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Interview: Robert Lazzarini

July 18, 2011

In his sculptures, Robert Lazzarini twists everyday objects so that they are at once unrecognisable and utterly familiar. Here he talks to Celia White about what this material manipulation involves, and about the work he is showing in Edel Assanti’s current exhibition Objet Dada.

Celia White: Could you begin by describing the work you have on show at Edel Assanti, and how it fits into your wider practice?

Robert Lazzarini: Phone (white) (2011) is a color variant on a work from 2000, Phone. It’s based on the 500 series Bell Atlantic rotary phone that was so ubiquitous in the 20th century. The original phone, in Verona green, was one of three sculptures – a phone, a chair, and two hammers – that I used as the basis for a short-hand representation of my studio. It is one of a group of works that I describe as ‘planar distortions’, compound mathematical distortions that incorporate scale shifts, skews, accelerated and de-accelerated perspectives.

CW: This exhibition, Objet Dada, is a homage to the legacy of the readymade, supposedly initiated by Marcel Duchamp. How do you consider this legacy in relation to your own work?

RL: Although my sculptures are reconfigurations of pre-existing objects in a more extreme sense, by eliminating material translation, my sculptures sidestep the notion of artistic materials. So, there is this one-to-one relationship between the mass-produced object and the new sculptural object.

CW: Although your ‘everyday’ objects are distorted, their visual effect relies as much on normality (i.e. the familiar perception of the object) as it does on abnormality. Which do you feel is more central to your work – normality or abnormality? 

RL: They work in conjunction with one another. This is ultimately an issue of the relationship between abstraction and representation. If the starting point was something already abstracted, the new sculpture wouldn’t have a tension with the original object. Part of the discourse of my work is to mine the area in between the object being what it is and what it isn’t.

CW: When looking at your work, in particular the telephone in this exhibition, the disruption of the visual also brings out an awareness of the material elements that make up everyday objects (the plastic used to make the mass-produced phone, for instance). Do you regard materiality as an important facet, or by-product, of the visual manipulation that you employ?

RL: Ultimately, my endeavour involves manipulating the fabric of the world. When I approach a subject to use, I’m absolutely thinking about its material qualities. That being said, the objects are distorted in relation to their form and not to their material properties.

CW: The idea that a mass-produced object, selected rather than made by an artist, can constitute art is what underlies Duchamp’s original gesture with the readymade. But do you feel that in distorting everyday objects you personalise them in some way? Does your work invite us to see these objects in a more subjective, individual way if their shape is already interpreted and distorted by you?

RL: I think we incorrectly think of the readymade object as just an off-the-shelf item recontextualized as an artwork. However, the readymade object was slightly altered in that it often had writing or an inscription on it. So beyond selection, the readymade is a personalised object (think R.Mutt). My works are personalised in that they collectively make up a vocabulary of choices within my practice; choices about subject, form, and ideas. Yet ideally I’d like the viewer to be thinking about that original object, and how this new sculpture, fully formed, defies visual grasp.

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