Mastering The Melon: Projects by Alix Lambert
by Alix Lambert
Galeria Javier Lopez
She’s an author, filmmaker, conceptual + performance artist, photographer, pilot, actor, sculptor — hell, the New York Times‘ Sunday Magazine named her one of “303 people under 30 who will change the culture in the next 30 years.” Yes, that’s Alix Lambert and… hey wait a minute, come back here! I’ve already locked the doors! I understand how an ultra-renaissance woman CV like Lambert’s might smack of dilettantism to some, but trust me, Lambert brings an irreverent sense of play and deep-cover dedication that the contemporary conceptual arts so often lack. But it’s not all dadaist theatre-as-life — like in the six-month “Marriage Project” where she married and divorced three men and one woman in short order, here represented by all relevant paperwork and sepia portraits of the “happy couples” — there’s also a side to Lambert’s artistic output that is (new) journalistic in nature, searching out niches and subcultures and little worlds that we would otherwise never notice, and presenting them with a sympathetic eye.
Lambert has produced television segments for Nightline, but her most famous documentary work is the Mark of Cain, an almost poetic study of the practices and rules of tattooing in Russian prisons. This is represented here with a number of stark and poetic images that range from black humor — the inmate who tattooed Marx, Lenin and Stalin on his chest because he knew a firing squad would not shoot him thence — to a strange form of nobility and honor to be found in those who exist outside the law and cover their bodies with imagery that reflects the separation. The artists are self-taught within the prison walls, the tools are rudimentary, the ink is fashioned from boot-heels and the prisoner’s own urine and the imagery is stunning, a sort of coded language that is slowly fading away as the current generation of prisoners die out. Analogous to this is, in a mirror crack’d sorta way, is Lambert’s earlier photo series “Tattoo” where she bought tattooing equipment and taught herself how to use it, using her friends as canvasses and inking designs that they chose expressly for her. The crude designs range from the saucy to the absurd to the abstract. Less weighty but still engrossing is “Flight Series,” wherein Lambert documents her flight lessons, complete with pilot logs and photos taken from the Space Shuttle flight simulator at NASA.
Then there’s Lambert at play in the sheer absurdity of modern life and pop culture. She forms a fake riot/grrl grunge band and does everything a band at the time (late ’90s) would actually do — videos, photoshoots, self-mythologizing — except, y’know, to write songs. Or “Male Pattern Baldness,” a series of black and white self-portraits by Lambert of her with a shaved head, suit, and basketball, and wouldn’t ya know it, she somehow does end up looking like the prototypical college basketball coach. With her head bowed, some of the shots are almost poignant. Or the flipside to “Mark of Cain,” “Cop Series” — a slightly jarring, though affecting series of portraits of an undercover cop and family doing normal family things, all while wearing flak jackets and full-face ski masks.
My personal faves are “Ethel and Me” two side by side portraits of Lambert’s grandmother in a head shot taken in her youth, and a portrait of Lambert in exactly the same pose with the same hair, makeup and clothes, trying to recreate the shot exactly as possible. It’s a touching homage. And “Miniatures” a series of portraits she commissioned from artist friends of herself rendered on tiny objects — hangnail, match-head, grain of rice, etc.
All hail the scattered attention span, we need more frazzled geniuses like Lambert. IF all goes well, Mastering the Melon might cause casual readers to try their own hand at miniature masterpieces. Perhaps Lambert proves that art can be found in any aspect of ordinary life. And maybe it was never even that ordinary after all.
Galeria Javier Lopez: www.galeriajavierlopez.com