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Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Discussion with Robert Lazzarini: Part 4 of 5

Today’s installment of the discussion focuses on the idea of temporality and other concepts that Lazzarini embeds deeply into his work. (Yesterday's discussion is available via this link.)

You’ve said that your sculptures are “items that slip toward their own demise.” It’s a poetic quote, but what exactly does that mean?
What I think that refers to is basically the temporality of the object which is something I deal with in slightly oblique ways conceptually. I’m thinking about the object as a still life object. I’m thinking about the object as having a used or worn surface. That brings up the idea of the historicity of the object which in turn suggests a finite lifespan of the object. Also I think physically what’s happening with the sculpture is that it becomes almost like a specter of the original object. That too suggests an elusiveness, temporality, or transiency. It’s oblique, but that’s what I’m talking about—the temporality of the object, and in some cases its obsolescence.

In many cases I don’t use objects that are brand new objects—like the rotary phone. The idea of choosing something that is a little dated is a way for me to be a little removed from the object, to have a little distance from it. Other than that, what it does is mark a specific time. From that point in time, we move on. But the object stays suspended in that time. There is the notion of obsolescence that comes up in the work—the rotary phone, the payphone, the .38 Smith & Wessons which were the guns of the police force for a hundred years but which are pretty much outmoded at this point.

Do you pick objects from specific points in time when you are designing?
There are certain things I am trying to stay away from. I try to stay away from nostalgia, but I do like the fact that things have a certain patina of time on them. There’s also a similarity between the rotary phone and the .38 Smith & Wesson in that they were produced in such mass numbers that there is something ubiquitous about them. I’m also interested in the idea that something can be ever present. People stop seeing ubiquitous things – they are everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

But to go back to the idea of slippage, not only is it the temporality of the objects, but I’m also thinking about how the objects slip in relationship to the wall and also how the viewer slips in relationship to the object. That brings up issues of phenomenology and physical reactions to what I’m doing. That’s another sense of slippage.

Your work seems to be powered by a good deal of theory and philosophy from the second half of the twentieth century—issues of phenomenology, issues of the gaze, issues of simulacra, issues of perception. Is that a background that you’re bringing deliberately to your work and using to fuel your practice, or is it more the case that you’re part of your time and this is in the air that you’re breathing?
As far as the viewer is concerned, I want the work to be concerned with things that are of interest in our time. The theory, philosophy, and the science may be part of my investigation, but I’m more interested in the immediate relationship the viewer has with my objects, not with texts or sources. If those things are there, I’m interested in their larger meanings, not their specific references. I’m interested in how those ideas manifest themselves, not just the ideas for ideas’ sake.

Are you going out and deliberately grazing in the field of theory?
I would say similarly to the way that I use these three-dimensional CAD programs. I use them in a very superficial way and to my specific ends. I basically go out and hunt down what I need to find out in order to understand the things that I’m dealing with at any given moment. I don’t go beyond that.

It’s interesting that you draw the analogy to your use of CAD software. So many artists who use technology like this, or artists who deliberately use theory, produce work that becomes about the technology or about the theory. How do you end up getting beyond that? You take it in, but you don’t spit it back out.
My work is about transformation. I’m not illustrating any of these specific ideas. It’s in my best interest for this work to be layered in a very complex way so that it’s something that is consumable over a long period of time. For something to radiate out in many directions instead of in one direction is of much more interest to me.

I prefer the subtlety of that. I’m not interested in too linear connections to a specific source. It’s also a way of putting a lot of things into the work and then reducing it down. It’s a way for me to digest the world at large—from my experience living in New York, to larger questions of philosophy, to questions about optics, or science, or mathematics, or art history—and to compress it into this one thing.

Tomorrow we conclude the conversation by discussing the role of melancholia in Lazzarini’s work as well as some of the more mundane daily constraints that exert an influence on his craft.

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