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Electric Avenues

By SIGALIT ZETOUNI
Chicago based artist Jason Lazarus was born in 1975. He belongs to the generation whose members remember specifically where they were in the early evening hours of June 25, 2009, when Michael Jackson was pronounced dead. In an interview for art: 21, Lazarus expressed: “When Michael Jackson died, an impromptu dance party took place just outside my window. A young woman pulled up in a car wearing her best 80s outfit; she turned on her hazards and took a votive candle and a stuffed monkey from the back seat. Resting those against a nearby lamppost, she left the car windows down and played the same 5 MJ songs while dancing in the street. More and more people gathered around her, many started to dance with her. The ceremony lasted about four hours.” (art: 21 blog, 1/5/2011) The public’s reaction to the superstar’s death inspired Lazarus. He described: “MJ’s death created a self-generated afternoon/evening sonic outburst all over Chicago…it was a sonic memorial that was ad hoc, continually changing, and 100% reflective of MJ’s singular reach to multiple audiences. What pop artist nowadays reaches across so many boundaries at once?” (art: 21 blog, 1/5/2011)
   
For the first year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death Lazarus organized an interactive event entitled ‘The Michael Jackson Memorial Procession,“ where he aimed to re-imagine the improvised Chicago sonic memorial he had witnessed in 2009. The event began at 6 PM on June 25, 2010, and a procession of more than 30 cars drove from Jackson’s boyhood home in Gary, IN, to the city of Chicago. Each car had orange and black screen-printed MJ flags, and through a mobile pirate radio station in Lazarus’s car, a playlist of MJ music broadcasted to the others in synchronicity, and provided a multiple-blocks-long synced traveling audio memorial. At 87th and I-94, the procession exited the highway and drove on the street-grid.  Driving on 87th street, the music broadcasting from the pirate radio became the sonic memorial that Lazarus had wanted to create. The happening event continued to move north through the streets of Pilsen, proceeding east to Michigan Ave, and finally west to Wicker Park. The onlooker reactions along with participants’ vigor expressed an experience of singing, dancing, honking and shouting, that resulted in a sweepingly contiguous urban roar.   
   
Lazarus provided all the participants with cameras to document their individual experiences in the collective event. Lazarus explained: “after looking through all the documentation I received, I settled on one image to represent the whole procession. The participants (we) were not interesting to me; the city’s pedestrians and their response was.  When our gesture was successfully received by a variety of people I’ll never see again, I thought this momentary bridge or connection 7ywas the success of the project. Upon editing down the images the only featured responders, I discovered Paul Fusko’s RFK, a documentation of onlookers to RFK’s casket being shipped via train from NYC to Washington, D.C.—a beautiful predecessor.
    
The final image is a family, I believe photographed on Halsted between 47th and 87th streets, featuring a  reserved/observant/curious/maybe dubious mother, a smiling and respectful daughter with her hands respectfully clasped, and a crying baby. Off to the right is another observer who had her hands clasped up to her face obviously responding in some kind of physical exclamation. The flash reflected in the (church?) implicates us, the cross organizes the family, the low-fi snapshot camera underwhelms us in terms of beauty yet speaks to the evidentiary utilitarian end of photography. I love it more and more—that’s the one. Otherwise, the performance lives on as a sonic retelling of its history over and over, as slippery as the truth in photography that will always evade us anyways.” (art: 21 blog, 1/5/2011)
   
Currently the Museum of Contemporary Art is showing “BMO Harris Bank Chicago Works: Jason Lazarus.” The exhibition comprises three key components. First, Lazarus created “Untitled (2013),” a work that deals with his own experience of teaching. Here, Lazarus has orchestrated weekly “performances” by a student of classical piano learning Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturne in F minor, op. 55, no. 1. The second component, “Phase 1/Live Archive (2011–present), “ is a repository of Occupy Wall Street signs, re-created by Lazarus collaboratively with the public. The signs are displayed on the museum walls, and the MCA has also made them available to visitors to wield as they navigate the galleries. Finally, Lazarus is showing new works using photography-centric media that continue to question the intersection of the public and private, the mundane and the marked event. Lazarus’s conceptual approach and strategies question how photographs can provide alternate ways to consider the use-value and meaning of images in our image-packed culture. The exhibition runs through June 18.

Published: April 15, 2013
Issue: Spring 2013 Issue