaborate processes and which initiate and implement multiple processes of the complexification of interpretation, composition, production, original and reproduction on their way to becoming a new image.
Lassry’s photographs make use of the attractiveness of the familiarity of these images. However, they are almost too intensely coloured, too abstract, too staged. In addition this process of visual emphasis, they are presented in matching coloured frames which, on yet another level, thematicise critically the relationship between the image and the “picture” as a utilitarian object, refer to the history of the presentation of objects as art and the aestheticization of perception, and prompt distortions, and therefore, ruptures in the stereotype and the customary – in both temporal and interpretational terms – process of our perception of the images.
The artist further expands these irritating presentation “pedestals” in his exhibitions by placing the photographic image beside film projections which are equivalent in terms of format and presentational form. Lassry’s films, which are always silent, also strain filmic conventions and act through the heightening of the fields of tension between realism and abstraction, narrative and abstracting visual language, still photography and camera movement.
Untitled (Passacaglia), 2010, the new film which Elad Lassry made for the exhibition in the Kunsthalle Zürich presents an exemplary combination of his complex approach and exploration of issues concerning the circulation, reception and media history of images which the artist encounters on the journey to his visually striking works – works which convince by virtue of their inherent and new visual idiom. As in all his works, the film is initiated by historical models and conventions of representation as “shaped” by media and taste. The “models” for the film presented here, aesthetic clichés that have become part of every day design, such as the “California drop cloth”, a fabric pattern that refers to American expressionism, and trivialised visual references to, for example, the works of Jackson Pollock, and is used for numerous interior fittings. The film also incorporates an exploration of methods for the reading of art works for television based on insights from psychology and perception theory and the translation of a well-known painting by Robert Delaunay from 1916, Tall Portuguese Women, into a set for the dance newly arranged by Lassry with dancers from the New York City Ballet. The short film’s probing tracking shots create penetrating images and an irritating work which does not provide insight into a choreography, a painting, a stage set or a story but renders tangible the process of seeing, that is the complex experience which is realised in the direct relationship of the seeing subject to the seen object. This is perhaps the reason why, in the final shot the dancers, who are presented up to then as objects like the set and choreography, smile directly at us.
The Kunsthalle Zürich would like to thank the Präsidialdepartement der Stadt Zürich and the LUMA Foundation for their support.