Sunday, April 11, 2010

Guns, Knives, Brass Knuckles

A Smith & Wesson .38. Kitchen knives. Brass Knuckles. These are the objects Robert Lazzarini works with in his exhibition at Honor Fraser in Los Angeles. I saw the exhibition and heard Lazzarini speak at the gallery on Saturday and was very impressed with the work. Katie Sonnenborn, Director of External Affairs at the Dia Art Foundation puts it best:

Robert Lazzarini’s artwork springs from a desire to understand the perceivable limits of the material world. Conceptually and formally rigorous, he pushes ordinary objects to their limits by mining the twined threads of distortion and material veracity…Lazzarini negotiates a place between two and three dimensions that challenges his viewers’ understanding of the physical world and their visual perception.”

To say that Lazzarini is successful would be an understatement. At first glance, the graphic, 2-D quality that comes from the mathematical distortions Lazzarini performs on the objects and their floating installation at eye-level leads your brain to comprehend the works as two-dimensional images, rather than sculptures. But as you come nearer you begin to realize that, though they are unlike any you have ever seen before, you are indeed looking at sculptures.

By performing mathematical distortions, Lazzarini leaves the objects without a vanishing point, and therefore perpetually unresolved. I found myself walking around each piece, unsuccessfully searching for that angle from which the object looked “right.” These sculptures occupy some unknown space. Their familiarity suggests that they are everyday gadgets that adhere to the laws of physics, while the distortions imply two-dimensionality. The effect is that the works in Guns, Knives, Brass Knuckles occupy the no-man’s-land between 2-D and 3-D. Interestingly, we are constantly making the jump between 2-D media and the 3-D world, but never find ourselves between the two. That’s what makes Lazzarini’s work so unsettling.

In addition to the distortions Lazzarini performs, two other factors come together to make the work so provocative. First, the sculptures are made out of the model objects’ original materials, denying any representationalism and insisting that these sculptures really are the-thing-itself. For example, material translation, such as depicting muscle out of bronze, automatically places a sculpture outside the realm of the real and into that of art, where challenges tweaks and are familiar. Second, subtle canting of the walls like a Serra sculpture adds an additional level of instability. It is difficult to say precisely how the walls affected the way sculptures are viewed, but they certainly contributed to the effect that, in viewing the exhibit, one is present in a space where the laws of perception have been rewritten.

It is hard to avoid discussing violence after seeing “Guns, Knives, and Brass Knuckles,” but the exhebition is free of any political message. Even though the S&W .38 is one of the most popular police guns of all time, kitchen knives imply domestic violence, and it is hard not to identify street violence with brass knuckles, Lazzirini’s work steers clear of any narrative implications. In the context of the exhibition, the guns, knives, and brass knuckles become merely objects to observe and to ponder. Lazzarini’s intents are strictly formal, and it is difficult to attach any additional meaning to them (though that’s not to say no one at the exhibition wasn't trying). It is in this effort to challenge the boundaries of form and familiarity that Lazzarini finds success.

1 comment:

  1. A Smith & Wesson .38. Kitchen knives. Brass Knuckles. These are the objects Robert Lazzarini works with in his exhibition at Honor Fraser in ...