6 questions to Robert Lazzarini, whose last ser…
Distortion plays a central role in the practice of American artist Robert Lazzarini, in which common or everyday objects are stretched and distorted, making them less recognizable and strange. Early works included a series of “workshop objects”: wall-mounted tools typically found in any artist’s studio, such as a hammer, but the object was flattened and twisted, so that perspective becomes an optical illusion. In 2010, Lazzarini collaborated with KAWS, applying the same treatment to the latter’s iconic Companion character, producing vinyl figures that appeared to have reflected themselves in a funhouse mirror. His method? Lazzarini was an early adopter of computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) technology, which produces hyper-accurate renderings of objects that can be edited, altered or distorted before production.
This interplay between object and distortion is highlighted in Lazzarini’s latest series, “guns, knifes, brass knuckles”, which features sculptures of these common objects, except that they have been visually and physically distorted, disrupting our understanding in perspective. In (2022), for example, the highly recognizable weapon is twisted in such a way that, although it is still identifiable, the viewer has no clear idea of how it might be grasped and held. This phenomenological experience of recognition, crossed with the social and cultural connotations of the object, invites us to reflect on what brass knuckles mean, both for the individual and for society in general.
On the occasion of the launch of , we spoke with the artist about the series “guns, knives, brass knuckles” to learn more about the manufacture of these objects and their meaning.
Robert Lazzarini, detail from rass knuckles vi (2022). Courtesy of the artist.
Can you tell me a bit about how you see brass knuckles in the context of the show?
Sure. “Rifles, Knives, Brass Knuckles” considers the different types of spaces in which you might encounter these objects: public, domestic, and, in the case of brass knuckles, marginal. So it suggests something rarely seen: the alley, the street fight, the gang fight. Brass knuckles themselves are mostly concealed weapons, hidden in a pocket and pulled out at the last minute. Unlike a firearm, the use of knives and brass knuckles requires a violent, physically close encounter.
My work often contains body references. In this series, I have been interested in how each of these works relates to the hand as an extension of the body, more precisely to gripping. They all represent the fist as the armed hand. And, if the viewer can imagine the objects in their hands, this involves them in a possible act of violence.
Can you tell me about the distortion process?
I think of distortion as the relationship between the observable world and the schema. So, I reconfigure sculpture as a way of reconsidering it. Part of this process is correlating readability with unreadability. With brass knuckles I bring the normative object into digital space and modify it with compound sine waves.
Distortion does not necessarily consist of making severe deformations to the object. Small changes in their geometries can take them out of the normal register in a more disturbing way. Although the process of distortion is about making the shapes of objects more complex, it is also about complicating the space around the object.
Robert Lazzarini in the studio creating one of the “brass knuckles” sculptures. Courtesy of the artist.
Tell me about the importance of the golden surface of brass knuckles.
I try to highlight the tensions within the sculpture, one of which is related to the design. But another is the relationship between the gilt and decorative quality of the work and its vulgar subject matter. Having a shiny ornament sitting on your credenza from the comfort of your home is quite at odds with the notion of being in a half-lit alley trying to smash someone’s face.
The other brass knuckles sculptures you’ve made contain multiple elements. What is the meaning of repetition in these works?
Repetition is a tool I have used throughout my career. It is above all a way for me to express the seriality and the expansion and contraction of the object. Here, however, I am using repetition as a metaphor for kinetic activity. The intertwined knuckles suggest the energy and confusion of combat.
In the design of brass knuckles, there is the repetition of the four finger holes. This is where the viewer projects their own hand into the sculpture. Deforming the regular holes creates slip, making them shift and proprioceptive shift.
How do brass knuckles represent American culture?
America is one of the 15 most dangerous places to live in the world. We have a violence problem.
No one celebrates violence with the same enthusiasm as America does – television, movies, video games, the news. The fact that Americans are obsessed with it as entertainment says as much about the commodification of violence as it does about the ever-increasing blur between real and fictional violence. The prevalence of violence in all media adds to this confusion. (2022) reflects on America’s fascination with violence and reveals an aspect of our brutal nature.
Robert Lazzarini, (2022). Courtesy of the artist.
What other projects are you working on in the studio?
I recently started a series based on a group of distorted American flags attached to the wall. In accordance with my practice, there is no material translation, so they are made of fabric with distorted embroidered stars and variable length hand stitching. Obviously, they evoke something of the current state of politics in this country. However, notions of the body are also present – the works refer to camouflage, liquidity and blood. The flags are based on the 9 foot by 5 1/2 foot variant, also known as the “casket draper”, which is ceremonially used to wrap the coffins of fallen military personnel who died in action.
In some ways, I think these flags are better symbols of our nation than the traditional flag – not something static and fixed, but something constantly in motion.
brass knuckles (vi)