The Chicago-based artist Jason Lazarus often expands the conventional definition of professional photographer, branching out as a video artist, curator, and collector, among other roles. His newest projects include twohundredfiftysixcolors, a collaboratively made full-length film comprised entirely of animated GIFs; Too Hard to Keep, an ongoing archive in which Lazarus preserves photographs that their owners have found to emotionally painful to keep, and a large three-part exhibition that is currently on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. We spoke to Lazarus about his early career in marketing, his approach to art making, and his upcoming projects.
Artspace: Lately, the scope of your artistic practice has expanded to include other roles beyond photographer, including those of curator and archivist. What inspired this change, is it something you plan on continuing, and how has it affected your own work?
Jason Lazarus: This new direction will continue. I'm increasingly interested in knowledge and cultural production that is created collectively, with multiple subjectivities and rhizomatic tracings. The creation of this work destabilizes the cultural content that I produce in what I think is an essential way, because it acts as a counterpoint that implicates me in larger communities and cultural, historical, and political arcs.
AS: On multiple occasions, your exhibitions have forced viewers to contend with artworks as both objects and images, like in "On the Scene," for example, where collected photographs were placed facing the wall. How do you contend with the history of installation art, and why do you think these strategies present themselves as a field of possibility for artists today?
JL: The first and most critical question I ask is "How does a given project benefit most from an installation strategy?" I have always been willing to step outside of comfort zones when presenting work in order to push what meanings I can generate given a gesture's implicit questions. How can I form polyvalent meanings? How can I create an experience? How much can I ask of the viewer? I view site-specificity as another opportunity to mine nascent ideas that exist between a space and the work within it. What histories are implicated in the space? What will the viewer see and feel, and in what order? It's all about getting the viewer committed to reading the work and investing in its potential.
AS: You graduated with a fine arts degree in photography after having started a successful career in marketing. How would you say this atypical arrival at the medium has affected your stance on its history and boundaries as an art form?
JL: I think arriving at art obliquely reinforced the value of histories and practices outside of art as integral to my research and practice. Marketing often asks what is being taken for granted as normal in a given situation. In part, I owe the fact that I continue to value data gathering, micro and macro analysis, and risk to my undergraduate education.
AS: Color seems to play a very important role in your work. How do the presentations of certain objects and tableaux come to be associated with particular colors? Is there a coded logic to your choices?
JL: Color is important for every artist. Often the most important decision is what colors not to use. Experimentation and refinement is key; everything is dependent on the subjects and ideas at hand.
AS: You recently collaborated on a feature-length film comprised entirely of GIFs. What do you think about the GIFs recent resurgence in popular culture and what do you consider its potential to be as an art form?
JL: GIFs have always been around and will continue to evolve in their use whether in or outside of the limelight. Their potential as an art form is without limit, and their profundity is a result of the public's ingenuity, wit, and impatience with culture at large.
AS: What was your first significant art experience?
JL: Seeing Donald Judd's work as a kid in Kansas City, Missouri.
AS: What is indispensable in your studio?
JL: Tape, literally and figuratively.