Exploring the photographic image in the digital age: Israeli-American Elad Lassry – artist profile

Art Radar profiles the contemporary photographer on the occasion of his first major solo exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Art Radar takes a look at the artist’s practice and the works on show at Elad Lassry’s eponymous exhibition, co-curated by Director Kathleen Bartels and artist Jeff Wall, and running until 1 October 2017.

Elad Lassry, 'Devon Rex', 2011, chromogenic print, painted frame. Image courtesy of the Artist Photo: Courtesy of 303 Gallery, New York.

Elad Lassry, ‘Devon Rex’, 2011, chromogenic print, painted frame. Image courtesy the artist. Photo: Courtesy 303 Gallery, New York.

Elad Lassry (b. 1977, Tel Aviv) has long been gaining critical acclaim for his sharp, striking portraits of people and animals. Equally striking are his composed images of “still-lifes” – arrangements of fruit, food and goods. With an exhibition history that includes the Kuntshalle Zurich and the Whitney Museum of American Art, Lassry can now add one more institution to the list: the Vancouver Art Gallery. With the Gallery’s programme dedicated to understanding the wider impact that visual imagery has on society, Lassry adds a vital edge to the Vancouver Art Gallery this summer.

With this solo exhibition, Lassry’s mark on North America is set to rise. Prior to this show, his work has been included in group exhibitions, such as the 54th Venice Biennale, International Pavilion; Aspen Art Museum, (2011); Sculpture Center, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010) and New Museum, New York (2009). Solo shows include The Kitchen, New York (2012), PAC, Milan (2012), Rat Hole Gallery, Tokyo (2012), the Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis, (2010), Kunsthalle Zurich, Switzerland (2010) and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2009).

Elad Lassry, 'Wolf (Blue)', 2008, chromogenic print, painted frame. Courtesy of the Artist.

Elad Lassry, ‘Wolf (Blue)’, 2008, chromogenic print, painted frame. Image courtesy the artist.

The Nature of Perception

Spanning sculpture, photography and film, Lassry’s latest exhibition in Vancouver brings together more than 70 works, attempting to tie them into one coherent display. A survey of the works that he has made over the last decade, the exhibition is the first in-depth look at the 40-year-old artist’s artistic development in Canada. Aiming to investigate the “nature of perception”, the Vancouver Art Gallery examines the place of the image in these digital times.

Hailing the Israel-born, Los Angeles-based artist, Director of the Vancouver Art Gallery Kathleen S. Bartels claims Lassry’s position in art history, stating:

Lassry is among a generation of younger photographers working conceptually and over the last decade his thoughtful investigation of the representational image has actively shaped conversations around photography.

Elad Lassry, 'Short Ribs, Eggs', 2012, chromogenic print, painted frame. Private Collection, New York. Photo: Courtesy of 303 Gallery, New York

Elad Lassry, ‘Short Ribs, Eggs’, 2012, chromogenic print, painted frame. Private Collection, New York. Photo: Courtesy of 303 Gallery, New York.

Moving to Los Angeles to study film and photography in 1998 guided the development of Lassry’s artistic practice for years to come. It was these years that marked a sharp change in the way society related to digital technology, and consequently, digital imagery. Digital file-sharing, encouraged by the emergence of social media sites, media-sharing sites, blogs and other means of transmitting information were quickly adopted, becoming part of the fabric of everyday life. The technological infrastructure for image-making also underwent rapid advancements: people could use their phones as cameras, recording, capturing, and uploading images from all around the world. These progressions led Lassry to explore digital means of representation, images and our relationship to them.

Although Lassry’s practice spans multiple media, such as sculpture, photography and installation, his works always return to questions about the image and how they are viewed and seen. Of his own work, Lassry states:

I don’t think of them as photographs. I think of them as objects. I think of them as something that is suspended between sculpture and an image.

Elad Lassry, 'Fringe', 2011 chromogenic print, painted frame. Collection of Erin and Paul Pariser, New York

Elad Lassry, ‘Fringe’, 2011, chromogenic print, painted frame. Collection of Erin and Paul Pariser, New York.

The Photographic Image in the Digital Age

At the Vancouver Art Gallery, the focus is firmly on the photographic image, exploring its place in the digital present. Many of the works exhibited in the gallery highlight Lassry’s photography, showcasing his highly precise, almost consciously calibrated images. One such work is Short Ribs, Eggs (2012), where pink marbled slabs of meat are stacked against a milk bottle, two brown farm eggs perched delicately atop them. The picture is a gradient of pink: a dusky rose at the top, melting into the reflective magenta of a shiny surface. Surrounded by a pink frame, it is almost impossible to miss the care behind the construction of this image.

Another intriguing work in the exhibition is Untitled (Isopod) (2013). A man holds an unidentified crustacean in the palm of his hand, his face hidden by a silk cover half-drawn over the frame. The green of the image and the silk cast an eerie, pale glow over the work, accompanied by a rather ambiguous and open-ended quality that leaves the viewer’s imagination to roam.

Elad Lassry, 'Untitled (Isopod)', 2013, chromogenic print, walnut frame, silk. Private Collection, Houston. Photo: Courtesy Galerie Francesca Pia, Zurich.

Elad Lassry, ‘Untitled (Isopod)’, 2013, chromogenic print, walnut frame, silk. Private Collection, Houston. Photo: Courtesy Galerie Francesca Pia, Zurich.

Other works such as Untitled (Boot A) (2013) feature a yellow silk tie across the surface, obscuring the photographic image of a man’s patterned boot. Purportedly meant to guide viewers to find different ways of engaging with the image, the yellow silk functions as a means of interrupting conventional notions of how viewers should think of a photograph.

Elad Lassry, 'Untitled (Boot A)' , 2013, silver gelatin print, walnut frame, 4-ply silk. Collection of Erin and Paul Pariser, New York.

Elad Lassry, ‘Untitled (Boot A)’, 2013, silver gelatin print, walnut frame, 4-ply silk. Collection of Erin and Paul Pariser, New York.

Elad Lassry, 'Silk Rope', 2010, chromogenic print with painted frame Collection of Suzanne Deal Booth. Photo: Courtesy of 303 Gallery, New York

Elad Lassry, ‘Silk Rope’, 2010, chromogenic print with painted frame. Collection of Suzanne Deal Booth. Photo: Courtesy of 303 Gallery, New York.

Talking about Lassry’s image-driven practice, co-curator and fellow artist Jeff Wall remarks that these works bring “together cinema, sculpture, dematerialized, appropriated and repurposed imagery”. Foregrounding the actual materiality of the image, Lassry’s works are meant to provoke viewers into thinking about their relationship with images. By using ambiguous content without clear symbolism or signifying properties, Lassry’s works create their own viewing conditions, leaving viewers to re-negotiate their relationship with the image itself. Lassry’s works are, in that sense, disruptive: they give the viewer pause for thought, forcing them to reconsider how they would normally view an image.

Junni Chen

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Related topics: Israeliphotographyfeature, museum shows, Vancouver events

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