Elaborating on his foray into performance at The Kitchen in New York last fall, the Israeli-born, Los Angeles-based artist Elad Lassry costumed small-scale photographic works in silk and various other accoutrements for his recent exhibition at 303. At The Kitchen, dancers dressed in monochrome outfits executed repetitive movements, framed by sculptural props and fields of light; at 303, the quintessential repetition of photography—emphasized by Lassry’s use of images sourced from catalogues, textbooks and films, among other troves—was arrested and estranged by an array of tailored casings. Dressed for a journey beyond their previous informational or commercial itineraries, his photographs were joined here in a subtle choreography that questioned the status of the picture vis-à-vis material objects and the digital milieu.
The most striking pieces (all works 2013) were partially sheathed in four-ply pleated silk that fit snugly around walnut frames, which themselves fit snugly around the photos that Lassry confined to uniform dimensions (11½ by 14½ inches or vice versa). The cloth’s texture, by appealing to the fingertips, at once evoked the touch interfaces through which we now often interact with photographic images as well as the velvet-lined cases that held daguerreotypes—blurring what is typically understood as the horizon of contemporary photography with the material preciousness of its past. Despite their sensuousness, the silks denied access to parts of the visual information, amplifying the ambiguity Lassry creates by removing the photographs from their previous contexts. In Untitled (Strawberry, Kids), a child’s encounter with a person in a giant strawberry costume is curtailed by powder blue silk-accenting the sheen of the cartoonish fruit’s stem and leaves—which binds the bottom half of the picture. Periwinkle pleats obscure the figure of a masseur like a garish blind in Untitled (Woman, Blonde), so that only his hands pressing on the woman’s back are visible.
As photos wavered into sculptures, the haptic quality of the silk trappings was placed in tension not only with the visual status of photography but also with the conventions of aesthetic display. In Untitled (Artwork), a plaid cloth precariously yet tenderly draped over part of a black-and-white photograph begged to be lifted and peeked under, so that the mystery of the anatomically suggestive image could be solved. While the form of this piece echoed 19th-century pornographic peep shows, rather than providing visual pleasure, the obscured tumescent shapes we could see in the picture recalled Surrealist photography.
Like the Surrealists, who wished to create uncanny photographic effects by intervening in darkroom processes, Lassry manipulated the source image itself for other works in the exhibition. In Bits, for instance, he punched holes in a picture of metal rings hanging from a pegboard, thus multiplying the circular pattern by subtracting from its substance. Like the informational lacunae created by the silk swaths covering otherwise narrative pictures, these holes produced a different whole. With its pierced materiality evoking the rhythmic punctures of sewing and its title conjuring the texture of the digital, Bits was suggestive of the general fabric of Lassry’s exhibition, crafted from compelling, unexpected withdrawals and amplifications outside of the usual channels of photographic production and appropriation.
If Israeli-born, L.A.-based photographer Elad Lassry hadn’t come along at this particular moment in photography’s history, theorists would probably have had to invent him. A self-conscious cross-trainer of no small talent, Lassry here showed 24 small-scale, sensuously colored yet conceptually cool photographic works, as well as a silent, 5 1⁄2-minute 35mm film (all works 2010). The film, shown in a continuous loop, cuts back and forth between a pretty woman having a conversation with somebody (or something) off-camera, and a California king snake gently writhing in someone’s bare hands.
The photo works reference a diversity of genres and involve a broad range of image-making processes. At first read, they gather strange bedfellows: commercial food and object photography, conceptual photography, studio portraiture, collage, printmaking, found-image appropriation and cinema. Yet Lassry manages to unite them in a perfect storm of tropes “high” and “low.” Imagine, if you will, a single domestic object, styled and lighted as if for a slick shelter magazine, carefully cropped or otherwise double-exposed into an image “hiccup” in the mode of ’70s Structuralist films, then encased in a plastic frame perfectly color-coordinated with the image and carrying just as much compositional weight. That Lassry can pull this off, and does, is impressive. He’s effectively created his own hybrid of photography and sculptural fetish object.
Though a few of the works here incorporate found imagery, by and large the subjects are studio-shot by the artist in an appealingly simple and seemingly direct style. Smiling, shirtless Geoff (2010), a handsome, 20-something guy, faces the camera head-on, his dark hair neatly shorn, the skin on his hairless pecs exuding a healthy glow. Sea Lion (2010) takes for its subject that adorable mammal perched in front of blue-green water. And Pillow (2010), one of the most attractively shot objects here (if also one of the most inscrutable) is a soft sculpture of interlocking stitched satin or silk shapes in bright pink, flesh and white that rests on a reflective surface.
The works were hung in a line, just below eye level, and once we encountered two or three, some formal and conceptual rhythms began to strongly assert themselves. Geoff, cropped just below his nipples, stands before two garish, mismatched curtains one bright yellow, the other bright blue. We might wonder about the weird, two-color convergence, but, alas, Geoff’s lovely torso is blocking our view. The body of the sea lion, like Geoff’s, effectively divides the picture plane into thirds, its wet brown pelt uncannily echoing the sheen of Geoff’s tanned skin. The pillow (if indeed that’s what it really is) sits on a table surface that is dissolved in light, much like the sea lion’s water.
We sense that, even after prolonged viewing, we’ll never learn more about the attractive people, animals and things that appear in these artfully crafted compositions. As with porn, our hungry eyes get a tangible pleasure, and the narrative is almost beside the point.
Photo: Elad Lassry: Pillow, 2010, C-print with painted frame, 141⁄2 by 111⁄2 inches; at Luhring Augustine.