The Department of Photography’s continuing series On the Scene showcases the Art Institute of Chicago‘s commitment to collecting and exhibiting the most dynamic new work by emerging artists. The third exhibition in the series explores the diverse range of art being produced by Jason Lazarus, Wolfgang Ploger, and Zoe Strauss.
Jason Lazarus’s installation grew out of the artist’s fascination with the family snapshot and its durability in our digital era. After amassing a small archive of found photographs, Lazarus became especially compelled by the handwritten texts on the backs of the photos and began arranging the snapshots to create small conversations based on the text, tonality, and spacing of surrounding photos. Importantly, the dates of the photographs comprising the unique installation at the Art Institute range from 1899 to 1996, beginning roughly a decade into the personal snapshot craze initiated by Kodak and continuing up to the threshold of the digital era.
Inspired by another found collection of language, Wolfgang Ploger’s work Make No Mistake about This uses the text of death row inmates’ final statements. Wanting to incorporate these last words into his work without making them readily discernible simply through the act of reading, Ploger handwrote the statements on lengths of film celluloid and projected this flickering calligraphy onto the wall. Ploger also removed the projector’s take-up reels so that as the last statements race and loop throughout the gallery, their speed and scale necessitate that viewers strain to make sense of glimpses of language that might convey error, confession, or apology.
The third work in the exhibition, Zoe Strauss’s site-specific installation Week of the Perfect Game, suggests the idiosyncrasies, exchanges, and moments of one week in Chicago this past July. Traveling south from the Loop to Gary, Indiana, Strauss captured the Chicago atmosphere on a grand national scale, as Barack Obama’s hometown and a finalist city in the bid to host the 2016 Olympics, as well as on a more intimate scale, as the location of an ongoing hotel-workers’ strike and a commemoration of a teen gunned down on its streets. Together Strauss’s photographs provide an open-ended and all-encompassing narrative set against the backdrop of Lake Michigan. The work is one of the museum’s most recent acquisitions.