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Issue 216

Carolyn Lazard Reframes the Readymade

At Essex Street, New York, the artist presents an array of prefabricated objects through the lens of disability and chronic illness

BY Simon Wu in Exhibition Reviews , US Reviews | 15 OCT 20

The scene we encounter in ‘Sync’, Carolyn Lazards first solo exhibition at Essex Street, derives from the long hours the artist has spent in spaces where chronic illness and medical recovery are day-to-day realities. The gallery feels like a rehabilitation centre gone awry. Two power-lift recliners, Lazy Boi and Piss on Pity (all works 2020), are splayed out in the middle of the space: one is at its lowest, most reclined setting; the other is extended forward, as if dumping its occupant out onto the floor. HoMedics air purifiers, collectively titled Privatization, sit like surveillance cameras in various corners of the gallery, sterilizing the air. Lazard’s work – spanning video, performance, sculpture and writing – often draws from the Philadelphia-based artist’s experiences of living with chronic illness, here utilizing a very spare visual language to look at the readymade through the lens of disability.

Carolyn Lazard, ‘SYNC’, 2020
Carolyn Lazard, ‘SYNC’, 2020, installation view, Essex Street, New York. Courtesy: the artist, Essex Street, New York and Maxwell Graham, New York

Lazard suggests a connection between the time spent staring at everyday objects in hospitals and the time spent staring at screens. Three commercially produced sinks are mounted on the walls, while a fourth sits on a rolling cart in the centre of the gallery: each recalls the boxy shape of an old, cathode-ray-tube television. Two artificial fire lamps, Cinema 1 and Cinema 2, present a soothing display of light and shadow that provides a false sense of warmth and comfort; the objects’ endless flickering creates a strange monotony, as if everything were frozen in time. Lazard has previously explored temporality in CRIP TIME (2018), a ten-minute video showing hands methodically filling up dosage containers with an assortment of pills. As queer theorist Alison Kafer states in her book Feminist, Queer, Crip (2013), ‘crip time bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds’, positioning disabled labour outside the bounds of ableist productivity: the speed and efficiency of normative, capitalist time.

Carolyn Lazard, TV4 (Delayed Reception), 2020
Carolyn Lazard, TV4 (Delayed Reception), 2020, installation view, Essex Street, New York. Courtesy: the artist, Essex Street, New York and Maxwell Graham, New York

Carolyn Working, a framed drawing made by the artists partner, depicts Lazard in the position from which they presumably made the show: lying in bed, under the covers, working on a laptop. The contrast between the artist’s ostensible inactivity and the numerous hours spent planning the installation of these commercial objects is nothing new: this displacement of physical and intellectual labour is the formula for the historical readymade. But Lazard’s intervention proposes a new way of looking at it – one that values the labour of disabled bodies while critiquing the hegemony of the ableist world.

In a recent interview with Catherine Damman in BOMB magazine, Lazard mentions that they are focussing on ‘articulating disability through Blackness and the entanglement between care and harm’. This is perhaps most evident in Free Radicals, an hourglass overfilled with granite dust from the McCoy Rock Quarry in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, the artist’s hometown. Understood in relation to Privatization, the hourglass references environmental racism: the dust, a result of the over-mined quarries, caused respiratory problems primarily in communities of colour, requiring the purchase of air purifiers and medicine. Capitalist forces privatize not only your health and time but the very air you breathe, before selling it back to you – at the expense of your health and time. This is the inequity that Lazard seeks to counter through the synergies and contradictions of thinking of disability through Blackness, a complex and under-theorized intersection that might help us reframe the entanglement between ableism and racism.

Carolyn Lazard, SYNC runs at Essex Street, New York until 17 October 2020.

Main image: Carolyn Lazard, Cinema 1, Cinema 2, 2020, installation view, Essex Street, New York. Courtesy: the artist, Essex Street, New York and Maxwell Graham, New York

Simon Wu is an artist based in New York. He is the Program Coordinator for The Racial Imaginary Institute and a graduate of the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program.