September 25, 2017

Spotlight: Carolyn Lazard

Carolyn Lazard’s multimedia work is a powerful and personal interpretation of autoimmune disorders and their emotional effects.

Carolyn Lazard is a multimedia artist focusing on ecological care, dependency, and visibility. Lazard’s work, primarily text, performance, and visual art, has been displayed internationally including several spaces such as Light Industry (NY), Cleopatra’s (NY), and the Wexner Center for the Arts (Ohio). Lazard was also integral in establishing Canaries, a Brooklyn based collective creating effective work that addresses dynamics of bodily and emotional care. Lazard graduated with a BA from Bard College and is currently living in Philadelphia.

Lazard’s work primarily concerns itself with the space between wellness and illness, and the slow shift or immediate jolt in transitioning between both. Visibility plays a large role in Lazard’s work, succinctly addressed in Support System and How to Be a Person in the Age of Autoimmunity. The latter, an enigmatic personal essay exploring the emotional and physical effect of the biologic drug Humira, is a curt and powerful narrative in explicit detail. Lazard shifts from an initial diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, to Crohn’s disease, and finally to ankylosing spondylitis (a spinal fusing complication that primarily affects Inflammatory Bowel Disease [IBD] patients) all affecting her at the same time. In the essay, Lazard states:
“As my life came to be ruled by the sensation of pain, it became impossible to think about anything except the sensation of pain. But pain is only the partial story of the body, a symptom of an underlying problem, whether an injury or a systemic issue. Pain is the body calling out for your attention. I wanted to be healthy again, not simply living without pain.”

Selected from Support System, 2017, a durational piece addressing the performance of convalescence, disabled sociality, collaborative art practice, and the transactional nature of emotional labor. Support System is performed over the course of a day, from 9 am to 9 pm. Visitors are invited to sign up for a 30 minutes slot for a one-on-one performance with the artist who spends the day in bed. The cost of admission is one bouquet of flowers. 

The Le Sigh: Your work addresses two paradigms -- wellness and illness, and through their presence, there is medical and emotional self care to balance the relationships between both. Invisible illnesses are often socially overlooked in comparison to their visible counterparts. From my understanding, the concept of visibility plays a large role in your work, specifically Support System and How to Be a Person in the Age of Autoimmunity. Vulnerability is also a major part of your work -- do you feel more vulnerable to illness when you are well, or do you fear when you may become sick again? Additionally, at what point did you realize that emotional self care is integral to the body's wellness?

Carolyn Lazard: I have made decisions to use certain mediums to address different aspects of illness/wellness but I don't necessarily think that those differences are natural. When you make something, it can take on a life of its own and you don't always get to decide the tone of a thing. Moving forward, I'm becoming less interested in exploring illness as it relates to one person's isolated experience. I'm more interested in illness as a matrix of relations that includes caregivers, lovers, family, the state, flows of capital, viruses, water, etc.

Selected works from In Sickness and Study

TLS: In How to Be a Person in the Age of Autoimmunity, your initial anecdote states that after researching holistic approaches to autoimmune diseases, you left the hospital during your first flare and fasted until you could begin to eat milder food. Afterwards, you quote Nakazawa, the author of The Autoimmune Epidemic: “Scientists the world over have dubbed it ‘the Western disease.’”  The medical community remains unsure as to its origins, but often cites genetic factors. Others, unsatisfied with this weak causal explanation for these “Western” afflictions, have been exploring the environmental triggers of autoimmunity." In regards to Nakazawa's inclusion in your creative work, do you side with orthodox interpretation of autoimmune illness, or is it best understood as 'the Western disease' due to its prevalence in the United States?

CL: There are a million ways to experience and look at autoimmunity. Unfortunately, the supremacy of biomedical interpretation is closing down the discourse and doing more harm than good for real people trying to live their lives with relentless health problems with no end in sight. Yes, biomedicine is helpful in managing these conditions, but it is so far away from addressing the root of the problem because it cannot contain the complexity of the body and its entanglement with the world around it. I know that people the world over are affected by autoimmunity, but it can be characterized as a "western disease" because of how this epidemic, as an environmentally triggered problem, is fueled by white supremacist ideology which privileges production over the land, and profit over life.

Get Well Soon, 2015

TLS: You have many installation pieces that establish a necessary dedicated sensory and emotionally renewing space. Canaries, the collective, interests itself in creating and maintaining these spaces in a metropolitan area. Where do you think that these spaces are most necessary, and what ultimate effect would you like them to have on the viewer?

CL: I think restorative spaces are most useful in places where the scale of production has grossly outgrown the scale of the human body. The Canaries collective formed in New York City so those projects are a direct response to a specific urban pace of living, but it's clear that restorative spaces are needed anywhere that capitalism has stretched thin our energetic and affective resources, which is everywhere the world over. Personally, I think these spaces are most urgently needed in communities of people whose health and wellness are disproportionately affected by this: namely, black, indigenous, POC, queer and trans, and disabled communities.

The Zone, 2015, with Jesse Cohen for Canaries. Installation with accompanying zine, "Basic Exercises for Embodiment," (Canaries). The Zone represents "doing nothing" as a defiant, resistant act in a culture that prioritizes productivity above all.

More of Carolyn's work can be found on her website. The referenced text, How to be a Person in the Age of Autoimmunity, is directly available through this link. Explore Canaries Collective here.

The main image of this post is a still from Get Well Soon (2015).

Emily Sipiora, a freelance journalist and creative writer. Previous works are on The Le Sigh, Hooligan Magazine, The Northwest Review of Books, The Rock River Times, Columbia College, Hobart Pulp, and Alien Mouth. Emily currently lives in Chicago, Illinois, and is a junior at Northeastern Illinois University, studying literature and philosophy. You can follow her on Twitter here.