Contemporary Art Review: BOMB Fall 2020 Issue

On September 10th, BOMB Magazine posted an article called Carolyn Lazard by Catherine Damman that provided an in depth look into Carolyn Lazard’s perceptions of the medical world, and more specifically, the political properties involved in medicine and the labor of care and attention expended towards illnesses and conditions. Carolyn Lazard is a Philadelphia based artist that has worked with performance based art to more visually grounded mediums like painting, photography, and larger installations. In her work, Lazard reflects on her disabilities and how her art is received in an ableist context. With her more simple forms of imagery used in her visual art, Lazard said, “I’m less concerned with performing competency in an ableist world”, and she pushes for viewers to experience her art in different ways, and pushes her pieces to go beyond visual reception. Lazard also makes it a point to shed light on issues of marginalization of the Black community in the medical world, and how her lack of visual vocabulary harps on the lack of care and attention the Black community has received in the medical world for years, and even to the present day. Other topics that Lazard highlights throughout the interview include disabled peoples and their right for consent, laws made around the disabled and how they are largely labor-based, and the effect of Covid-19 on disabled people.

In the interview, Carolyn Lazard remarks several pieces like Pain Scale, a painting that focuses on the issue of denying Black patiences adequate medical pain management solutions, and Pre-Existing Condition, a video piece that reflects on Black incarcerated peoples participating in medical experiments for compensation but then suffering the effects. She also explains some of her other pieces including A Conspiracy, a ceiling installation of noise machines, and Extended Stay, a wall mount medical arm with a monitor.

Another interesting subject brought up in the interview pertained to the idea of “accessible” art, meaning the universal access to interpretation. Lazard believes that her art doesn’t need to be transparent because disabled people “deserve our complexity”. From this, Lazard is truly constructing imagery, performances, and experiences that are meant for all audiences, disabled or abled. Lazard has said that she doesn’t see providing accessible amenities, programs, and lifestyles to disabled persons as an issue of rights, but rather the idea of dependency. From this, even though her art sometimes harps on very political aspects of the medical world, Carolyn still believes in the system of dependency, and the communal aspect of care. By turning this political content into a more communal context, she is inviting her viewers to take part in the level of care and attention to the issues represented in her pieces.

Historically, both the disabled and Black communities have been wrongfully treated in medicine, or forgotten about entirely, and still seem to have issues today in the medical world. Similarly in art, these groups have been misrepresented or left out of the conversation entirely in certain parts of the art world. By combining these two realms and talking about these historically marginalized groups, Lazard is providing a space in an institutional setting, such as museums, for these groups to ground themselves in the medical and art focused conversations. Not only is Lazard looking into the past treatment of these groups, but also the present. While commenting on the disabled person’s experience during Covid-19, Lazard expressed how some people are comparing the restrictions to “prison” or “confinement” and said that the constant struggle of facing daily roadblocks and the fear of losing a job is commonplace for disabled persons. She also commented that when people become sick, they complain that their lives have been altered and that their environment is not friendly towards their needs, but that disabled people have been dealing with those same conditions all their lives.

By creating this simplistic vocabulary of imagery and by putting the viewer in the medical context of the disabled person’s world, Lazard is inviting all viewers to see the issues within the medical world, and is encouraging a system of care, dependency, and community.