Elaborating on his foray into performance at The Kitchen in New York last fall, the Israeli-born, Los Angeles-based artist Elad Lassry costumed small-scale photographic works in silk and various other accoutrements for his recent exhibition at 303. At The Kitchen, dancers dressed in monochrome outfits executed repetitive movements, framed by sculptural props and fields of light; at 303, the quintessential repetition of photography—emphasized by Lassry’s use of images sourced from catalogues, textbooks and films, among other troves—was arrested and estranged by an array of tailored casings. Dressed for a journey beyond their previous informational or commercial itineraries, his photographs were joined here in a subtle choreography that questioned the status of the picture vis-à-vis material objects and the digital milieu.
The most striking pieces (all works 2013) were partially sheathed in four-ply pleated silk that fit snugly around walnut frames, which themselves fit snugly around the photos that Lassry confined to uniform dimensions (11½ by 14½ inches or vice versa). The cloth’s texture, by appealing to the fingertips, at once evoked the touch interfaces through which we now often interact with photographic images as well as the velvet-lined cases that held daguerreotypes—blurring what is typically understood as the horizon of contemporary photography with the material preciousness of its past. Despite their sensuousness, the silks denied access to parts of the visual information, amplifying the ambiguity Lassry creates by removing the photographs from their previous contexts. In Untitled (Strawberry, Kids), a child’s encounter with a person in a giant strawberry costume is curtailed by powder blue silk-accenting the sheen of the cartoonish fruit’s stem and leaves—which binds the bottom half of the picture. Periwinkle pleats obscure the figure of a masseur like a garish blind in Untitled (Woman, Blonde), so that only his hands pressing on the woman’s back are visible.
As photos wavered into sculptures, the haptic quality of the silk trappings was placed in tension not only with the visual status of photography but also with the conventions of aesthetic display. In Untitled (Artwork), a plaid cloth precariously yet tenderly draped over part of a black-and-white photograph begged to be lifted and peeked under, so that the mystery of the anatomically suggestive image could be solved. While the form of this piece echoed 19th-century pornographic peep shows, rather than providing visual pleasure, the obscured tumescent shapes we could see in the picture recalled Surrealist photography.
Like the Surrealists, who wished to create uncanny photographic effects by intervening in darkroom processes, Lassry manipulated the source image itself for other works in the exhibition. In Bits, for instance, he punched holes in a picture of metal rings hanging from a pegboard, thus multiplying the circular pattern by subtracting from its substance. Like the informational lacunae created by the silk swaths covering otherwise narrative pictures, these holes produced a different whole. With its pierced materiality evoking the rhythmic punctures of sewing and its title conjuring the texture of the digital, Bits was suggestive of the general fabric of Lassry’s exhibition, crafted from compelling, unexpected withdrawals and amplifications outside of the usual channels of photographic production and appropriation.