Elad Lassry was born in Tel-Aviv, Israel in 1977. Now based in Los Angeles, he has exhibited his films and idiosyncratic photographic collages at the Whitney Museum of American Art and Kunsthalle Zürich. He talks to NOWNESS about home videos, lipstick, and art you can slip in your bag.
What's your earliest artistic memory?
I actually have been making art since I was a kid. I made a lot of home videos. My parents had a video camera I would use to make pieces that were just sequences, or landscape films. I was experimenting, but I was actually thinking of the films as works of art. At the time, I remember being quite engaged with them and I was showing them to friends. I was also taking photographs from a very early age.
Are you a nostalgic artist?
This is a very important point. I don’t think of my work as nostalgic at all actually. My films are very stripped down. I mean, there is the apparatus, I do use a [reel-to-reel] projector, and that comes with a certain history. But my choice of sticking to film has more to do with activating a conversation about pictures, the singularity, the suspension of each picture. This idea that the foundation of film is a sequence of photographs. I go back and forth between photography and film, [imagining] photographs making a film and the films becoming pictures. And this depends on how evacuated the films are—when I make them there’s a process of emptying them out, really stripping them down to a very basic element that could become something like a portrait, for example. Or simply a depiction of an animal.
Your work is largely composed of nicknacks and ephemera. Is it about collecting?
I think that’s an interesting and tricky thing. I have a very distant relationship to the archive that I collect. It’s about spending time with these photos and producing a new picture that functions as something else. A picture that speaks of perceptual possibilities rather than just its subject. A portrait can become a space of perception.
Your work also seems to relate to commercialism and advertising.
I think that for me advertising is a vocabulary that I use. The strategies of advertising are as old as photography’s inception. Advertisers were not the first to use a seamless backdrop, it’s been used since the early days of photography to sell goods, to photograph animals that are being traded, to distinguish the details of the subject. Of course, advertising saturates everything.
How about your works that feature consumer items on pedestals, like lipstick and nail polish?
For me, these works play with monochrome. The [color of the] pedestals matches the backdrop and the frame. The question is: Is the subject of the painting the pedestal or the lipstick? Many times my pedestals are larger in the frame than what’s on them or what’s being displayed. The pedestals become an abstraction or a composition. That’s something I’m more interested in than re-considering advertising. Advertising is already embedded in the work—there’s a level of engagement with the fact that they are products.
The framing emphasizes that.
And the size. They’re always 11" x 14", so they’re a size that you can put in a tote bag. You can take them home. Framing the pictures in this shelf-like way turns them into furniture.
They almost look like they arrived from a factory.