Jason Lazarus

Jason Lazarus, SOUTHWEST MISSISSIPPI ARTIST GROUP PORTRAIT, 2023. The community owns the right to reproduce, distribute, and manipulate the image. The image, in full resolution, will be available via free download, by the public, with or without attribution, in perpetuity at https://archive.org/details/southwestmississippiartistgroupportrait.

During his ongoing residency at PSA-MS, Jason Lazarus has paid many visits to McComb to work on several projects. In June of 2023 he did in-depth research about the Pike County Juvenile Detention Center (formerly the McComb City Jail), the home of Pike School of Art — Mississippi. He returned to Tampa with all the keys to the jail, which he has used in two ways.

First, he created a series of photograms of the keys, which he hopes to publish in 2024 as an artist book. Here are part of his thoughts about this work:

“I’m at a moment where, with my friend, colleague, and darkroom assistant Kristen, we have mounted a grid where all the keys from the McComb County jail have been printed by and large in relief — white key shapes on largely black backgrounds. The keys themselves are wildly different in person, and when holding them, they have significantly different weights and feels. I can strongly sense the difference from the dungeon feel of the prisoner cell keys to the almost light as air administrative keys that at times mimic my home’s front door key that I duplicated at home depot. Even smaller keys exist that may have functioned to lock a file cabinet drawer or metal box — serving what is a kind of administrative information cell, demarcated and isolated from everything else. 

“So, what is wrong with the way this initial grid with consistent variables feels? I thought the variance of the keys would be self-evidently interesting if we locked in everything else and the keys would unfurl layers of violence from the prison cells to the file cabinet, but they aren’t. Perhaps an aesthetic locking of form mimics the problems of systems of incarceration, it’s a redundant layer, flattening the keys together even more. How to create space and dimensionality? How to individuate? How to have keys act more as surrogates for the actors and ideologies on both sides of the cells? We’re attempting a more lyrical approach, this is a pivot that feels liberating and unmoored.”

Secondly, he has used one of the prison cell keys to create a camera obscura in which a former jail cell key becomes the lens for a new landscape view (artist rendering to left). The camera obscura will become what the artist describes a permanent “chapel for a landscape.” We are in discussions with our architects, LOT-EK, to see how we can add this work to their design for renovation of the old jail.

Jason Lazarus is also working with LOT-EK to create The People Are The Monument, an earthwork for Pike School of Art — Mississippi that will serve as a permanent programming space for artists and community (at left LOT-EK & Jason Lazarus, The People are the Monument concept rendering, 2023). The People Are The Monument will consist of an outdoor earthwork adjacent to the new PSA-MS building. The work will be a set of ‘lounge-steps’ creating a permanent staging ground for programming by artists and the local community. The lounge-steps form either gentle stairs or bleacher seating — each step (or level) can serve either as audience seating or as a performative stage itself (audience and performances can occupy either space depending on programming and context). In 2024, this work will be home of the SOUTHWEST MISSISSIPPI ARTIST GROUP PORTRAIT, an annual event inviting any self-identifying artist living or working in the southwest Mississippi area to be included in a large group portrait.

In September of 2023, Jason Lazarus returned to McComb to engage the community and create SOUTHWEST MISSISSIPPI ARTIST GROUP PORTRAIT (image above). This work is a continuation of his artist portrait series from 2015 (Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago) and 2017 (Hunter East Harlem Gallery , New York). In all three of these works, all self-identifying artists were invited to sit for an artist group portrait. The open-ended and non-discriminating gesture brought a diverse array of artists from across the city to form this historical moment.

The goal of the portrait events is to foster exchange among the fluid artist communities that comprise each community and to create a historical moment for present and future generations. The respective communities own the images and the rights to reproduce, distribute and manipulate the image. The images, in full resolution, are available via free download, by the public, in perpetuity. The SOUTHWEST MISSISSIPPI ARTIST GROUP PORTRAIT took place in McComb on Front Street, just west of the former jail that will become Pike School of Art — Mississippi. As per the artist’s request, the SOUTHWEST MISSISSIPPI ARTIST GROUP PORTRAIT will take place annually under the direction of Pike School of Art — Mississippi. 

Pike School of Art - Mississippi is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of Pike School of Art - Mississippi must be made payable to “Pike School of Art - Mississippi” and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. TAX ID #47-3838208

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