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Monday, November 01, 2004

Discussion with Robert Lazzarini: Part 3 of 5

Today we continue the discussion with Robert Lazzarini by looking at a specific piece of his work and talking about the environments he designs for his sculpture. The previous installment of the discussion can be found here.

Let’s take a look at the skull you’ve brought with you today. What interests me about your work is that it’s recognizable, you can tell what the object is, but the objects resist the attempt to parse them visually. I can see that the object is distorted, but it gives me a sense of vertigo. I can’t grab and retain a focal point that will allow me to see how the distortion has been done. It all kind of slips away. I’m wondering if you can walk me through this skull, in a bit more analytical way, to show me how you’ve put it together.
This is one of four skulls. Even though there’s no sequence to my series—there’s no progression—this is the second distortion. That’s how I identify it. This distortion is primarily a vertical distortion. People are familiar with the idea of anamorphism and accelerated perspective, but these are actually compound distortions. In X-Y-Z coordinates, there could be any number of things going on.

For instance, in this piece, in the Z coordinate there is an accelerated perspective tapering toward the top and a slight scale shift from front to back and then a slight skew with the front face heading down. And that’s just in the Z coordinate. There are several distortions through the X and Y coordinates as well.

So it’s not a single, consistent distortion across the whole object.
No. Well, it is a consistent distortion across the whole object. But those distortions are projected along different axes in the object, and they may be multiple. But it is always across the whole object. And that is the aesthetic of mathematical distortion where all the parts are relative to the whole. There is no distorting the jaw with any one single distortion without it effecting the very top of the cranium. But there may be eight distortions projected through the entire object.

But even though the works are all distorted, you’re actually using real materials, the exact materials of the original object.
Yes, as close as possible. I see the work as a certain type of realism. I see it as a fidelity to the actual object. The skulls are cast bone; they’re not carved from skulls. So there is a slight departure there. But for the most part I try to have the fidelity to the original material for the presence of the piece. I need a certain “realness” to exist in order to make the departures that I make in terms of the deformities.

There’s a contradiction in there. Your work is so much about artifice, but yet it’s so true to its materials.
Yes. And therein, hopefully, lies an oscillation. That gap—and it varies from piece to piece—is the thing that creates this kind of “activity” in the piece and, hopefully, draws the viewer in. It’s one of the mechanisms I use to give the piece a vitality.

Is that what you’re looking to do—create something that’s activated or vital that will engage the viewer?
Absolutely. I think the worst thing that could happen would be if someone would go into a room with one of my sculptures and just walk by it and not even acknowledge it. The piece needs to have a certain generosity in order to engage the viewer. There are a lot of things that I think about to make that happen, to draw in the viewer.

I’ve noticed that when your work is presented you’re often very controlling of the environment in which it is shown. What are you doing there?
Whether I call it an installation or not, it is an installation—either I’m putting my sculpture up on the wall and that’s it or I’m considering all the elements related to it. For me, it is imperative that I consider those elements because they are part of the environment in which the sculpture is being shown.

But there’s a difference between considering the environment—making sure the wall is clean and the work is lit—and doing some of the things that you’re doing. What are you doing when you’re designing an environment for your work to be shown?
I’m doing several things. It’s not dissimilar from making sure the wall is clean and making sure there is specific lighting. In my case the lighting is a whole other aspect of the work that I am pursuing—the notion of shadowless lighting and a certain foot-candle at a certain temperature.

All the decisions are deliberate decisions to control the experience. In many cases the decision is just to make sure that things are negated enough so that they are not competing with what’s going on in the sculpture. If the skulls are a study in white-on-white where there is a warm white skull on a cool white ground, to have a warm wooden floor is going to be a little bit of a problem.

The installation is really a tool to present the works. In a way it’s like trying to create a non-environment where everything else is essentially a backdrop to the sculpture.

Tomorrow we continue the discussion by taking a more theoretical turn.

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