Death made the rounds this summer, feeding a national pastime of voyeurism with almost weekly sacrifices of major and minor celebrities. And Death continues to be very much on the scene in the newest photography exhibition to open in the Modern Wing. The impressive show features three talented artists: the unabashed Zoe Strauss with her straightforward documentary look at urbanism; the recondite Berlin-based Wolfgang Ploger with his abstractions of Internet searches; and Jason Lazarus, who may well be Chicago’s most incisively witty photographer.
Lazarus presents a collection of castaway snapshots collected over a number of years from flea markets. But he presents their backsides only, each with personally scrawled messages, as mothers are wont to do. The intentional refusal of the photographs’ image side may frustrate a viewer at first, but with a little patience it rewards with a form of tactile, open-source concrete poetry rivaling Found Magazine or a Joseph Grigely installation. Like little tombstones, the fading versos memorialize the fleeting physical interaction of handwriting.
Ploger also draws our attention to dying media, putting a trio of old film projectors to work. He sourced the final words of death-row inmates preceding their execution and transcribed them directly on film with a marker. He then looped them through the projectors, allowing the words to flicker illegibly on the wall like early minimalist film pieces. But he also provided a pulley system that extended the films’ loops up to the ceiling, creating a space for us to read the prisoners’ statements. This system turns the poetic testimonials into a curious mechanic abstraction, mirroring the capital punishment machine but also draining the prisoners’ words of relatable sentiment.
Strauss was invited to Chicago to capture it and give it back to us. A large, translucent window print of Lake Michigan, taken during a mid-summer week in Chicago that just happened to be the week Michael Jackson died, is the backdrop for images of people mourning the King of Pop’s death, juxtaposed against the death of a local teen and Mark Buehrle’s perfect baseball game. She never flinches behind the camera and her interest lies in the overlooked, overworked population on the fringes. (J. Thomas Pallas)
Through January 24, 2010, at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan.