Florence Lazar

La Galerie

Two of Florence Lazar’s three recent videos were shot in Serbia following the conflicts in Kosovo. Born in France in 1966 and a graduate of L’Ecole nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris, Lazar is of Serbian descent and has long been concerned with the situation in Yugoslavia. She took her first trip to Macedonia in March 1999—along with the three videos, this exhibition also included Cibachrome photographs, some of them taken there—and it was after seeing Yugoslavia, Suicide of a Nation (1999), a documentary produced by the BBC, that she decided to go to Serbia to gather testimony in a similar documentary mode. The exhibition was organized around these documents, produced with the aid of a small, discreet digital video camera.

Si je ne suis pas devenu fou, c’est que je dois être anormal (If I didn’t go crazy, it’s because I must be abnormal), 1999–2000, was shown on a monitor: The viewer sits on a sofa while watching the successive testimony of soldiers, journalists, professors, and others. All of them, filmed in the more or less rudimentary conditions of their own homes, describe their experience of the conflict: Some denounce repression; others express support for the Serb regime. Les Paysans (The peasants), 1999–2000, by contrast, was projected onto a wall; standing, the viewer faced life-size figures likewise on their feet and active. The distance between the camera and subject during filming was transposed into the distance separating the spectator from the projected image. The artist herself has expressed surprise at how this interview turned out: Filming in a village near Kosovo, she was expecting to explore the viewpoint of a supporter of Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, but it was ultimately his stridently anti-Milosevic colleague who unburdened himself to the camera and monopolized the conversation while continuing to go about his mechanical and repetitive activity of cutting vines and tying them in bundles. The image, though unstaged and spontaneous, evokes the composition of a classical painting in which the foreground and background, primary and secondary figures, a foggy luminosity, and the tonality of colors are strangely orchestrated into a realistic scene. Encouraging a sort of prolonged listening, these two installations oscillate between two modes, simple documentary and aesthetic artifice.

Finally, given its focal placement in the space, Confrontations, 1999, seemed to be the central nervous system of the works presented here. Donning headphones, viewers found themselves in the midst of a raucous family quarrel in the home of the artist’s parents. Shot in Paris before the other two videos, at the height of the NATO intervention in Kosovo, this work counterpoints the virulence of the remarks made by the family members with the violence of the conflict taking place. One inevitably wonders, then, about the artist’s nonintervention in the dispute, her retreat behind the camera whose presence substitutes for her verbal participation. Paradoxically, it is in this way that Lazar chose to testify to her commitment and her activism: no direct manifestation of her own opinions, no spectacular images, no subtle montage revealing the drama of the situation, no elaborate sound track. But this voluntary retreat, this minimal simplicity of presentation, allows the viewer to discern more than meets the eye.

Valérie Breuvart

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.