The International Biennal of Photography and Visual Arts in Liège

The 8th edition of BIP, the International Biennial of Photography and Visual Arts in Liège kicked off on Saturday. At the press conference, I bumped into a friend, Gilles, bass player and lead singer of Pale Grey, an emerging Belgian band you’ll soon be hearing all about. He’s also one of the curators of the Biennial. Gilles told me there was this photographer I really had to meet : Jason Lazarus, a multi-talented artist who’d come all the way to Liège from Chicago to present his latest work. So I did.

One of his most famous pieces is an image of Spencer Elden in his final year of high school, standing on a roof. The name doesn’t ring a bell, does it? He’s the grown-up version of the baby boy diving underwater on the cover of Nirvana‘s second album. Remember? Nevermind… That’s history, or memory recall, or whatever you want to call it. But Naked-Spencer is definitely part of our generation. A year before they met, Lazarus had begun asking people to share their memories of who first enlightened them to the mythical Seattle-based band. He ended up with an amazing collection of personal photos accompanied by handwritten testimonials:

“My older brother Raf, he would drive me around the forest preserves in north Chicago playing music in his Honda Civic hatchback. he played stuff like Kraftwerk and Black Sabbath. I heard Bleach for the first time with him.”

Another piece of work that’s worthy of our attention during the Biennal is the Heinecken Studies. After his death, Robert Heinecken distributed salt shakers filled with a portion of his cremated remains as his last piece of artwork, Residual Realities. Lazarus heard about it from a friend, a former studio assistant of Heinecken and decided, with the blessing of his widow, Joyce, to use the ashes as the principal material for a series of photography experiments. As a tribute to his work. Heinecken was using photography techniques, but more like (as he says himself) a “para-photographer”.

When we talked about these pieces, sitting comfortably on makeshift stools around his work table, we talked about the need to let abandoned pictures or lost objects tell us new stories.

That’s exactly the purpose of “Too Hard To Keep” , which Lazarus will present at MAMAC as part of the Biennial. An ongoing and participative project, for which he asks people, through his website, to send him pictures that are too hard to keep but too valuable to throw away. You’re invited to send him either physical photos by mail or  digital ones, so long as you destroy the original file. Send him memories of family, friends, places or even pets that are “Too Hard To Keep” and they’ll end up on a gallery wall somewhere in a big city in the States or in smaller towns like Liège. He’ll threat your memory with respect, facing the wall or laying on the ground, still wrapped in its wrapper, if you’ve asked him not to show it. The installation physically represents the floating state of grace between two opposite feelings. Keeping or throwing. Loving or hating.

We also talked about the space between the pictures that give them their own life, just like the silence between the notes gives life to music. That idea was not ours: Claude Debussy and John Cage worked with, and wrote about, this concept of silence as music or silence as art. But that’s another story.